Is this the last of the old dance hall type cinemas?
I’d say it’s not maybe the last, but it’s certainly the last I can think of. It was the Grand Theatre first and then it was the cinema, but God, there’s nothing left. The picture palaces have gone, left as the century ends. The English Heritage has rescued a few of them. They were, however, bingo halls. Bingo was the curse of the cinema in the 60s, but what it has actually done is preserve them. Because all the old cinemas were split up into three, four different screens, wrecked of course, but when bingo had taken over, the auditorium was still complete.

So this cinema was an actual theatre?
This was the Grand Theatre. I don’t know what it was before that. An old lady came in one day last summer and said she had seen Charlie Chaplin on the stage here. Now I don’t know if that’s true or not, but…if it was Charlie Chaplin it must’ve been before he went to Hollywood. If he was on a variety act here he must’ve been a way, way down the bill. Because once he went to Hollywood…that was before Hollywood was there, he founded it. So she must’ve been talking about the beginning of the century, so…she might be right, but I’ve certainly never heard…

Was Charlie Chaplin ever in Scotland?
He went to Elgin every year on holiday.

I take it 70mm is your favorite presentation medium?
Well, I’ve got to say, I have not seen anything like three-strip Cinerama, and of course I’m one of the old brigade of the Cinerama boys that was THE ultimate widescreen process. There was no widescreen until Cinerama came along in 1952. It didn’t arrive in Scotland until the early 1960s, by which time it had expanded to 90ft wide by 30ft high with a 16ft curve on it and seven channel stereophonic sound. When all this came out in the 50s, nothing like it had been seen. There had been expanding screens in the silent days for the early musical numbers…and funnily enough, where the Cinerama was in Glasgow at the Coliseum, that was the one cinema that had the expanding screen in the 20s. But it was only for a musical number and then it would shrink again. It was a bit of a gimmick. No one wanted widescreen pictures before 1952. The picture was exactly the same ratio as it had been in the silent days except slightly shorter because the soundtrack had been added. Then in New York, this miracle burst onto the audience, this huge wide panoramic picture in full color and perfect focus from nine inches to infinity and seven channels of sound. Nothing had been heard like it, then all of a sudden Hollywood was alive and awake to widescreen pictures. And that’s how Cinemascope came on the market and that’s how Todd-AO 70mm came on the market. That’s why you’ve got widescreen television now, because Cinerama blew the pictures up.

How long is it since anything has been done in Cinerama? It’s the 50th anniversary next year, isn’t it?
Aye, in America. Nothing’s been shot in Cinerama since 1969, in true three-strip Cinerama. When the Cinerama people lost control of the Cinerama Corporation, it moved on to making it cheaper. Because it was cumbersome and expensive, it went onto 70mm. It was actually Ultra-Panavision they used, it was squeezed at the edges but not in the middle and this allowed for the big curve. But to the true Cinerama audience, it wasn’t true Cinerama. What it was was 70mm presented on a Cinerama screen.

The story continues in part seven of MAX GIBSON: THE MAN BEHIND THE MAGIC>>>

Posted on March 3, 2004 in Interviews by

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