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Celebrating 3-D On Its 75th Birthday

by Leonard Maltin
May 21, 2014 1:15 AM
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Beany and Cecil help audiences understand the workings of 3-D.

Inventors experimented with 3-D in the earliest days of motion pictures, but experts agree that the medium came of age at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. That’s where Polarized 3-D made its public debut at the Chrysler Pavilion. A short subject called In Tune With Tomorrow was shown every day in dual-system 35mm. No print is known to have survived, but Chrysler presented a follow-up for the Fair’s 1940 season called New Dimensions (later released theatrically as Motor Rhythm)…and it’s going to make its home video debut this fall.

Bob Furmanek, of the 3-D Film Archive has produced a collection called 3-D Rarities which Flicker Alley will be releasing on Blu-ray this fall, and it promises to be exciting for 3-D aficionados and newcomers alike.

Furmanek has been busy restoring films for this Blu-ray from original elements wherever possible. New Dimensions has been mastered from a pair of 35mm Technicolor prints (one for the right eye, one for the left). As a bonus, the disc will include 3-D color images taken at the Fair. (Incidentally, If I could step into a time machine, that’s where I’d want to go. I love Lance Bird and Tom Johnson’s documentary The World of Tomorrow, which includes wonderful home-movie footage of the Fair, and David Gelertner’s evocative novel The Lost World of the Fair.)

The 3-D Rarities disc has much more to offer: the 1952 prologue to Arch Oboler’s Bwana Devil featuring Bob Clampett’s popular TV puppets Beany and Cecil… the earliest surviving 3-D demonstration film from 1922, Kelly’s Plasticon Pictures: Thru the Trees, Washington, D.C. …a promotional film for the Pennsylvania Railroad called Thrills for You, first shown at San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition in 1940… the original trailer for William Cameron Menzies’ black & white feature The Maze, starring Richard Carlson…a color stop-motion animated short called The Adventures of Sam Space…and more.

Richard Carlson in a scene from "The Maze."

All of these shorts have been mastered in high definition, and Furmanek reports, “All films in the 3-D Rarities release have been restored from original left/right 35mm elements and meticulously aligned shot by shot for precise registration. These historic 3-D films have never looked this good before.” Bob is not one to exaggerate, and I look forward to seeing this collection on Blu-ray.

By the way, Bob has recently posted a comprehensive and fascinating article on his website about the first year of widescreen movies, 1953—the same year as the 3-D boom. I can’t imagine how studios, filmmakers, or theater owners made crucial and costly decisions during that year of constant change. It’s easy to understand why studios shot two separate versions of early Scope films like The Robe and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers—one in widescreen, and one “flat,” to accommodate theaters that hadn’t yet invested in new lenses and screens. As the Criterion Collection showed us last year, director Elia Kazan and cinematographer Boris Kaufman prepared three separate versions of On the Waterfront in 1954—in 1:33, 1:66, and 1:85—to cover themselves! Bob Furmanek’s article draws heavily on movie trade articles and ads from the period. It’s “must” reading at 3-D Film Archive.

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More: Journal, 3-D, Bob Furmanek

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  • Chris Sobieniak | May 24, 2014 4:42 PMReply

    Thinking of an animated film done in 3D around the early 1950's that I've only ever seen in 2D, the Halas & Batchelor short "The Owl & The Pussy-cat" comes to mind.

  • Mark Heimback-Nielsen | May 21, 2014 10:09 PMReply

    On May 25, 1953 Universal-International Pictures released the first 3-dimensional musical short subject film to go along with the studio's release of the 3D feature film "It Came From Outer Space". Nat "King" Cole is the main star, singing "Pretend", in this 18 minute featurette directed by Will Cowan and filmed in "scientifically perfected eye-resting full-sepia mono-color". The featurette also includes Joan Elms singing "Blue Moon" with Russ Morgan and His Orchestra as well as Charles Drake, Joseph Sawyer, and The Gene Louis Dancers.

  • Norm | May 21, 2014 7:21 PMReply

    LM hits another Grand Slam in alerting his readers to more savy viewing, this time in
    3-D...Wasn't that Lucy's apt. number ? For avid film afficiandos or just people who enjoy a good story, the history of 3 -D is among the top. This is one item that belongs among the archives, but not hidden ...Man's ascent from the primordial ooze...

  • John | May 21, 2014 6:55 PMReply

    Bob has done an absolutely amazing job in preserving 1950's (and obviously even earlier!) 3-D elements than anyone. If it wasn't for him much of this material would be lost forever! I can't wait for this release and "Dragonfly Squadron" and the other 3-D projects Bob is working on. Now if the other studios would only climb on Bob's 3-D wagon with their 1950's 3-D classic and not-so-classic but fun 3-D features. "Hondo" and "Kiss Me Kate" would be a good start. "Robot Monster" and "Cat Women of the Moon"? Uh maybe later? You da man Bob!

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