Film series: Cinemascope: Made for the Big Screen
In Rouben Mamoulian’s Silk Stockings from 1957, Fred Astaire and Janis Paige outline in a remarkably catchy musical number what filmmakers must now do to attract audiences to the cinema:
Today to get the public to attend the picture show,
It’s not enough to advertise a famous star they know.
If you want to get the crowds to come around,
You’ve got to have: glorious Technicolor,
Breathtaking Cinemascope and stereophonic sound!
This series will focus on the second of the three technological innovations outlined in these lyrics: Cinemascope, which was an anamorphic, widescreen film format introduced in 1953 by Twentieth Century Fox.
Anxiety about whether audiences will continue to come to the cinema has been a recurrent theme in film history. However, this was especially true in the postwar period in the U.S. when there emerged an abundance of new, at-home entertainment options—most especially television—and weekly cinema attendance plummeted from 90 million people in 1946 to 51 million people in 1952. American studio heads became increasingly motivated to pursue technological advancements that would create dazzling, immersive experiences and incentivize audiences to return to movie theaters.
Though the technology was only actively in use for around 10 years and never dominated the film industry in the ways its creators anticipated, Cinemascope had a transformative impact on cinema history. Unlike its precursor Cinerama, which required a curved screen and three projectors set-up to create its immersive cinema experience, Cinemascope used an anamorphic lens system—first developed in 1926 by French scientist Henri Chrétien—which allowed a widescreen image to be compressed on a regular 35mm film strip then stretched back into a widescreen format without distortion and without highly specialized equipment.
The impressive scale of Cinemascope pictures spurred the development of numerous rival processes, including Panavision, VistaVision, Techniscope, and Dyaliscope, some of which are highlighted in this series. It also prompted Hollywood filmmakers to largely abandon the 4:3 aspect ratio that had been in use since the silent era. Just as importantly, the widescreen format introduced new aesthetic challenges for filmmakers who needed to adapt their set design, camerawork, and cinematography to this new scale.
Our Cornell Cinema series aims celebrate the dynamic ways that the Cinemascope technology was deployed across genres and features lively musicals, action-packed epics, and sweeping melodramas from some of the most celebrated Hollywood directors of all time. It also aims to highlight how directors grappled—sometimes self-consciously—with the aesthetic challenges posed by the new widescreen format. Whenever possible, films will be screened from 35mm prints, borrowed from archives across the country, allowing us to recapture the immersive experience the technology was intended to create.
In our post-pandemic moment, where there are once again serious concerns about whether audiences will continue to go see movies in the theater, we warmly invite you back to the cinema to experience these beloved films as they were meant to be seen: on the big screen and in “breathtaking” Cinemascope!
directed by Rouben Mamoulian (1957 USA)
Thursday, January 26, 2023 at 7:30pm
Friday, January 27, 2023 at 9:00pm
How To Marry a Millionaire
directed by Jean Negulesco (1953 USA)
Friday, February 3, 2023 at 7:00pm
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
directed by Richard Fleischer (1954 USA)
Thursday, February 9, 2023 at 7:00pm
directed by Otto Preminger (1954 USA)
Thursday, February 16, 2023 at 7:00pm
Saturday, February 18, 2023 at 5:00pm
A Star Is Born
directed by George Cukor (1954 USA)
Friday, February 17, 2023 at 9:00pm
Friday, February 24, 2023 at 7:00pm
directed by Max Ophuls (1955 France/Germany)
Thursday, March 2, 2023 at 9:00pm
Friday, March 3, 2023 at 7:00pm
The Bridge on the River Kwai
directed by David Lean (1957 UK/USA)
Thursday, March 9, 2023 at 9:00pm
Saturday, March 11, 2023 at 4:30pm
directed by Vincente Minnelli (1954 US)
Friday, March 17, 2023 at 9:00pm
Saturday, March 18, 2023 at 5:00pm
Last Year at Marienbad
directed by Alain Resnais (1961 France/Italy)
Friday, March 24, 2023 at 9:00pm
Sunday, March 26, 2023 at 5:00pm
directed by Budd Boetticher (1959 USA)
Friday, April 14, 2023 at 9:00pm
Sunday, April 16, 2023 at 7:00pm
Flower Drum Song
directed by Henry Koster (1961 USA)
Saturday, April 22, 2023 at 9:00pm
Sunday, April 23, 2023 at 7:15pm