CinemaScope is an anamorphic lens series used for shooting wide screen movies from 1953 to 1967. Its creation in 1953, by the president of 20th Century-Fox Spyros P. Skouras, marked the beginning of the modern anamorphic format in both principal photography and movie projection.
The anamorphic lenses theoretically allowed the process to create an image of up to a 2.66:1 aspect ratio, almost twice as wide as the previously common Academy format's 1.37:1 ratio. Although the CinemaScope lens system was made obsolete by new technological developments, primarily advanced by Panavision, the CinemaScope anamorphic format has continued to this day. In film-industry jargon, the shortened form, 'Scope, is still widely used by both filmmakers and projectionists, although today it generally refers to any 2.35:1, 2.39:1, or 2.40:1 presentation or, sometimes, the use of anamorphic lensing or projection in particular. Bausch & Lomb won a 1954 Oscar for its development of the CinemaScope lens.
A French inventor named Professor Henri Chrétien developed and patented a new film process that he called Anamorphoscope in 1926. It was this process that would later form the basis for CinemaScope. Chrétien's process was based on lenses that employed an optical trick which produced an image twice as wide as that produced with conventional lenses, using an optical system called Hypergonar, compressing (at shoot time) and dilating (at projection time) the image laterally. He attempted to interest the motion picture industry in his invention, but at the time the industry showed no interest. But by 1950 cinema audiences were declining due largely to competition from the new rival – television. However Cinerama and the early 3D films, both launched in 1952, were defying this trend and seeing success at the box-office. This persuaded Spyros Skouras, the head of Twentieth Century-Fox, that technical innovation could help to meet the challenge. Skouras tasked Earl Sponable, head of Fox's research department, with coming up with a new, impressive, projection system, but something that, unlike Cinerama, could be retrofitted to existing theatres at a relatively modest cost - and then Herbert Brag, Sponable's assistant, remembered Chrétien's "hypergonar" lens
The optical company Bausch & Lomb were asked to produce a prototype "anamorphoser" (later shortened to "anamorphic") lens, meanwhile Sponable tracked down Professor Chrétien. By this time Chrétien's patent had expired, however Fox purchased his existing Hypergonars from him and these lenses were flown back to Fox's studios in Hollywood. Test footage shot with these lenses was screened for Skouras who gave the go ahead for the development of a wide-screen process based on Chrétien's invention, which was to be known as "CinemaScope".
Twentieth Century-Fox's pre-production of The Robe, originally committed to Technicolor Three-Strip origination, was halted so that the film could be changed to a CinemaScope production (using Eastmancolor, but processed by Technicolor). Two other CinemaScope productions were also planned: How to Marry a Millionaire and Beneath the Twelve-Mile Reef. So that production of these first CinemaScope films could proceed without delay shooting started using the best three of Chrétien's Hypergonars whilst Bausch & Lomb were still working on their own versions. With the introduction of CinemaScope, Fox and other companies would be able to re-assert its distinction from its new competitor – television.
As Chrétien's Hypergonars proved to have significant optical and operational defects (primarily loss-of-squeeze at close camera-to-subject distances, plus the requirement of two camera assistants), Bausch & Lomb, Fox's prime contractor for the production of these lenses, initially produced an improved "Chrétien-formula" adapter lens design (CinemaScope Adapter Type I), and subsequently produced a dramatically improved and patented "Bausch & Lomb formula" adapter lens design (CinemaScope Adapter Type II), and, finally, produced "Bausch & Lomb formula" "combined" lens designs, which incorporated both the "prime" lens and the anamorphic lens in one unit (initially in 35, 40, 50, 75, 100 and 152mm focal lengths, and later including a 25mm focal length). These "combined" lenses continue to be used to this day, especially in special effects units, although other manufacturers' lenses are often preferred for so-called "production" applications on account of their significantly lighter weight, or lower distortion, or a combination of both characteristics.
The original expectation was that CinemaScope would use a separate film for sound (see Audio below) thus enabling the full "silent" 1.33:1 aperture to be available for the picture with a 2:1 anamorphic squeeze applied that would allow an aspect ratio of 2.66:1. When, however, it was found possible to add magnetic stripes to the film to produce a composite picture/sound print, the ratio of the image was reduced to 2.55:1. This reduction was kept to a minimum by reducing the width of the normal KS perforations so that they were nearly square, but of DH height, thus, the CinemaScope, or CS perforation was born, known colloquially as "fox-holes". Later still an optical soundtrack was added reducing the aspect ratio further to 2.35:1. This change also meant a shift in the optical center of the projected image, although all of Fox's CinemaScope films were made using a silent/full aperture for the negatives as was this studio's practice for all films, whether anamorphic or not.
In order to better hide so-called "negative assembly" splices, the ratio of the image was later changed by others to 2.39:1 and, finally, to 2.40:1, although all professional cameras are capable of shooting 2.55:1 (special 'Scope aperture plate) or 2.66:1 (standard "Full"/"Silent" aperture plate, preferred by many producers and all optical houses), and 2.35:1 or 2.39:1 or 2.40:1 is simply a hard-matted version of the others.
The Robe was the first film to start production in CinemaScope, a project that was selected by Fox because of its epic nature. During production, two other films, How to Marry a Millionaire and Beneath the 12-Mile Reef went into production. Millionaire finished production first, before The Robe, but because of its importance, The Robe was released first.
Fox utilized its influential people to promote CinemaScope. With the success of The Robe and How to Marry a Millionaire, the process enjoyed success in Hollywood. Fox licensed the process to many of the major film studios including Columbia, Warner Bros., Universal, MGM and Walt Disney Productions.
The Walt Disney Company was one of the first companies to license the CinemaScope process from Fox, and among the features and shorts they filmed with it, created one of the best-regarded examples of early CinemaScope productions with the live-action epic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The first animated feature film to use CinemaScope was Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp in 1955.
Due to initial uncertainty a number of films were shot simultaneously with anamorphic and regular lenses. Despite early success with the process, Fox did not stick to their claim of shooting every production with the process. CinemaScope as a trade name was reserved for "A" productions, while "B" productions in black and white commenced in 1956 at Fox under the trade name, "RegalScope", although RegalScope employed the very same optics as CinemaScope, but, usually, a different camera system (Mitchell BNCs at TCF-TV studios for RegalScope rather than Fox Studio Cameras at Fox Hills studios for CinemaScope).
Fox officials were keen that the sound of their new wide-screen film format should be as impressive as the picture, and that meant it should include true stereophonic sound.
Previously stereo sound in the commercial cinema had always employed separate sound films, Walt Disney's 1940 release Fantasia had used a three-channel soundtrack played from separate optical film. Early post-war stereo systems used with Cinerama and some 3D films had used multichannel audio played from a separate magnetic film. Fox had initially intended to use 3 channel stereo from magnetic film for CinemaScope.
However, Hazard E. Reeves' sound company had devised a method of coating 35mm stock with magnetic stripes and designed a 3 channel (left, center, right) system based on three .063" (1.6mm) wide stripes, one on each edge of the film outside the perforations, and one between the picture and the perforations in approximately the position of a standard optical soundtrack. Later it was found possible to add a narrower .029" (0.74mm) stripe between the picture and perforations on the other side of the film; this fourth track was used for a surround channel, also sometimes known at the time as an "effects" channel. In order to avoid hiss on the surround/effects channel from distracting the audience the surround speakers were switched on by a 12 kHz tone recorded on the surround track only whilst wanted surround program material was present.
This 4-track magnetic sound system was also used for some non-CinemaScope films; for example Fantasia was re-released in 1956, 1963, and 1969 with the original Fantasound track transferred to 4-track magnetic.
CinemaScope itself was a response to early "realism" processes Cinerama and 3-D. Cinerama was relatively unaffected by CinemaScope, as it was a quality-controlled process that played in select venues, similar to the IMAX films of recent years. 3-D was hurt, however, by studio advertising surrounding CinemaScope's promise that it was the "miracle you see without glasses." Technical difficulties in presentation spelled the true end for 3-D, but studio hype was quick to hail it a "victory" for CinemaScope.
In April 1953, a technique simply now known as "wide-screen" appeared and was soon adopted as a standard by all "flat" film productions in the US. In this process, a fully exposed 1.37:1 Academy ratio-area is cropped in the projector to a wide-screen aspect ratio by the use of an aperture plate, also known as a soft matte. Most films shot today use this technique, cropping the top and bottom of a 1.37:1 image to produce one at a ratio of 1.85:1.
Aware of Fox's upcoming CinemaScope productions, Paramount introduced this technique in March's release of Shane with the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, although the film was not shot with this ratio originally in mind. Universal-International followed suit in May with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio for Thunder Bay. By summer of 1953, Paramount, Universal, MGM, Columbia, and even Fox's B-unit contractors, under the banner of "Panoramic Productions" had switched from filming flat shows in a 1.37:1 format, and used variable flat wide-screen aspect ratios in their filming.
By this time Chrétien's 1926 patent on the Hypergonar lens had expired whilst the fundamental technique that CinemaScope utilised was not patentable because the anamorphoscope had been known for centuries. Anamorphosis had been used in visual media such as Hans Holbein's painting, The Ambassadors (1533). Some studios thus sought to develop their own system rather than pay Fox.
In response to the demands for a higher visual resolution spherical widescreen process, Paramount created an optical process, VistaVision, which shot horizontally on the 35 mm film roll, and then printed down to standard 4-perf vertical 35 mm. Thus, a negative with a finer grain was created and release prints had less grain. The first Paramount film in VistaVision was White Christmas. VistaVision died out in the late 1950s, with the introduction of faster film stocks.
RKO used the Superscope process in which the standard 35 mm image was cropped and then optically squeezed in post-production to create an anamorphic image on film. Today's Super 35 is a variation of this process.
Another process called Techniscope was developed by Technicolor Inc. in the early 1960s, using normal 35 mm cameras modified for two perforations per (half) frame instead of the regular four and later converted into an anamorphic print. Techniscope was mostly used in Europe, especially with low-budget films.
Many European countries and studios used the standard anamorphic process for their wide-screen films, identical in technical specifications to CinemaScope, and renamed to avoid the trademarks of Fox. Some of these include Euroscope, Franscope, and Naturama (the latter used by Republic Pictures). In 1953, Warner Brothers also planned to develop an identical anamorphic process called Warnerscope, but after the premiere of CinemaScope, Warners decided to license it from Fox instead.
Although CinemaScope was capable of producing a 2.66:1 image, the addition of magnetic sound tracks for multi-channel sound reduced this to 2.55:1.
The fact that the image was expanded horizontally when projected meant that there could be visible graininess and brightness problems. To combat this, larger film formats were developed (initially a too-costly 55 mm for Carousel and The King and I) and then abandoned (both films were eventually reduction printed at 35 mm, although the aspect ratio was kept at 2.55:1). Later Fox re-released The King and I in the 65/70 mm format. The initial problems with grain and brightness were eventually reduced thanks to improvements in film stock and lenses.
The CinemaScope lenses were optically flawed, however, by the fixed anamorphic element, which caused the anamorphic effect to gradually drop off as objects approached closer to the lens. The effect was that close-ups would slightly overstretch an actor's face, a problem that was soon referred to as "the mumps". This problem was avoided at first by composing wider shots, but as anamorphic technology lost its novelty, directors and cinematographers sought compositional freedom from these limitations. Issues with the lenses also made it difficult to photograph animation using the CinemaScope process. Nevertheless, many animated short films and a few features were filmed in CinemaScope during the 1950s, including Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp (1955).
Lens manufacturer Panavision was initially founded in late 1953 as a manufacturer of anamorphic lens adapters for movie projectors screening CinemaScope films, capitalizing on the success of the new anamorphic format and filling in the gap created by Bausch and Lomb's inability to mass-produce the needed adapters for movie theaters fast enough. Looking to expand beyond projector lenses, Panavision founder Robert Gottschalk soon improved upon the anamorphic camera lenses by creating a new lens set that included dual rotating anamorphic elements which were interlocked with the lens focus gearing. This innovation allowed the Panavision lenses to keep the plane of focus at a constant anamorphic ratio of 2x, thus avoiding the over-stretched "mumps" effect found in CinemaScope. After screening a demo reel comparing the two systems, many US studios adopted the Panavision anamorphic lenses. The Panavision technique was also considered more attractive to the industry because it was more affordable than CinemaScope and was not owned or licensed-out by a rival studio. Confusingly, some studios, particularly MGM, continued to use the CinemaScope credit even though they had switched to Panavision lenses. Virtually all MGM "CinemaScope" films after 1958 are actually in Panavision.
By 1967, even Fox had begun to abandon CinemaScope for Panavision (famously at the demand of Frank Sinatra for Von Ryan's Express), although a significant amount of the principal photography was actually filmed using CinemaScope lenses. Fox eventually capitulated completely to third-party lenses. In Like Flint with James Coburn and Caprice with Doris Day, were Fox's final films in CinemaScope.
Fox originally intended CinemaScope films to use magnetic stereo sound only, and although in certain areas, such as Los Angeles and New York City, the vast majority of theaters were equipped for 4-track magnetic sound (4-track magnetic sound achieving nearly 90 percent penetration of theaters in the greater Los Angeles area) the owners of many smaller theaters were dissatisfied with contractually having to install expensive three- or four-track magnetic stereo, and because of the technical nature of sound installations, drive-in theaters had trouble presenting stereophonic sound at all. Due to these conflicts, and because other studios were starting to release anamorphic prints with standard optical soundtracks, Fox revoked their policy of stereo-only presentations in 1957, and added a half-width optical soundtrack, while keeping the magnetic tracks for those theaters that were able to present their films with stereophonic sound. These so-called "mag-optical" prints provided a somewhat sub-standard optical sound and were also expensive to produce. It made little economic sense to supply those theaters which had only mono sound systems with an expensive striped print. Eventually Fox, and others, elected to supply the majority of their prints in standard mono optical sound form, with magnetic striped prints reserved for those theaters capable of playing them.
Magnetic striped prints were expensive to produce; each print cost at least twice as much as a print with a standard optical soundtrack only. Furthermore these striped prints wore out faster than optical prints and caused more problems in use, such as flakes of oxide clogging the replay heads. Due to these problems, and also because many cinemas never installed the necessary playback equipment, magnetic sound prints started to be made in small quantities for "roadshow" screenings only, with the main release using standard mono optical sound prints. As time went by roadshow screenings were increasingly made using 70mm film, and the use of striped 35mm prints declined further. Many CinemaScope films from the 1960s and 1970s were never released in stereo at all. Finally the introduction in 1976 of Dolby Stereo, which provided a similar performance to striped magnetic prints but more reliably and at a far lower cost, caused the 4-track magnetic system to become totally obsolete.
The song Stereophonic Sound written by Cole Porter for the 1955 Broadway musical Silk Stockings mentions CinemaScope in the lyrics. The first verse is: ‘Today to get the public to attend the picture show/ It’s not enough to advertise a famous star they know/ If you wanna get the crowds to come around/ You gotta have glorious Technicolor/ Breathtaking CinemaScope and Stereophonic Sound.’ The musical was adapted for film in 1957 and was indeed filmed in CinemaScope. (Despite the song's reference to Technicolor, however, the film was actually made in Metrocolor.)
While the lens system has been retired for decades, Fox has used the trademark in recent years on at least three films: Down with Love, which was shot with Panavision optics but used the credit as a throwback to the films it references, and the Don Bluth films Anastasia and Titan A.E. at Bluth's insistence. Nonetheless, these films are not true CinemaScope as they use modern lenses. CinemaScope's association with anamorphic projection is still so embedded in mass consciousness that all anamorphic prints are now referred to generically as "'Scope" prints.
In the 1963 Jean-Luc Godard film Contempt (Le Mepris), filmmaker Fritz Lang makes a disparaging comment about CinemaScope: "Oh, it wasn't meant for human beings. Just for snakes – and funerals." Ironically, Contempt was shot in CinemaScope.
The 1987 Paul McCartney B-side "Back on My Feet," written by McCartney and Elvis Costello, contains the lyric "His face starts to fade as we pull down the shade/And the picture we made is in glorious CinemaScope."
The 1988 John Waters film Hairspray uses the trademark as a crack on the weight of an overweight teenage girl who wants to star on a TV dance show: "please; this show isn't broadcasted in CinemaScope!" A 2002 Broadway musical version of Hairspray and a 2007 film adaptation of the Broadway show retain this joke as part of the lyrics of one of the show's songs, "(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs."
Musician Fiona Apple references a CinemaScope in "Hot Knife", a song on her 2012 album The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. She sings "If I'm butter, then he's a hot knife, he makes my heart a CinemaScope screen, showing the dancing bird of paradise."
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- Ilias Chrissochoidis (ed.), CinemaScope: Selected Documents from the Spyros P. Skouras Archive (Stanford, 2013).
- CinemaScope: A Concise History[dead link]
- Ilias Chrissochoidis (ed.), Spyros P. Skouras, Memoirs (1893-1953) (Stanford, 2013), 151.
- "out of the Lens Cupboard – Anamorphosis part two, the coming of Cinemascope" Grant Lobban, Cinema Technology Vol 7 No.3 April 1994
- "CinemaScope at the Widescreen Museum". Widescreenmuseum.com. 1953-09-24. Retrieved 2012-06-10.
- "Four-track Magnetic Theater Sound Reproducer for Composite Films" by Athey, Borberg, and White. Journal of the SMPTE March 1954 Vol 62
- Caprice (1967) - Trivia - IMDb