For reasons I can’t entirely explain (but I’ll probably try anyway), the prospect of seeing vintage 3D films fascinates me, even as I do my best to avoid current 3D as much as possible. Part of it is simply a the ability to see something in a form that we usually can’t anymore (because 3D films from the 1950s and before are usually seen only in 2D now), part of it is an interest in the more experimental shorts included in the program, part of it is an illogical preference for old things, part of it is mere curiosity about whether it would be better or worse or different than modern 3D, and part of it is just perversity. In any case, I knew from the moment this program was announced that I would try to go see it, and I’m very glad I did, for all the reasons I just mentioned, and because Serge Bromberg, the French film historian who curated and presented the program, is an absolute delight, as well as being extremely knowledgable and able to accompany the silents himself on the piano. If scheduling had permitted, I would’ve gone to his Trip to the Moon program as well.
The program had everything from Disney cartoons from the 1950s 3D boom to Pierre Lumiere remaking his own turn-of-the-century films in 3D in the 1930s to experiments as old as 1900 to Russian nature films, and even a couple of modern CG cartoons. Pretty much everything was delightful in one way or another, and I’m just going to go through the program short by short, mostly in the same order Bromberg did. One note: we were given two pairs of glasses at the beginning, both red/green anaglyph paper glasses and modern RealD polarized glasses. We only used the anaglyph glasses on one film, which surprised me. Somehow I thought all the 1950s films were done with that technique, but actually, it seems very similar to current 3D, and the RealD glasses worked perfectly for them all. I know very little about the technical side of these things, so I apologize in advance for any errors I make on that front, and please correct me.
Three Dimensional Murder, aka Murder in 3-D (1941)
This was the one film that used the anaglyph glasses, and it was basically a tech demo for 3D, albeit directed by George Sidney. Part of the Pete Smith series of shorts, this one has Smith (first-person camera pspective) heading into a creepy house and being attacked by all sorts of things – a mummy with a spear, a witch’s hand, and Frankenstein’s monster throwing or dropping everything in sight directly toward the camera. All the stereotypes of 3D being about hurling or thrusting things at the camera, yeah…they’re all here. With the glasses on, the red and green tints combined to make a black and white image – to do color, they had to go to a different technique, much closer to what is done today. This short was ridiculous, but fun, until it wore out its welcome about halfway through. The anaglyph process is not that great, either, and was easily the most eye-straining part of the program, with the colors flashing annoyingly on the screen and a lot of ghosting effects.
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