Labor Day weekend was supposed to be the last stand for Cinerama. The curved, wide-screen, old-time film format was destined to go the way of the Edsel after special showings at the last theater in the United States that still screens movies using the three-projector process.

But Cinerama enthusiasts in Dayton, Ohio--home to the last stateside Cinerama theater--have rallied to keep the format from fading forever from the big screen.

Larry Smith, who manages the New Neon Movies theater in Dayton, has created a non-profit organization, the Cinerama Preservation Society, to save his beloved films.

Smith's New Neon showcases rare Cinerama films, which have been preserved by the work of film historian and collector John Harvey. Smith announced plans for his last-ditch rescue effort last Monday during the intermission of the 1956 travelogue, Seven Wonders of the World.

There were only seven films made from 1952-1962 for the three-projector process, invented by Fred Waller. Although the public responded eagerly at first to visions of swooping roller coaster rides and sweeping panoramas, accompanied by the seven-channel stereo surround-sound invented Hazard Reeves, it proved a short-lived gimmick.

Smith and Harvey began their collaboration a year ago, bringing crowds of fans from 36 states and 11 different countries to the Ohio movie house. They came to see the 1952 documentary This Is Cinerama, the 1955 travelogue Cinerama Holiday (so faded the print is pink) and How the West Was Won, the 1962 saga directed by John Ford, Henry Hathaway and George Marshall--Harvey reconfigured the latter from 20 different prints.

Attendance dipped in recent months, and Smith announced Cinerama's final curtain. But everything changed when he hit on that non-profit plan, which will channel 65 percent of ticket sales towards restoration of all seven Cinerama films. This weekend's screenings sold out quickly, and two additional weekends are planned as fund-raisers.

In addition to the New Neon, Smith's Cineramatic work is screened in its true format at only one other theater in the world--the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford, England.

What about the famous Cinerama Dome in Hollywood? Well, the Dome, now run by the Pacific Theater chain, did run This Is Cinerama in 1988. But the film was not shown in the original process, the Dome's three projectors having long since been ripped out. This Labor Day weekend, the domed cinema was to feature G.I.Jane in today's less poetic, wide-screen, anamorphic format.

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