A particular kind of movie musical will soon get a lot of exposure in the Bay Area–the large-format roadshow musicals of the 1950s and ’60s. These were almost always close adaptations of popular Broadway stage musicals. They were often shot and projected in large, high-definition, film formats such as Todd-AO or Super Panavision 70. And they opened as what the industry called roadshows–playing in one large theater per major city, with expensive tickets, reserved seats, and an intermission.
In my opinion, not one of these films stands up against such great musicals as Singin’ in the Rain, Top Hat, The Band Wagon, and A Hard Day’s Night. But they have their pleasures. Besides, I have a fascination with the large-format roadshow movies of that period–even the bad ones.
The Stanford devotes the next five weeks to these musicals in their Rodgers and Hammerstein series. Every weekend through November 8, they will screen a large-format roadshow adaptation of an R&H stage musical. They start this weekend with the show that set the template for roadshow musicals: Oklahoma!. In fact, as the first film shot in Todd-AO, it set the template for all of the large-format roadshows–even ones like Ben-Hur where no one broke out into song.
The Stanford series will close four weeks later with the biggest commercial success of the genre, The Sound of Music.
The Stanford press release trumpets that the films will all be shown “in glorious 35mm!” That’s an odd brag since 35mm is a considerable step down from the way most of these films were shot and screened. I’m probably going to get people angry here, but a good DCP transfer can better simulate the glories of Todd-AO than can a 35mm print.
The other theaters will screen these movies digitally off of DCPs.
My Fair Lady, which was not written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, will be screened in at least four Bay Area theaters this month:
- The Alameda will screen it next week on October 13 and 14.
- The Castro has it on Sunday, October 18, on a very strange double bill with Steve Martin’s The Jerk.
- The Elmwood will also screen it on 18th, and again on the 19th.
- Finally, the Cerrito will have a special, 10:00am screening on Saturday, October 24.
The Cerrito and Elmwood will also screen Oklahoma! in November. The Elwood on November 1 and 2. The Cerrito on Saturday, November 7, again at 10:00am.
But the version of Oklahoma! at
the Elmwood and the Cerrito will not be the same as the one now playing at the Stanford. Early Todd-AO was shot and projected at 30 frames per second, rather than the standard 24fps, making it impossible to screen in all but a few theaters. So the film was shot twice: in 30fps Todd-AO for the 70mm roadshow, and in plain old, 35mm, 24fps CinemaScope for the eventual wide release.
I’ve only seen the Oklahoma! movie on Laserdisc (I’ve also seen the live show), and it was transferred from the 35mm version. From what I’ve read, the performances are considerably different.
Since the Stanford will screen Oklahoma! in 35mm, it will be the CinemaScope version. But the Cerrito and Elmwood will screen DCPs from the recent digital restoration, made from the Todd-AO negative. Digital projection can handle 30fps just fine.
I’m looking forward to catching that one…and maybe My Fair Lady, as well.