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· Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
In the early fifties, all of the studios came up with different widescreen processes
to compete with the usurping television medium. Fox introduced "CinemaScope"
which was an abandoned 1920's format that didn't catch on when first invented.
Similar to 'anamorphically enhanced' DVDs, they developed a lens that would optically
squeeze the image during principal photography then unsqueeze it during projection
to generate a wide image with a lot of distortion. This was considered the 'poor
man's Cinerama' but much easier to work with than filming with three cameras,
three projectors and noticable join lines.

Paramount wanted to create a process that increased clarity, reduced distortion and
enabled distributors to have an improved standard 35mm print as well as a special
'Roadshow' vesion for top theaters. "VistaVision" was the end result. They turned
a camera on it's side and exposed a wide eight sprocket 35mm image that was twice the
size of a standard 4 sprocket vertical image. It was the same aspect ratio and size of
a 35mm still camera then and now. The actual width wasn't that wide, just 1.85 which
is comparable to the 16:9 video image. For exhibition they invented a projector turned
on it's side which would exhibit the wide two frame image. They were called "Lazy 8"
projectors referring to the fact that it looked like a projector that had toppled over
with the "8" referring to the number of sprockets per frame. For sound, they used
a standard optical track except it had three sub-audio tones that would direct the same
mono sound to three speakers. Directional sound depending on the person talking on
screen. Someone on the right side of the frame would come out of the right speaker only
and so on. It was called "Perspecta" stereophonic sound although it wasn't stereophonic,
just directional sound. The advantage of Perspecta sound is that if a theater didn't have
the decoder it would play as a standard mono optical track.

The first feature in this process was "White Christmas" which premiered at the Radio City
Music Hall which had installed the horizontal lazy 8 projectors. Critics referred to it as
the 'tiffany of motion picture projection' since it was fine grain and didn't have the distortion
of CinemaScope or panel joins of Cinerama. In fact, it was pretty much the same as the
70mm Todd-AO format in terms of image size being projected but wasn't as wide.

The other advantage to VistaVision was that aside from the Eastmancolor horizontal prints,
Technicolor was able to devise a special machine that could optically shrink down the image
to standard masked off 1.85 matrices and dye transfer prints. The negative shrink down
made the final standard 35mm Technicolor release copies ultra-sharp and fine grain. Much
better than the 3 strip Technicolor prints.

VistaVision as a process was used for many Paramount pictures including the Hitchcock classics
like "Vertigo". He liked the system so much he brought it to MGM for "North by Northwest".

Unfortunately, by the early sixties, the industry moved away from competing with television
and decided to join it. All of the studios were producing shows for the medium and also
selling their libraries for broadcast so incrementally the processes from the fifties were phased
out including VisaVision. However, George Lucas was aware of the superior quality of the
large negative in it's adaption for special effects so he used the process for those sequences
in his "Star Wars" movies.

As for the premiere VistaVision feature itself, it was a smash hit when it came out and
became a yearly television event when it was sold to NBC. I used to watch it each year.
When I was a film collector in the eighties, I saw an original 35mm dye transfer Technicolor
print which was truly spectacular. Incredible sharpness and vibrant color. Real eye candy.
The colors were so impressive they distracted viewers from the narrative which was corny
and dated even by 1954 standards. "White Christmas" is basically a cliched remake of
"Holiday Inn". The ultra sharp resolution of the large negative showed up the obvious fact
that the entire movie was shot on a sound stage and looks it. The backgrounds and sets
have a very theatrical, artificial appearance. The story is a typical 'let's put on a show'
plot with unrelated production numbers. Some of them are very catchy ("Mandy") and
others are ludicrous ("Choreography").

The film is miscast in that Bing was 50 (wearing a toupee) and Danny Kaye 40. Since the framing device begins during World War II, I doubt there were any 40 year old privates. The love interests were Rosemary Clooney (age 25) and Vera-Ellen (age 32) both of which were too young for these men. Ellen is very attractive and likeable but Clooney is a bit ice cold in her role despite her singing and dancing abilities. The general they
are trying to help is played by Dean Jagger who was the same age as Bing and certainly
the most mild mannered military officer in the history of cinema. To make matters
worse, Kaye is very over the top gay in this movie with lots of exagerated mannerisms
that will get some laughs now but make him less than credible as a romantic lead.

Having said all this, the movie actually works as a fantasy. It shouldn't but it does.
The plot is preposterous but if you just relax and enjoy the vibrant colors, Irving Berlin
tunes, Bing's velvety voice, Vera-Ellen's dancing and the famous climatic song, it's nostalgic fun from another era when family entertainment dominated the cinemas. Those with a sharp eye with notice the movie's funniest inside joke. The picture that the Haynes' sisters show as their brother turns out to be Alfalfa of the "Our Gang" comedies. The film's best line is when Bing notes there were no Democrats
in Vermont because people would stone them.

The image on the anamorphically enhanced 16:9 simulation of Vistavision is very vivid
but a bit grainy at times. It's clean without any wear but I've seen better transfers
in this format ("The Searchers") so hopefully they will do an ultra-resolution blu ray
some day that generates a more fine grain video. But you'll probably only notice the
slight grain in some sequences if you project it on a DLP. On a monitor it looks fine
and comparable to the 35mm Technicolor print that NBC used to broadcast decades ago.
The 5.1 remix of the mono original is acceptable but has a very limited sound design.
Too bad they didn't include the three channel (three front speakers) Perspecta sound
version as an option. Dolby has a processor that can decode them for video release now.

In terms of extras, there are two trailers. The original release one promotes the VistaVision
process and is entertaining. Rosemary Clooney (looking very overweight in her old age)
is interviewed. She also does a rather outlandish commentary...if that word applies
to the track. Basically she watches the movie with you (like someone talking out
loud in a theater) and makes random remarks or chuckles at some scene. Comments like "Oh yea, I remember that..." is basically the extent of it.

In Summary: Picture quality B +, sound B +, Cinematography A, Songs and dancing A-,
Performances B

· Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
Thank you. I can just imagine the projectionist walking into the booth
at the Radio City Music Hall in 1954 and saying "What happened to the
projectors...someone knocked them down!" Then he would have to be
informed that they had just set up VistaVision horizontal 8 sprocket
projection for "White Christmas". I wish I could've seen his reaction.

But the bizarre projection system worked. It must have looked awesome
on their enormous screen in the fifites.

I just saw their Christmas show yesterday. The best part (for me) was
the huge silver screen lowered for the second segment which was a 3-D
short of Santa gliding his sleigh around NYC landmarks. What made my
entire family laugh was that it was almost identical to the opening of my
own 3-D movie from 1995, "Run for Cover", which showed some of the same
footage in relief. For this event, the polarized 3-D glasses were included
with the program. I hadn't seen their Christmas show since I was a kid.

· Premium Member
3,368 Posts
It is great to hear how things come about from the early days of film. Thanks....:yes:

· Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Sure. What's interesting is that films looked better in the 50's than they
do now. Ultra sharp fine grain resolution from large negatives. All of the
advanced technology was phased out by the late sixties. I saw some of
these movies in their original formats (not in the fifties but in the eighties
as a film collector) and they really looked awesome. Superior to any digital/
blu ray presentation. But...all of it is gone now so blu ray or any HD image
projected on a DLP is a more than acceptable presentation in a home theater.
I'm used to the 'digital look' of movies transferred directly from the camera negatives
which isn't 'first generation' (like Technicolor) but the 'actual generation' of what
was exposed in the camera negative which is a very unique look.

· Registered
78 Posts
I just picked this movie up this year based on a recommendation from my wife's best friend. I saw the DD 5.1 on the description and thought it would be really cool. The 5.1 was kind of boring, but what do you suspect from such an old movie without any explosions!??!?! It was a good movie overall for the story, even if the PQ and SQ was not spectacular. I am very pleased with this DVD.

· Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
The stereo sound in the fifties was actually quite impressive with
directional dialogue and the full orchestra spread around the four
or six channels. However, this was not a stereo movie just a
Perspecta directional picture. The simulated stereo they created
is not as impressive as a feature originally mixed in the multi-channel
format back then.

· Registered
526 Posts
The stereo sound in the fifties was actually quite impressive with
directional dialogue and the full orchestra spread around the four
or six channels. However, this was not a stereo movie just a
Perspecta directional picture. The simulated stereo they created
is not as impressive as a feature originally mixed in the multi-channel
format back then.
So Richard, how was your Christmas? Hopefully it was peaceful, and nice with the family.

· Senior Shackster
791 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
Here's what we screened on the DLP...

"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". Still funny with Randy Quaid stealing
every scene and Chevy Chase still in his prime. The senile aunt that wraps up
her kitten was played by Mae Questel, the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oil
in the Fleischer brothers' cartoons of the thirties.

"Holiday Inn". Earlier version of "White Christmas" except this time they did a
real minstrel number. In "White Christmas" they called it a minstrel number but
it wasn't. The colorized version was actually pretty good since they made it
simulate a Technicolor print of the era rather than a faded Eastmancolor copy
(i.e. colorized version of "Miracle on 34th Street"). The remake was better in
that they gave a motive for opening of the Inn.

"Grinch that Stole Christmas" This is the restored version of the Chuck Jones
classic. I was fortunate enough to have met Jones before he died at a party
and asked him how they were able to reduce dust on the cells which was a real
problem at the competing Disney studio (aka "Disney dust"). He said they used
little fans on the cells when they were filiming them to keep them dust free.

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" While the image was mint, it could've used a digital
clean up of what was orignally on the cells which was colored dust and some splotches.
I suppose it wouldn't have been noticeable in 16mm on TV but was from the 35mm
source. Otherwise the first and best of the Peanuts adaptations. Melendez, who
directed it, died in 2008. I wish they had included the original ending as a suppliment
which has the Pepsi logo superimposed on the group after they shouted "Merry
Christmas Charlie Brown". It was only there for the first broadcast in 1965 but I
know it exists. Although shot in color, the CBS premiere was shown in black and
white because they hadn't made the switch to full color until 1966. All later
broadcasts were in color after that.
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