FILM / The Last Detail

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The Independent Culture
FOR A cinephile of my generation a film like Far and Away is enhaloed by a potent aura of nostalgia. This nostalgic frisson is elicited not by its subject-matter (immigration) or setting (19th-century Ireland and America), and most assuredly not by its quality (lamentable), but by the fact that, on posters and advertisements, its producers boast of its having been 'filmed for the first time in Panavision Super 70mm'. Panavision Super 70mm]

Why do I find that so delightfully dated? Because it conjures up a period, the mid-Fifties, when the cinema, in thrall to a manly, not to say macho, obsession with sheer size, deluded itself that its most effective weapons against television were enormous screen formats. The ancestor of them all was CinemaScope, of which the critic C A Lejeune wrote sniffily that it was 'like sitting inside a monstrous pillar-box'. But there was also VistaVision, with its two Churchillian Vs; Cinerama; and Todd-AO. ('Todd' was the impresario Mike Todd, AO stood for 'American Optical', and so overwhelming was the visual impact it felt more like God AO.) Todd was later responsible for SmelloVision, waggishly re-christened 'Todd BO'.)

The fad for these formats eventually waned when it became clear that they offered no lasting threat to television: ruthlessly squeezed on to the box as into a bulging suitcase, there is not one of the so-called blockbusters, from South Pacific to 2001, that hasn't regularly turned up in the schedules.

Paradoxically, the only film I know which truly defies televisual adaptation is Eric Rohmer's The Green Ray,a very modestly budgeted art movie shot in the old Academy ratio. In its closing shot the unhappy heroine is finally accorded the miracle she has been waiting for - the green ray, that last, fleeting, semi-ythical ray of a setting sun. Rohmer spent a year in a vain attempt to capture the real phenomenon on film before resigning himself to re-creating it in the laboratory. And so minuscule is the flash of green that when the movie was screened on television it proved to be absolutely invisible. There is a moral there somewhere.

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