More than a century of the 35mm format

Invented at the end of the 19th century, the 35mm films they have been part of cinema (and photography) until very recently, when the digital world definitively imposed itself on the analog one.


William Dickson, engineer and film pioneer at the service of Edison, was the one who first used a film developed by Eastman, to which he added perforations to be able to hold it to the camera. Thus was born the format of 35mmwhich became standard after the congress held in Paris in 1909 and which lasted until the first decade of the 21st century.

35mm film

Measurements of a standard 35mm film with the soundtrack (hmn)

Although the width of the films was 35mm, there were different formats or proportions, such as the usual 1:1.33 of silent cinema to 1:1.25 with the introduction of sound cinema, where the film needed space for the sound track. sound.

In the 1950s, a tough competitor came to the cinema: television. Soon homes were filled with these devices, forcing the cinema to seek solutions to bring lost viewers back to theaters. was looking for one more spectacular and the image came up panoramaAs the cinemascope or the cinerama.

Widescreen formats used a anamorphic lens, which basically does is compress the initial image to fit the frame and then decompress it again to display it on the screen. The system was invented in the 1920s, but it was not until the 1950s that the Twenty Century Fox acquired it, initiating the era of cinemascope with the holy robe (Henry Koster, 1953). Other systems soon emerged, such as the viewvision or the panavisionwith new standards seeking alternatives to the Fox monopoly.

the sacred robe Richard Burton Victor Mature

Richard Burton and Victor Mature in ‘The sacred robe’the first cinemascope (IMDB)

Another system was cinerama, which had great success at the beginning due to the spectacular nature of its images (1:4) on a curved screen. But it had a problem, it was too expensive a system since it required three projectors and the adaptation of the rooms.

The Todd-AO It was another novel system developed by producer Michelle Todd, which used a 65mm negative film, so the frame could introduce more information than in the usual 35mm. This system was first used in the musical Oklahoma (Fred Zinnemann, 1955) and later in Around the World in 80 Days (Michael Anderson, 1956).

around the world in 80 days Cantinflas

Cantinflas in ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ (IMDB)

Although it seems very recent to us, another format that emerged in the 1920s was the cinema in three dimensions (3D). This system debuted in 1952 with bwana devil (Arch Oboler), where the overlapping of images produced an increase in depth, although the viewer had to wear special glasses. Curiously, once the novelty had passed, this system soon ceased to be of interest until it became fashionable again recently.

One of the consequences of the use of large cinematographic screens was the closeness that the viewer felt for the protagonists. Unlike theater, now, and thanks among other things to the use of close-ups, the protagonists began to become real starsrevaluing the films, whose names appeared on the posters as a great advertising claim.

Dolby Digital SDDS 35mm

SDDS and Dolby Digital versus traditional analog sound in 35mm film (Wikipedia)

One of the decisive moments for cinema was the arrival of the sound in the 1930s. The need arose to incorporate this novelty to 35mm films, which used lines of analog sound that were inserted between the perforations and the image. Already in the 90s, digital sound, Dolby Digital, arrived in theaters. and the SDDS from Sony. Later appeared the DTS, a system that synchronizes the images with the sound, but unlike the previous ones, this one goes on the CD-ROM apart from the film. Enthusiasts aside, 35mm cinema went down in history after the first decade of the 21st century, leaving behind a history of more than a century and countless number of films.

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More than a century of the 35mm format

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