Seattle Fest hails father of Cinerama

Thomes, others feted with special screenings, tribute

SEATTLE — Lowell Thomas and friends got a dusting-off on Friday for a special Cinerama Day at the 26th annual Seattle International Film Festival.

Along with two sold-out screenings of “How the West Was Won” at the town’s beautifully refurbished Cinerama dome, the program also offered “This Is Cinerama,” the 1952 docu that started the whole three-projector craze (complete with Thomas’ trademark intoning of the title), and the new “Cinerama Adventure,” an almost-completed survey of the phenom’s short but dazzling history.

Helmer Dave Strohmaier read the narration for a projected-vid work print of the docu feature, which will eventually be shown in the true three-screen format.

Pic, intended to run about 90 minutes, is an affectionate tribute to the wraparound process invented by Fred Waller, who refined it from his own Viterama — a virtual-reality gunnery-practice simulator he developed during World War II. (Onscreen Army veterans credit the five-projector system with saving thousands of lives and tons of material.)

Other pioneers, like early helmer Otto Lang, or their offspring, were in the house to help present the show, which was rich with information despite the limitations of its compressed-digital format.

The roots in Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” and Cinerama’s influence in much simplified form on today’s Imax system are well addressed. So are the limitations of the resuscitated technique, which requires a half-million feet of film to pass through three synched projectors and seven channels of sound.

Cinerama only had a 10-year run, peaking with “West’s” 1962 success, partially because it had “too much horsepower to make a sensitive motion picture,” as one early cameraman admits.

Three unfinished segments recount individual fates of stuntmen who lost life or limb in capturing the breathtaking images, but these bits, by turns horrific and sentimental, tend to overshadow the fun.

Strohmaier topped off his presentation with some rediscovered footage and outtakes (this time in full Cinerama) that haven’t been seen in at least 40 years.

Among other archive-tapping events, the SIFF boasted a visit from Aussie helmer Peter Weir, who showed and discussed “Fearless” and other earlier pics.

After a 25-day run, the fest wraps June 11, with world preem of Peter O’ Fallon’s “Rumor of Angels,” toplining Vanessa Redgrave and Ray Liotta.

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