What happened to Smell-O-Vision, the frustrated system of the 60s that allowed you to smell movies

  • 1

You walk into the room, sink into your seat, get out the soda and the big pack of popcorn —the XL, the week has been tough and you’ve indulged yourself— and get ready to enjoy that movie for the next hour and a half. that your colleagues at the office keep telling you about. You’ve been buzzing since Monday and you’ve bought your ticket with very high expectations.

You want to see the protagonists.

You want to hear them.

If the movie is in 3D —strange, really— maybe you can even almost feel how you touch them.

But… And sniff them?

If there is an explosion, for example, why not smell the smoke and gunpowder? And if the characters are walking on the beach, why not feel the sea breeze as you can hear the waves?

See, hear… and smell

It may seem like a silly question, but Hans Laubepassionate about aromas, made all the sense in the world in the 1930s. The idea had promise and, after all, was not entirely new: in some theaters, such as the Family Theater in Forest City, Pennsylvania, they had already tried to spray the public with perfumes related to the show they were enjoying.

Until then the attempts to aromatize the public had passed without sorrow or glory, but Laube was convinced that with the right approach they would enrich the experience. His purpose was not for the rooms to smell of roses or lilacs in a funny nod to what the public was seeing on stage. No. What Laube wanted was much more ambitious: for the smells to advance the plot, to reinforce and enrich it just like music or visual effects.

What I wanted was a full-fledged soundtrack of aromas. And that, precisely, was what marked the difference with previous attempts or later systems, such as the AromaRama,

With more desire than resources, he prepared a system for the 1939 New York World’s Fair: Scentovision, a manual device with tubes connected directly to the spectators’ seats and that allowed odors to be dispersed from the projection room.

That the detective smoked, the aroma of a cigarette was emitted. That he stopped in front of the window of a pastry shop, because the public was flooded with the smell of freshly baked dough. The idea was good, but did not work. Scentovision didn’t attract enough interest and Laube had to put it away in the drawer.

For a time, at least.

What happened to Tamagotchi, the electronic toy that swept the 90s and has managed to reinvent itself 25 years later

That peculiar olfactory proposal ended up capturing the attention of two well-known filmmakers in Hollywood, mike todd and Mike Todd Jr, father and son. They liked Laube’s idea to such an extent that they agreed to make the most of it in a film that would be released shortly after, in 1960. Not even his father’s death stopped a project that made his vocation clear already in the title: ‘Scent of Mystery’.

In order for the experience to be complete, the primitive device of the 30s was polished and automated. It was no longer necessary to release the odors one by one, thanks to a perfected system it released them and transported them to the viewer. That version 2.0 of Scentovision was called Smell-O-Vision and in a masterful game of marketing it was raised almost almost as the reinvention of cinema, its greatest technical advance since the arrival of sound: “First they moved (1895)! Then they started talking (1927)! Now they smell!” the slogan of “Smell-O-Vision” euphorically preached. He promised.

And expectation generated, of course. “It can produce any odor, from a skunk to a perfume, and remove it instantly!” the columnist preached Earl Wilson shortly before his debut. The device was aiming high, but unfortunately it fell short.

Odorama Geruchskarte

The critics were baited with the tape, they mocked of the content and Laube saw how he lost the second round in his attempt to fill the theaters with aromas.

What went wrong? as it points wired, what seemed wonderful on paper was difficult to translate into practice, in theaters. Depending on where the viewer was located, odors were perceived with a delay or were not perceived at all, often giving the impression that the system was out of sync. In short: the experience was more like a stroll through a drugstore than the placid olfactory tale Laube dreamed of. when in 2010 TIME made the ranking of the 50 worst inventions from history sneaked the unfortunate Smell-O-Vision.

“Forget 3-D: what the public really wants is to smell a movie. So thought Mike Todd Jr., who back in 1960 financed the ill-fated Smell-o-Vision trick, a system that allowed a reel of film to trigger the release of bottled scents that were channeled to the audience in sync with moments in the film. The only film to make use of Smell-o-Vision was 1960’s ‘Scent of Mystery’, written specifically with the trick in mind. The results, as expected, they sucked, and Smell-o-Vision was never used again,” ironized the magazine.

What happened to VisiCalc, the ancestor of Excel designed at the end of the 70s and which triumphed with the Apple II

Was it a total failure? Not at all.

Perhaps Laube’s invention did not take hold, but he sowed a seed that, with variations, has germinated again on other occasions since then. In the 80’s John Waters wanted to explore that same olfactory universe, although with a much simpler formula on a technical level: his film ‘Polyester’ It included an “Odorama”, a strip with numbered boxes that the spectator had to go scratch and smell when he received the indication from the screen. In a nostalgic nod to the film’s history, even MTV applied a similar system during a 1992 revival of ‘Scent of Mystery’.

Even today continues to be explored the path that Laube undertook nearly 90 years ago. There are devices that aspire so that we can smell our video games or what we see through our televisions. Olorama Technology seeks recreate an immersive experience in any visual format thanks to smell and there are even companies that are already working to bring scents to the Metaverse.

After all, you know, if we can see and listen to fiction…Why not sniff it?

You walk into the room, sink into your seat, get out the soda and the big pack of popcorn —the…

You walk into the room, sink into your seat, get out the soda and the big pack of popcorn —the…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.