The great Lauren Bacall passed away this week, one of the last surviving stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood (some perspective: now all the actors referenced in the song "Vogue" are dead). Bacall was also there at the dawn of radical, industry-reshaping technology, as she was the first actress to be projected using a new technique called CinemaScope.
The very funny How to Marry a Millionaire stars Bacall, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe as three models living in an impossibly large loft in Manhattan who use their wit and sex appeal to snag rich husbands so they'll never have to work. (Don't worry, even in 1953 it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek... I think.) Even now, as you watch the panning shots of a 1950s New York, the play of light and shadows in their apartment, the vibrant colour of Bacall's outfits, you can tell that this film was something special for its time. And it was—this was the first film released using a revolutionary format that would come to change the way movies were made.
CinemaScope used a set of anamorphic lenses that captured and projected images twice as wide as the aspect ratio used at the time — basically, wide-screen as we know it today. The resulting was a dramatically rich and detailed picture that was marketed to audiences as an Imax-level experience: "You see it without glasses!"
The innovation was all about money, of course: like 3-D, CinemaScope was meant to bring viewers back to the movies at a time when television was becoming more alluring. But it was a success. 20th Century Fox president Spyros P. Skouras ended up licensing the technology to most of the major studios, even commissioning Bausch & Lomb to create special CinemaScope lenses, which ended up winning an Oscar for technical achievement the following year. Although eventually better anamorphic lens systems — namely Panavision — would replace CinemaScope, the lasting effects on Hollywood remain.
Fitting to her legacy, one of Bacall's best turns on the screen is forever immortalised in the shiny new CinemaScope format, making it one the more beautiful films of the era. Watch it tonight and celebrate Bacall as the world's most charming gold-digger, made even more larger-than-life thanks to this game-changing tech. [Netflix]