• Paul M. Wood

Movie Roadshows paved the way to Event Cinema

Movie roadshow movie spectacles of the 1960-70s was where I first became enraptured with the cinematic definition of EPIC that was the sixties version of immersive. It was a night out on the town to actually reserve tickets for a movie, buy my favorite lemondrop candies, pickup a flashy booklet program and settle into plush chairs for a multi-hour spectacle on a SINGLE screen.

Growing up on suburban Long Island, NY in the 60s, there were two nirvana oasis of movie roadshow theaters in the towns of Syosset and neighboring Woobury. Both were THE prime roadshow movie palaces that were mecca to me. Neither was ornate like the baroque/Rococo old-time neo-gothics as “Loew’s Wonder Theaters” built in 1930s across New York City boroughs. One of which was Loew’s Jersey City movie theater in Journal Square adorned with a clock featuring a statue of Saint George slaying a dragon. http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/38

I actually became the manager of that theater in the 1980s, but that’s another story for another blog.

Unlike these gorgeous buildings that were entertaining to the eye as treasure box palaces, the two biggest single screen theaters on Long Island were brutalist boxes stripped of any adornments. Rather than being essential ugly, that bland dull exterior made what happened inside even more alluring since nothing gave it away outside, and its total absence of windows, its pure functionality, was oddly alluring.

Off Jericho Turnpike sat the monolithic ziggurat of the Syosset which was a large square windowless cube with glass door entrance on one corner. Scripted in red letters “Syosset” on the front wall was its the only ID for a place known for the new rage of super-wide format films that began at that time with Cinerama’s 3-projection system, then evolved to single-camera Super Panavision, Todd-AO and other 70mm projection formats. http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/4091/photos/11042

I just ate it all up, loving to have a “wrap-around” screen that was precursor to IMAX and today’s projection systems. But this wasn’t the only big-screen palace...another was only a few miles away. The UA 160 was a bizarre flat long bowling alley like concrete building was the front outside wall of corrugated metal, and that was one of the first with “Sensurround” which was merely low-frequency subwoofer set at top vibration. http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/3510

So you had the best of visual and audio spectacle within a few miles near my hometown of Port Washington. And that’s where I saw all of the films that shaped and stretched my creative imagination.

With this background in mind, now let’s leap to the present and see how all this shaped and applies to current cinematech through aspect ratio, projection systems, live performance projections, and the in-theater experiences, and immersion of video games and XR (Extended Reality).

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