17/3/1897: The World's First Widescreen Movie
On the 17th March 1897, Enoch Rector and Samuel J. Tilden, former associate of the Lathams, filmed a boxing match in Carson City, Nevada, between James Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons. There was nothing particularly innovative about the filming of a boxing match, but Rector decided that this one would be staged on a grand scale. Rector invented a new camera, which he called a Veriscope, to film the fight. The camera used 63mm film – when everyone else was using 35mm – effectively making this the first ever widescreen picture. Not only did this create a spectacular impression, it also ensured the canny Rector retained sole control over the movie's distribution and projection. Rector used three adjacent cameras to record the entire fight, resulting in a film of 11,000 feet. This was edited down to 15 minutes by Rector and Tilden.
Rector projected the film at the Academy of Music, 14th Street, New York during the early summer, and then moved it to the Park Theatre in Brooklyn before it was presented throughout the country by buyers of territorial rights. It is estimated that Rector made an eventual profit of $120,000 from the movie. Approximately twenty-five minutes of the film survives today.
“Until that picture appeared, the social status of the screen had been uncertain. It now became definitely low-brow, an entertainment of the great unwashed commonalty. This likewise made it a mark for uplifters, moralists, reformers, and legislators in a degree which would never have obtained if the screen had reached higher social strata.”
Terry Ramsaye: A Million and One Nights.
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