Cinerama and Teatro Lux

Photograph of the structure that once housed Teatro Lux in the neighborhood of Bellavista in Panama City, Panama. Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

From 1972 to 1980 I lived in a comfortable boarding house at Calle Primera Perejil owned by Ms. Margot.  Ms. Margot was originally from Colombia, but had lived in Panama for many years, so many that I thought she was a native Panamanian.  I can still remember the flavor of her food in my mouth.  She had the ability to cook like an angel, specially fish-related plates.  Living there was like living in a high class hotel.

Another advantage of living at Margot’s Place was Teatro Lux. This cinema was only two blocks from my house.  This theater was exquisitely decorated in lush red and its silver screen was huge.  I’ve never seen a bigger screen ever.  It covered the  viewing room from wall to wall.

Teatro Lux was specially built to project movies in Cinerama which used three different projectors, each sending one third of the image to the screen.

The huge image captured by the Cinerama cameras was displayed on a curved screen with an arc of 146 degrees, almost a half circle. The result was a feeling of depth that made the viewers feel like they were inside the movie.

Not only did the Cinerama screen wrap around the audience, the sound did as well. Cinerama used five channels of sound behind the screen and two surround channels. A rear surround channel was achieved manually. Film operators had to follow a cue sheet and throw switch to play the sixth channel on both side walls and divert the seventh channel to the rear speakers.  The experience of viewing a movie with Cinerama technology is beyond words—literally.

The first Cinerama movie was released in 1952.  There was a total of seven films produced in the three-camera Cinerama process:

  1. This Is Cinerama
  2. Seven Wonders of the World
  3. Cinerama Holiday
  4. The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm
  5. Search for Paradise
  6. How the West Was Won
  7. South Seas Adventure

For those of you who were not alive during the Fifties or Sixties, let my explain that Cinerama is the trademarked name for a widescreen process which works by simultaneously projecting images from three synchronized 35 mm projectors onto a huge, deeply-curved screen, subtending 146° of arc. It is also the trademarked name for the corporation which was formed to market it.

It was the first of a number of such processes introduced during the 1950s, when the movie industry was reacting to competition from television. Cinerama was presented to the public as a theatrical event, with reserved seating and printed programs, and audience members often dressed in best attire for the evening.  Cinerama was invented by Fred Waller and commercially developed by Waller and Merian C. Cooper.

Today, as the world realizes the importance of the Cinerama art form in motion picture history, serious efforts are being made to ensure that a whole new generation of movie buffs will be able to experience the magic of Cinerama. Currently, there are only two places in the world still capable of showing three-panel Cinerama films: Seattle’s Cinerama Theatre and a theatre and museum in Bradford, England. The L.A. Dome, which will also offer Cinerama screenings, is currently under renovation in Los Angeles.

The 1999 re-opening of Paul G. Allen’s restored Cinerama Theatre in Seattle brings new hope that the revolutionary art form will be preserved for generations to come. Audiences well into the 21st century—and beyond—will be able to experience the magnificence of the three-eyed and 70mm Cinerama format that captivated America 40 years ago!

I was lucky to view three movies in Cinerama (e.g., This Is Cinerama, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, and How the West Was Won. To this day, I can remember in great detail the quality of the images and the realistic sounds inside the theater.

Now Teatro Lux is no longer a place where magic can be  experienced.  It’s locale is currently occupied by a small money loan center (financiera) called Govimar and the Department of Passports of the Ministry of Government and Justice.

The sound of racing speed boats at the Florida Everglades still vibrate inside my head.  Adios Teatro Lux and Cinerama. Good Day.

15 thoughts on “Cinerama and Teatro Lux”

  1. Omar, we really need to get you into an IMAX theatre. It is the most amazing experience where you feel as if you are IN the movie. The screen seems to wrap around the audience and the seating is so steep everyone feels like they could reach out and touch the screen. It takes some time to get accustomed to it.
    jim and nena
    fort worth, tx

  2. Hi Jim & Nena:

    Never heard of IMAX. I don’t think we have it in Panama yet, but I could be wrong. Will keep my eyes and ears open.

    Sounds exciting, the way you describe it. There’s also a lot of buzz about 3D movies and 3D TV programs. Will they be back?



  3. I looked for IMAX in Panama but didn’t find anything so far? The 3D buzz is very strong and some networks are experimenting with it, it is hugely popular at the movies now. I think the digital technology is making it possible where previous techniques did not produce good results.

    The 3D combined with the IMAX screen must be seen to be believed.
    jim and nena
    fort worth, tx

  4. Omar:
    Ah! El teatro Lux, como no. Me acuerdo de ir a ver peliculas alli en los anos 80. Y recuerdo haber renovado el pasaporte panameno en la oficina de al lado en el 2006.
    Si, tiene que ver una pelicula en IMAX, es totalmente sorprendente. Tambien 3D. pero no todos las pantallas de los treatros so adecuadas. El sistema de sonido THX es lo maximo tambien. No recuerdo si los cines en el Mall que queda donde estaba el Aeropuerto de Paitilla tiene THX.

  5. Hola Jaime:

    Gracias por sus comentarios. Últimamente voy poco al cine; generalmente veo muchas películas en el Internet y no tengo que pagar ni gastar gasolina. 🙂

    Investigaré lo que usted menciona sobre el teatro ubicado en Albrook Mall.



  6. Buenos días,

    Bonitas las fotos como siempre. Ya que soy un poco anacoreta, nunca he vivido en la capital. La Colina de la UP me resulta fascinante porque nunca olvidaré cuando viajé para ver la revisión final de mis créditos. La secretaria abrió una carpeta y me dijo “Está usted graduada!”.

    Y eso de ceremonia, con toga y birrete, para mí irrelevante. Luego, mi padre tenía que ir a Panamá y me dijo: “No te preocupes, dime donde está el diploma y yo te lo traigo”. Y así fue: el hombre sin vicios que, gracias a Dios, cumplió ayer 96 años, subió la Colina sin siquiera agitarse y retiró el diploma. Luego recorrio el Campus y fue a dar a la cafetería donde almorzó en medio de los estudiantes.

    Cuando regresó, me entregó el diploma y agregó. “Dice que esta vaina ( la medalla) también es tuya”… jájá


  7. Hola AS:

    Fechas con las graduaciones, la muerte de un familiar, el nacimiento de un hijo, la contratación del primer trabajo, el primer beso, la ceremonia nupcial son algunas de las experiencias de la vida que jamás se olvidan.

    Felicitaciones a su querido padre; cumplió su misión.



  8. Ah .. the old teatro Lux. I lived from 1964 to 1972 just a few blocks away on 39th between Ave. Peru and Ave. Cuba. I think I saw pretty-much every new movie that came out !!! Memories.

  9. I have a photo of this “The Lux” from 1941. If you want it I can send it to you and a few other photo from Panama. My parents lived there from 41-46.

    1. I’m working in an audiovisual presentation of the LUX theater history, and his administrator of those years, Mr. Antonio Hassán, could you send me that picture of 1941:
      Thank you.

  10. El Cinerama jamás será superado, ni por el iMac ni por 3D; la experiencia es totalmente diferente y el sonido igual, insuperable.

    1. Here is the photo of the theater in 1941 that my dad took. Hope you like it. Janet

      On Sat, Jun 15, 2013 at 9:27 PM, wrote:

      > ** > modesto lombardo commented: “el cinerama jamas sera superado, ni por el > imax ni por 3d, la experiencia es totalmente diferente y el sonido igual > insuperable” >

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