The Cinerama Dome Is Doing Something Special for Its 55th Birthday

Classic films in classic style

The Cinerama Dome is turning 55 this fall (now it can order off the senior menu at Denny’s) and ArcLight is celebrating with screenings of classic films that originally premiered at the historic theater, including one in the forgotten ultra-deluxe film format the theater is named for.

The Cinerama Dome in May of 1964, still showing It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

L. Mildred Harris / Los Angeles Photographers Photo Collection/Los Angeles Public Library

Studio executives blamed television for a decline in movie going during the 1950s and tried all sorts of techniques, from 3-D to Smell-O-Vision to lure audiences back into theaters. Film companies developed richer colors, better sound, and bigger and bigger pictures. Some were so wide that theaters had to tear down walls to install larger screens. The Cinerama picture was so enormous that it took three cameras, stacked side by side, to capture all the action.

The curved screen at the Cinerama Dome is 89 feet wide.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photo Collection/Los Angeles Public Library

By the time the all-star cowboy epic How the West Was Won was released in 1962, the cumbersome process of simultaneously projecting three strips of film had worn out its welcome. That film originally premiered at a retrofitted 1920s movie palace on Hollywood Boulevard, but will show on the Dome’s curved 89-foot-wide screen on October 21.

The anniversary series kicks off with the World War II epic Battle of the Bulge on September 30. Race car picture Grand Prix debuted at the dome in 1965, and will play there again on October 7. The celebration culminates with the movie that opened the theater in 1963, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Watch for special guests at that screening on November 7.

About 30 films were shot in ultra-wide-screen formats that are compatible with Cinerama, from 1950s travelogues to 2001: A Space Odyssey to Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Today,  only the Dome and the Seattle Cinerama can accommodate these films in their original format. It’s always a thrill walking into that room, looking up at the mathematical wonder of 316 pre-cast concrete panels and feeling like you’re walking into the future, even if that future came and went more than a half-century ago.

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