The purpose of this first dossier project is to investigate and research the uses of Panavision 70 film stock on the technological history of the film industry from then and now. This research will take into consideration, the shape of cinema through a historical perspective that led to Panavision 70 , reasons behind utilizing certain aspect ratios, differences between Ultra and Super Panavision in regard to visual composition, emergence of Roadshow theatrical releases, the Cinerama widescreen, and the use of 70 mm prints in Contemporary films today. From a media archaeological standpoint, the media of the present influence how we think about the media of the past or, for that matter, those of the future (Kittler, 1986). In order to realize how far cinema has come, it's crucial to understand where it all began. The focus of methodology will interpret and articulate the findings of the Panavision 70 system from its historical rise and fall, along with the recent resurrection of Ultra Panavision in 2015.

Today, films are shot either digitally on a professional digital cinema camera or on the traditional film format that has been around for more than one hundred years. There are a wide variety of motion picture cameras available today, allowing directors and DP's to capture their exact vision. The most common film format used today is 35 mm for feature films, commercials, and television shows. On the contrary, the 70 mm format is utilized for very specific reasons and particular genre films where there becomes an advantage of using such a wide film format. The cinema is constantly changing in tandem with changes to its basic technology, constantly redefining itself (Belton, 2014). Cinema consists of more than just an apparatus, it's the ultimate experience of the apparatus to the perspective of the composition. The development and utilization of cinema technologies from the past have been making appearances in the present. For instance, this can be seen with the 2015 film The Hateful Eight, which featured Ultra Panavision 70, a format that has not been used for more than forty years. Ultra Panavision 70 uses anamorphic lenses compressing the image to an extremely wide aspect ratio of 2:76:1, which is much wider the ratio than 35 mm film prints. Furthermore, to give an example, figure 1.0 includes a still image from the film The Hateful Eight and the extremely wide aspect ratio on the screen compared to general Academy 35 mm film.

Hateful Eight

Figure 1.0 This still from "The Hateful Eight" shows the extremely wide aspect ratio of 70mm compared to that of a smaller aspect ratio.

Ultra Panavision 70

Figure 1.2 Tarantino resurrects Ultra Panavision 70 for "The Hateful Eight".


Historical Perspective

In 1889, Thomas Edison developed an early type of projector called a Kinetoscope, "kineto" meaning movement and "scopos" referring to watch. The development of the Kinetoscope brought the first motion images and action on-screen. In discussing the decisive contributions to early cinema, Luke McKernan has argued that ‘the mere mechanical construction of a film projector has been overestimated, and that it was boxing that created cinema. Cinema was ultimately the creation of its audience, and many among that first audience were not interested in films per se; they were interested in sports.’(McKernan, 1996). McKernan is relating the Corbett-Fritzsimmions boxing match of 1897, which became the first feature film. The boxing match was shot on a specially built camera that took unique 63 mm widescreen-format film and could only be exhibited through a modified projector utilizing the Latham Loop, which continuously shot and projected for long periods (Ramsaye, 1964). Figure 1.3 includes an early advertisement from 1901 of the first motion pictures made through the Kinetoscope. Edison described his ideas for a device which would “do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear” (Baldwin, 1995). This would be the beginning of what soon resulted in the emergence of the very first films that were produced. Magic lanterns and other devices had been employed in popular entertainment for generations. Magic lanterns used glass slides with images which were projected. The Kinetoscope brought a different perspective to how images moved, transcending what the magic lanterns were capable of during this time. The invention could record continuous images in a single-camera which influenced later motion picture technology to come.


Looking through the peephole of a Kinetoscope.

Edison Kinetoscope

Figure 1.3 An advertisement for the very first films made through the Kineoscope.

The early phases and origins of film revolved around a primitive period of living pictures which lasted until 1917. The second phase of development incorporated longer form films that showed a "maturing period" through the silent era of cinema which lasted to 1927. The third period established the production of sound to the visual composition, which allowed audiences to emotionally connect to the characters on-screen. This period included many classic and iconic films that are recognized as some of the best in the history of cinema. Through the 1950's and 60's the track of cinema would begin to change drastically in relation to film format size and primarily colour visuals. The launch of Cinerama in 1952 was a public sensation and a way to bring the studios back from their financial collapse. The seed for MGM Camera 65 was nurtured in 1954 when the studio decided to remake their 1926 silent classic Ben-Hur (Robley, 2010). Even though, not released for another five years, Ben-Hur would lay the groundwork for developing the Ultra Panavision system as cameras and lenses began to change in order to accommodate the necessary aesthetics of certain films. By 1961, MGM sold their cameras to Panavision. The lenses were redefined and, incorporating the company’s research in cylindrical anamorphics, made them lighter and more portable (Robley, 2010). Just over thirty years had passed since the start of the silent film era and motion pictures were changing drastically as the technology of film production excelled. Furthermore, this transition in technological advances would bring many positive reinforcements to the studios and theaters for lucrative financial success.


Prior to the rise of 70 mm film in the mid to late 1950's, another major change occurred five years before. Film was in turbulent times by the start of the decade; television started to sweep through family living rooms across the United States and the industry needed to restructure to account for the lack of revenue being generated through the box office. Furthermore, the only way to get an audience back to the theater was to offer something they could not get in front of their television at home. A system launched in 1952, where the panoramic film was shown on a curved screen 90ft wide and 30ft high. Accompanied with 7-channel stereo sound, Cinerama made such an impact in the industry that all widescreen film systems were developed as a consequence of the great public response to the Cinerama experience (O'Kane, 2011). The development and use of Cinerama eventually led to a number of different film formats that would come to fruition during this time period; particularly the 70 mm print shown in the Cinerama experience. The new cinema aesthetic brought people back to the theater once again as the attraction to the screen was unlike anything audiences have ever seen before.


Figure 1.4 gives an example of the Cinerama screen with three projectors aimed at one screen and the multiple crew and projectionist running the show.

The documentary film This is Cinerama premiered at New York's Broadway Theatre in 52'; giving the audience their first viewing experience of the Cinerama screen (Robley, 2010). Figure 1.5 is an advertisement for This is Cinerama, which introduced the widescreen format to American audiences. The distribution of This is Cinerama was revolutionary as new technology required a special setup that consisted of three projectors and multiple soundtracks, which between 10 to 15 engineers were needed to run for a successful showing. As you could imagine, there were many problems with shooting and projecting three cameras at the same time. Most notably, having only one wide focal length required placing people differently to keep their eye lines in the right position so the screen would not look distorted. Figure 1.4 shows an example of the Cinerama system in progress. Moreover, the Cinerama adventure would be an event attraction that brought in a lot of revenue to the theater and show business. Initially, for the first decade of their existence, Cinerama theaters would release documentary formatted films and travelogue features.


Figure 1.5 An advertisement for This is Cinerama, a 1952 documentary film introducing the new widescreen to audiences.

Eventually, the first story-themed feature The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm was released in 1962. Only two dramatic features would be captured in the 3-strip Cinerama system; the other being How The West Was Won from that same year. The main problem with Cinerama was the expensive nature to shoot and project the films in theaters, and the technical issues that affected the viewing audience. Accompanied with 7-channel stereo sound, Cinerama made such an impact in the industry that all widescreen film systems were developed as a consequence of the great public response to the Cinerama experience. Even wide screen TV is now the standard in homes (O'Kane, 2010). Without the development of the Cinerama system, our design, and format of widescreen television may not have happened. The Cinerama system had an overwhelming importance and impact of widescreen technologies. Eventually, the system would be replaced by the 70 mm film format of Panavision. Though, Cinerama would still be utilized in a single camera style for other epic films that were released during the 1960's through a roadshow presentation, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Historical 70 mm Film Format

The transformations of film during the late 1950's and early 1960's were significant for some very specific reasons. During this time, both Ultra Panavision and Super Panavision 70 released their first credited motion pictures. Ultra Panavision used a 65mm camera with anamorphic lenses having a squeeze ratio of 1.5:1 rather than 2:1 as in Cinemascope (Patterson, 1973). Even though, 65 mm film captures images in the process, the final projection print was 70 mm film stock; the extra 5 mm on the print was used to accommodate six-track stereo sound (Guckian, 2011). Films that projected on 70 mm were the ultimate experience for movie-goers. The screen was wider and more detailed than traditional 35 mm prints, the sound was excellent and more enhanced for a surround quality that made the audience feel closer to the on-screen content. 70 mm film is shot horizontally in the frame where as 35 mm is shot vertically. This gives directors a much larger canvas to shoot on, with increased resolution. There was a problem of distortion with the early Panavision anamorphic lenses, causing the image in the center of the screen to be stretched wider than those visuals on the edges. MGM approached Robert Gottschalk, the president of Panavision, Inc., and asked him to design a system that did not suffer the distortions created by the anamorphic lens (DaVega). Ultimately, this new system of lenses became known as "Panatar", which were anamorphic attachments that used two prisms set at angles to reduce the distortion caused by anamorphics. Furthermore, the only difference between Ultra Panavision and Super Panavision, was that Super 70 photographed images through spherical lenses with no squeeze to the aspect ratio (Robley, 2010).                                                

The first production to be filmed with Ultra Panavision, which at the time was "MGM Camera 65" was the epic historical drama Ben Hur in 1959, one year later the name changed to Ultra Panavision. The producer wanted spectacle, but he also envisioned a story with depth, featuring absorbing relationships, and Wyler certainly delivered that aspect. Ben-Hur is staggering in its scale, yet the intimacy of the relationships and characterizations remain engrossing. Wyler was able to manipulate the space afforded by the 65-millimeter camera to capture the epic scale of the backgrounds as well as revealing close-ups of the characters (Miller, 2013). The significance of 70 mm technology brought a new dimension to film productions. Instead of relying exclusively on the Academy Standard 35 mm format ratio, films that shot on 70 were beginning to change the course of productions. This included everything from their genre, story structure, visual representation, and the way they were released and projected to audiences. This is important to consider from a media archaeological standpoint because if it was not for 70 mm film and the widescreen transition during this time period, then films and the design of television sets may be very different than they are today.                                                

2001 A Space Odyssey

Figure 1.6 Stanley Kubrick with cast and crew on set of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Released in Super Panavision 70 in 1968, way ahead of it's time.

The International 70 mm Newsletter from 1988-

The Roadshow Theatrical Release


Figure 1.7 Outside the Roadshow exhibition of Cleopatra

The introduction of television and the migration of audiences to the suburbs further impacted American film exhibition, and the industry went through a major shakeout in the 1950's and 1960's in which most neighborhood theaters and many picture palaces closed (Gomery). The Cinerama movement of 1952 incorporated a new way to distribute and exhibit films to a wide mass audience. Under the "roadshow system", films would play in downtown picture palaces, but for much longer periods of time and usually with special reserved seats, printed programs, and intermissions (Meissner, 2012). Roadshow exhibition, bolstered by new widescreen projection processes, preserved the centrality of large-scale downtown picture palaces while attempting to boost the “event” status of films in the face of competition from television and the required commute for suburban moviegoers (Belton, 1990). Films such as Ben-Hur and Cleopatra were shown in the theatrical roadshow release format. The roadshow exhibition was around since the early 1900's, though with the rise of the widescreen and stereophonic sound of the 1950's, audiences were more attracted to these new developments of motion picture presentation. Moreover, many of the epics and musicals that were shot on 70 mm film such as Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus, Mutiny on the Bounty, The Sound of Music, and 2001: A Space Odyssey were given roadshow presentations. Interestingly, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was originally planned to be screened in 3-strip Cinerama on the Super Panavision 70 system. Though, resulting problems from other films projected on the 3-strip process such as distorted images and blurry visuals changed the roadshow presentation to a single camera Super Cinerama 70 showing. The collapse of the roadshow system in the early 1970's, precipitated mainly by overproduction and overspending on roadshow films, and a resulting industry recession, only accentuated this fact (Meissner, 2012). Recently, the roadshow theatrical release was brought back for Quentin Tarantino's 2015 western epic, The Hateful Eight; where the showmanship for 70 mm and the roadshow event were forged from the past into the present. The Ultra Panavision system has not been used in a film production since Khartoum in 1966. Furthermore, Tarantino acquired the same exact lenses that were utilized on the set of Ben-Hur, the 1959 epic historical drama; which makes the screening of the film in full 70 mm Cinerama roadshow much more memorable.

Contemporary 70 mm film
ALEXA65 fb 1300

The new Alexa 65 mm camera reborn in the digital format.

During the more contemporary times with the advent of smaller multiplex venues and the debut of digital sound on finer-grain Eastman Kodak Vision print stocks, the number of 70 mm releases declined dramatically in the nineties. Overall, Panavision opened new possibilities for the composition in the anamorphic ratio, that has been used as a screen format to this day. Furthermore, In the context of high-quality cinema presentation using 65 mm for production and 70 mm for exhibition, the challenge was seen as how to update the marketing techniques of the past for contemporary cinema audiences (Guckian, 2011). A well-known example of marketing a product from the past and bringing it back in the present is the market of vinyl records. Despite the overwhelming dominance of the compact disc format, and latterly, internet downloads, vinyl record sales have been on the increase (Allen, 2007). Similarly, analogue motion picture film has unique properties that appeal to the viewer in ways which are difficult for digital technology to emulate. Cost is regularly cited as a perceived barrier to a revival of the traditional 5-perf 65mm format for big-budget productions. The traditional 70mm format provides a compelling trajectory for developments in the advanced film technology area, especially as theatrical audiences become more demanding of technical quality, and as HDTV and Blu-Ray Disc dominate the home viewing environment (Natale,1992).

Today, Arri Alexa has released 65 mm digital cinema cameras that capture and emulate the traditional film format that was used throughout history. The body in a lesser elaborate form may be seen as something that has been around for the entirety of human existence; however, by adding technology to it, it evolves and becomes new; we find new in the old (Zielinski, 2006). As you can see from media technology of the past and the developments in the future toward film formats, aspect ratios, and screen detentions, there are hints of adding the old technology of the 1950's and 60's with our technology of the new age. Historical film techniques continue to follow one after the other as they build toward the ultimate technological apparatus that can captivate and sustain an audience. First, during the early 1950's it was the Cinerama panorama widescreen that amazed and shook the world; if it was not for Cinerama, there would be no IMAX theaters around today. Next, economic and technical issues slowly faded out the popularity of Cinerama, though drew its attention toward a similar but more efficient format that became known as Panavision 70. Both of these systems had major impacts on how film is portrayed today. Moreover, a 65/70 mm production with high production values and cinematography designed for the big screen rather than the TV screen would greatly enhance the theatrical experience as compared to that found in the home cinema environment (Guckian, 2011).


Overall, the historical representation of film is complex and includes many important transitions of technological apparatuses that are crucial toward the way we think about film today. Many of the possibilities of film production and presentation would not be what they are today without the understanding of how they changed in the past to where we are in the present. Furthermore, acknowledging this changing landscape of film in its historical realm to the contemporary perspective will allow a better understanding where the direction of film and media is heading in the future.

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Meissner, C. (2010). The Scale of the Screen: Auditorium Size and Number in the American Movie Theater. Devils Lake, North Dakota. Media Fields Journal: Critical Explorations in Media and Space. Retrieved March 10, 2016.

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O'Kane, C. (2011). Waking the Sleeping Giant. 65 mm Origination and 70 mm Presentation in Contemporary Motion Picture. Cinema Technology Magazine. Retrieved March 13, 2016.

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Ramsaye, T. (1964). A Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture. (1926; London: Cass), pp. 285–7. Retrieved March 7, 2016.

Robley, L.P. (2010). A History of Widescreen and Wide-Film Projection Process. The 70 mm Newsletter. Los Angeles, California. Retrieved March 9, 2016.

Zielinski, S. (2006). Deep time of the media: Toward an archaeology of hearing and seeing by technical means. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. Retrieved March 16, 2016.