Wide is back. Friday through July 24, the Music Box Theatre presents 10 panoramic films made between 1958 and 2012, some classics, some not, but all of them wide. The skies will be larger, the stars starrier, the vistas VistaVision-ier, the camels more imposing, the space odysseys more splendidly trippy. The films will be projected, on film, on the larger of the Music Box's two screens, in all their capacious 70 millimeter splendor, reminding audiences of the pleasures of the wide-gauge experience.
Until Apple makes an iPhone as big as a house, this is the way to see these movies.
"Son of 70MM Film Festival" serves as a sprawling sequel to last year's Music Box 70mm retrospective. Three of the films being shown this year — Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" and the historical outlier, Paul Thomas Anderson's recent, fantastic-looking "The Master" — played to capacity crowds in February 2013.
"We drew an interesting mix of people," says Music Box general manager Dave Jennings. "Some wanted to see a movie just because it was in 70. Some loved certain films, or had never seen certain films, or had never seen them on the big screen. And we got younger audiences who just wanted to be part of the experience."
Jennings notes that the Music Box staff "certainly learned a lot the last time" about the variables involved with so many precious 70mm prints coming and going. Take "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," which the studio assured would be in good shape. In one way it was; the image was crisp, clear. But it had gone entirely pink. (The rest of the 70mm prints last year ranged from pretty to extremely good.)
Fans of mid-'60s roadshow family musicals can take heart this month. The one Music Box has secured for "Son of 70MM," "Doctor Dolittle," is in pristine shape. "It looks like it's never been run," says Douglas McLaren, head projectionist and assistant programmer.
The other day projectionist Rebecca Lyon tested the equipment and showed me some footage of "2001." It looked wonderful. Film cans littered the Music Box projection booth, "Spartacus" next to "Doctor Dolittle."
"I mean, the size of these things!" Lyon says. "It's just fun to open the can and pull out these enormous reels. You get a little dirty, a little greasy….there's something kind of macho about it."
General manager Jennings notes that "Son of 70MM" comes at a peculiar time in the Music Box calendar. "Snowpiercer" and "A Hard Day's Night" are both doing excellent business. "It's a good problem to have," he says.
McLaren notes that Chicago interest in 70mm was stoked by the sneak preview of "The Master" a few months prior to the first 70mm festival, also at the Music Box.
Anderson's film, he says, "stirred up a lot of conversation about film versus digital. The majority of places screened 'The Master' digitally because most places have removed all their old film (projection) equipment." Not the Music Box. "We're hoping the interest remains," he says, "just as we hope interest remains in film in general."
The line-up, in order of original release:
"Vertigo," 1958. Shot in VistaVision. Alfred Hitchcock's mournful classic recently topped the Sight and Sound poll as the No. 1 film in film history. "Son of 70MM" features three films graced by Saul Bass' title designs, including this one. (The other two: "Spartacus" and "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.")
"Spartacus," 1960. Shot in Super Technirama 70, director Stanley Kubrick's stirring gladiator epic stars Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Tony Curtis and the priceless Peter Ustinov.
"Lawrence of Arabia," 1962. David Lean maximized the widescreen format brilliantly in this portrait of colonialism at its most charismatic. Photographed in Super Panavision 70.
"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," 1963. Adored by many, this slapstick exception to the rest of director Stanley Kramer's career was shot in Ultra Panavision 70. Some wish the movie could go on forever; others feel it does.
"Doctor Dolittle," 1967. It nearly destroyed 20th Century Fox, but the Leslie Bricusse songs ("Talk to the Animals," et al.) have their admirers. Shot in Todd-AO.
"2001: A Space Odyssey," 1968. Kubrick's granite slab of a masterwork was photographed in Super Panavision 70.
"Patton," 1970. Worthy of more debate than it's typically accorded, Franklin Schaffner's biopic (George C. Scott won, and then refused, the Oscar) was one of only two features shot in Dimension 150, the earlier one being John Huston's "The Bible."
"Tron," 1982. Get inside that video game! Shot in Super Panavision 70.
"Brainstorm," 1983. "2001" effects master Douglas Trumbull's directorial follow-up to "Silent Running" was an early foray into virtual reality science-fiction, shot in both 70mm and conventional 35mm.
"The Master," 2012. Paul Thomas Anderson photographed his one-of-a-kind character study mostly in 65mm and a lucky few audiences caught the results in a full, freeing 70mm projection experience. Now it's back to vex another round of Music Box filmgoers.
For the "Son of 70MM Film Festival" screening schedule, go to musicboxtheatre.com.
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