70mm TODD-AO film

By The Cinémathèque française

At the start of the 1950s, cinema was facing tough competition from television, and the public were slowly but surely deserting the movie theaters. Hollywood's counter-attack would be spectacular...

O_Michael Todd avec la caméra Todd AO photo J, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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Several solutions were proposed by the American film industry to try to bring the public back to the cinemas: Cinerama in 1952, Fox's CinemaScope in 1953, Paramount's VistaVision in 1954, 3D, Cinemiracle in 1958, Disney's Circlorama (1955), multi-directional stereophonic sound, drive-in cinemas, and even cinema that you could smell (AromaRama, Odorama, Smell-O-Vision), among others. These varied measures attracted a new audience and changed the traditional framework of cinematic entertainment.

In 1955, Todd-AO came into existence. The process was born from the cooperation between the flamboyant American producer Michael Todd and Dr. Brian O'Brien from the American Optical Company (Rochester). Todd had already actively participated in the Cinerama adventure. He thought that cinematic entertainment should be as powerful an experience as the theater or the opera; he wanted a cinema that people would go to in tuxedos, with reservations, and with no popcorn.

Publicité pour le projecteur Todd-AO, 1955, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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The luxurious Todd-AO created spectacular results from its first production: Fred Zinnemann's Oklahoma!, screened on October 13, 1955 at New York's Rivoli Theater. The film was shot with 65-mm negative Eastman film with five perforations on each side of the image. It was 23 mm high and 54 mm wide with a ratio of 2.35:1. The camera used special wide-angle lenses (the 128° "bug-eye").

Fragment test en 70 mm pour Oklahoma ! de Fred Zinnemann, 1955, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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Fragment test 70 mm pour Oklahoma ! de Fred Zinnemann, 1955, From the collection of: The Cinémathèque française
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DP70 Todd-AO projectors were ordered from Philips, a company based in the Netherlands. The machine was designed by the engineer Jan Jacob Kotte (1908-1988), who would go on to receive an Oscar in 1963. The DP70, dubbed the Rolls-Royce of 70 mm, weighed 600 kg and could project 35-mm and 70-mm film. It came with excellent lenses and a powerful arc lamp with a parabolic reflector. Manufactured between 1955 and 1966, it was unfailingly robust: a working model can still be found today in the AMPAS Mary Pickford Center in Hollywood.

In 2015, Quentin Tarantino bought up the remaining models that existed across the United States, with the aim of re-equipping the digital cinemas that were, by then, incapable of screening his film The Hateful Eight, which was shot in 70 mm Ultra Panavision. Despite the director's wishes, however, the film was mainly shown in digital format.

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