Academy's 'This Is Widescreen' series salutes big moment in film history

 Academy's 'This Is Widescreen' series salutes big moment in film history
Max Ophuls' classic "Lola Montes" is part of the new film academy series "This Is Widescreen." (Rialto Pictures)

Cinema history seems to repeat itself.

To lure contemporary audiences away from watching movies on smartphones, tablets, computers and video-on-demand and steer them back into the theaters, Hollywood has been pulling out all the stops with 3-D and Imax formats.


The same was true six decades ago, when the studios introduced 3-D and various widescreen formats, including Cinerama, CinemaScope, VistaVision and Todd-AO as a way of attracting audiences who were watching "I Love Lucy," Milton Berle and more on the relatively new medium of TV.

Though 3-D ended up being more of a fad in the 1950s, the widescreen format was embraced by the international film community.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' new screening series, "This Is Widescreen," explores the diverse film genres that were shot in the various widescreen formats by some of cinema's legendary filmmakers, including Alfred Hitchcock ("To Catch a Thief"), Akira Kurosawa ("The Hidden Fortress"), Max Ophuls ("Lola Montes"), Francois Truffaut ("Shoot the Piano Player"), John Frankenheimer ("Grand Prix") and Fred Zinnemann ("Oklahoma!").

(In conjunction with the screening series, the academy will present the program "The New Audience: Moviegoing in a Connected World" on May 12 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater.)

"This Is Widescreen" opens Friday at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills with the 1955 box-office hit "Cinerama Holiday."

Cinerama, a widescreen format that projected images from three synchronized 35-mm projectors onto a large curved screen, was first introduced in 1952's "This Is Cinerama."

"The thing about 'Cinerama Holiday' is it's a wonderful portrait of America itself," said the academy's director of programming, Bernardo Rondeau. "You have this couple from Missouri going to Europe and this couple from Europe coming to the States, and they do a kind of an American road trip. It's fascinating to see America as it looked at that time. It's a wonderful postcard picture of this country in a moment of transition."

The series, which continues through June 19 at the Goldwyn and the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood, captures this "wonderful moment" in film history, noted Rondeau, when "these two or three cultures were sort of brushing up against each other — the new cinephile culture and the Hollywood industry culture, and somewhere in between there is this new technology that are bringing them together."

Rondeau has paired films to illustrate the various widescreen formats or genres.

The May 8 programming shines a spotlight on 20th Century Fox's CinemaScope with a double bill of Otto Preminger's 1954 musical "Carmen Jones," starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, and Nicholas Ray's 1956 domestic melodrama "Bigger Than Life" with James Mason as a family man whose personality undergoes alarming changes.

Paramount's VistaVision is on display May 15 with Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 romantic thriller "To Catch a Thief," starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, and the 1955 comedy "Artists and Models," starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

Rondeau selected Alain Resnais' 1961 French classic "Last Year at Marienbad," which screens May 28, because of the way the director used the widescreen frame. "There isn't much drama in it," he noted. "It is almost just devoted to the geometry of the frame."

Other films in the series include Don Siegel's 1956 sci-fi classic "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (May 22); Jean-Luc Godard's 1961 "A Woman Is a Woman" (June 4); Jack Clayton's 1961 ghost story "The Innocents," with Deborah Kerr; and Sergio Sollima's 1967 spaghetti western "The Big Gundown" (June 18).

The programs will also feature widescreen shorts, animated features and trailers.

"It will give you a wonderful view of the wide-ranging roles of widescreen filmmaking," said Rondeau.

Some screenings will have special guests introducing the films, including Oscar-winning director William Friedkin ("Last Year at Marienbad"), director Joe Dante ("The Big Gundown") and Academy Award-winning actress Eva Marie Saint ("Grand Prix").

Twitter: @mymackie


'This Is Widescreen'

Where: Samuel Goldwyn Theater, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; and

Linwood Dunn Theater, 1313 Vine St., Hollywood

When: 7:30 p.m. May 1-June 19

Admission: $3-$5



11:45 a.m.: A previous caption for a photo with this article misidentified the film "Lola Montes" as "Shoot the Piano Player."