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Rudyard Kipling wrote: “Smells are surer than sounds or sights to make your heart-strings crack”. Many have tried to bring smell to the movies with varied success. Sometimes the aromas were too strong or faint, or not released at the right time. In addition, the human nose tends to mix smells up which had some unintended results.
In this travelogue of China 100+ odors were used including grass, earth, firecrackers, incense, horses, and even the odor of a trapped tiger! The New York Times gave their verdict, that it was simply: “A stunt. The artistic benefit of it is here demonstrated to be nil.”
This 1960 film released 40 odors including roses, wine, perfume, bread and pipe tobacco through vents under the audience’s seats. The NY Times review was unfavorable claiming the odors were ‘indistinct’ – thankfully noting that a scene in a bull ring did not have an accompanying aroma!
Filmmaker John Waters created a special version of his film ‘Polyester’ in 1982. It used scratch and sniff cards to scratch when that number flashed on screen. The smells were: Roses, Flatulence, Airplane Glue, Pizza, Gasoline, Skunk, Natural Gas, New Car, Dirty Shoes, and Air Freshener.
#4 “The New World”
In 2006, Terrence Malick’s film about the founding of Jamestown released odors at seven key moments. Audiences who paid for ‘Premium Aroma Seats’ were treated to various odors such as flowers, peppermint, orange, grapefruit eucalyptus, tea tree, and herbs.
#5 “4D Aroma-Scope”
The film ‘Spy Kids: All The Time In The World’ brought back the scratch-and-sniff method. One reviewer’s verdict was not good: “Vomit that smells like chocolate, candy that smells faintly like blueberry muffins, and bacon that doesn’t smell like anything at all.”
#6 Walt Disney
Disney considered releasing smells during showings of Fantasia (1940) but decided against it on cost grounds. Disney Resorts today use scent in movie attractions such as the smell of a stinkbug in ‘It’s Tough To Be A Bug” and the smells of orange and pine in ‘Soarin’ Over California’.
#7 Early Attempts
Prior to the movies there had been some limited earlier attempts to scent theaters such as during “An Orange Grove in California” in the Music Box Revue (1923) when the smell of orange was released, and in ‘The Broadway Melody’ (1929) where perfume was sprayed onto the audience.