Presented in 70-millimeter in a select group of theaters, Paul Thomas Anderson’s dense and ambitious “The Master” is refocusing attention on wide-gauge filmmaking — a propitious time for the Cinerama guru David Strohmaier to come out with his meticulous restoration of the first Cinerama feature, the 1952 “This Is Cinerama,” as well as the 1958 “Windjammer,” filmed in a rival three-strip process but eventually acquired by Cinerama and released under the company’s logo. The Blu-ray editions, released this week by Flicker Alley, obviously can’t capture the impact the films had on a 70-foot wide curved screen (unless you have a very special video room), but they do summon up the experience with thrilling veracity.
“This Is Cinerama” (that’s a souvenir postcard from the original presentation above) was a technological marvel that touched off the widescreen revolution of the 1950s, though its three-projector system ultimately proved too unweildly and was replaced by a version of Super Panavasion 70. It’s a fascinating film both for its technological achievement and what it says about America in the early 1950s — a country perhaps a little bit drunk on technology and its new position of power in the postwar world. The film seems most directly to reflect the protean spirit of its executive producer, Merian C. Cooper, one of the most intriguing and hand to classify figures of classical Hollywood — a fighter pilot, ethnographic documentarian (“Grass”), technical pioneer (“Becky Sharp”), longtime production partner of John Ford (“The Searchers”) and, of course, major twentieth-century myth-maker (“King Kong”). A review here in the New York Times.