Jack Garner: CinemaScope classics continue at the Dryden

04:26 PM, Nov 22, 2013

From left, James Mason, left, stars as Captain Nemo and Paul Lukas plays Professor Pierre Aronnax in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which is being screened at the Dryden this week. (Walt Disney Home Entertainment)/


Written By Jack Garner At the Movies — AND MORE

Once upon a time, television and the movies were at war. It was the 1950s, and the newly arrived TV was on the attack. The film industry was on the defensive. Everyone presumed that a TV in your living room would stop you from going to the movies.

The studios turned to technology, a strategy Hollywood has used whenever threatened by outside forces. They tried out 3-D in the ’50s, and for a couple of years, it seemed to work. But then, some folks complained of headaches from the darn glasses, and studios bailed on 3-D.

Next up was CinemaScope, the widescreen process almost doubled the width of the standard movie screen. It wasn’t 3-D, but it was big. The process had first been developed in the late ’20s, but didn’t become a factor until 20th Century Fox pushed its technicians toward the process. The studio first made How to Marry a Millionaire and The Robe, which was released first in 1953.

For Millionaire, Fox used an actual lens from the 1920s, but discovered that the images were less than perfect, and sometimes distorting to sharp eyes. The studios then turned to Rochester’s Bausch & Lomb to create a new CinemaScope lens. The lens won B&L a technical Oscar, joining Kodak, which has earned nine of them.

This fall, the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House has been showcasing CinemaScope landmark films. Already screened were Millionaire and Warlock. On screen this week:

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, 8 p.m. Wednesday. This robust Stanley Donen musical transposes the Roman legend of the Sabine women to the forests and lumber camps of Oregon. The film makes marvelous use of the newly available widescreen, with some of the most athletic and entertaining dance ensemble numbers in the history of the genre. It’ll be great to see the film on the big screen, for it has too often been panned and scanned on TV so that it seemed more like Four Brides for Four Brothers!

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 8 p.m. Saturday. This live-action gem was Walt Disney’s first use of the new widescreen format. Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre and especially the great James Mason make this one of Disney’s most memorable and entertaining live action films.

Moms and Mike. Two cultural icons that made their marks on American life — distinctive and colorful comedian Moms Mabley and hard-knocking, controversial Mike Tyson — are spotlighted in distinctive documentaries currently on HBO. And they air Sunday as an unlikely double feature.

In Mabley’s case, the spotlight is cast by first-time director Whoopi Goldberg, who cites Mabley as a key early influence and has portrayed her onstage. The Tyson story comes to us from another Brooklyn champ of a different sort, filmmaker Spike Lee.

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley continues its run on HBO at 5:45 p.m., with other screenings scheduled. Using archival footage and interviews of Mabley’s contemporaries and observers, Goldberg compiles a fascinating story of a veteran of black vaudeville, who eventually graduated to albums, TV guest shots and more upscale venues. Through it all, Mabley maintained her wacky bag-lady costume and told raunchy but hilarious stories.

As Goldberg aptly illustrates, Mabley also exposed the inequalities and challenges of African-American life, while always maintaining the obligation to be funny. Most interestingly, late in her career, Mabley turned on a dime, away from humor, and recorded the most poignant of many versions of “Abraham, Martin and John,” the poignant anthem about tragic assassinations.

The Tyson story, meanwhile, is a film of the boxer’s one-man Broadway show, Undisputed Truth, also created for the theater by Spike Lee. Through Tyson’s surprisingly witty, articulate accounts, we hear about his discovery of boxing as a route out of a world of crime, and the influence of his strongest paternal figure, trainer Cus D’Amato.

Cus constantly talked to me about my emotions and feelings,” Tyson recounts. “He realized I had emotional problems. He knew we had to consistently work on depriving me of pleasure because he knew if we didn’t, it would trigger my emotions. He told me our reward would be fame and fortune beyond mortal dreams.”

Like him or hate him, the volatile Tyson has a fascinating stage presence and is a surprisingly effective storyteller. Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth continues its run at 4:15 p.m.