• Rebecca Gallon

Sensory Cinema - "Smellomania"

You might not know it but scented cinema exists!

People have been playing with the idea of adding scents to storytelling since the very early days of cinema. In 1906, a theater in Pennsylvania dipped some cotton in rose essence and placed it in front of an electric fan for the showing of a newsreel about the annual Rose Bowl football game.

In 1959, Charles Weiss and Walter Read Jr. introduced AromaRama, a system that pumped artificial smells through an auditorium via the air conditionning ducts. The following yearm Michael Todd Jr, created Smell-O-Vision, which emitted fragrances from beneath each seat. Both were triggered by a special "smelltrack" wich was encoded on the film.

AromaRama was public to the world in December 1959 for the release of a documentary about Communist China called Behind the Great Wall. There were 52 different smells, including Jasmine, incence and the smell of salt water.

Less then a Month Later, The Scent of Mystery premiere in Smell-O-Vision with thirty smells, including garlic, boot polish, bread, coffee and perfume. The film follows an Englishman (Denholm Elliott) and a cabby (Peter Lorre) try to save an heiress from murder in Spain.

The idea of bringing smell in the theater might seem odd today. But this was only a few years after sound had been introduced. At its beginning, many people thought sound would distract from the stories of the films, just like what most of us probably think of adding smells to films. It was a time of experimentation as proved the arrival of 3D in the same period.

Sadly, just like 3D these films floped. The smells came at odd times during the film and the hissing noise of the machines was very disturbed viewer's experience. Scent of Mystery was released 10 years later as Holiday in Spain with no smell at all.

Later came a much simpler technology: Odorama.

A few films such as Polyester and later SpyKids 3D gave a scratch card with numbers. When a number appeared on the screen, viewers would scratch it on their card to reveal a smell they can sniff while watching the scene. This is more of a fun add on to the screening experience than an essential tool to understand and appreciate the film.

Even thought many failed attempts exist, recently Regal Cinemas has launched a new theater type, called 4DX, which incorporates smells into the movie experience. Other off-screen features are incorporated into 4DX as well, including motion enabled chairs, fog, strong scents, and water and air to simulate wind and rain. Regal currently operates 18 theaters with 4DX.

Would you enjoy smelling a film?

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