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Saturday, January 14, 2012

3-D Concludes (For Now)

Arch Oboler felt the success he’d given the motion picture industry should merit  a medal at least. Lacking of wisdom in that industry had forced him to operate without proper funds, under constant tension, and in an atmosphere of ignorance and disparagement, said Oboler. Standardization of three-dimension must take place immediately, according to the producer, and companies had best beware of giving the public anything less than perfection in the production of 3-D features. He was convinced that audiences would reject Cinerama and other widescreen processes once they’d experienced true depth, and that the next five years would be golden ones. Within that period, all films would be presented in three-dimension, according to Oboler.

Judging by action at turnstiles, few would argue Oboler’s point, but was this revolution really built to last? You’d think distributors were squirreling ahead for those five years based on orders Polaroid received for glasses. Twenty-five million was the number needed as of January 1953, with Bwana Devil the only feature in release. Cost of each pair was ten cents. Polaroid stock went up eight points within that month. All sorts of problems came with donning spectacles, however. Ones supplied for Sol Lesser’s Tri-Opticon (now renamed Stereo-Cine) were plastic-framed and reusable. It was said these were dipped in antiseptic solution before transfer to the next patron.

Projecting 3-D at a Drive-In Was Usually Recipe for Disaster, According to Trades

Natural Vision’s cardboard counterpart was more fragile and of a throwaway variety. Patrons in many situations were encouraged to take these home as souvenirs. A few showmen were reputed to have fudged on disposal of the specs, collecting ones discarded and handing them out to incoming audiences as a cost-saving measure, even as community and state Boards Of Health became more vigilant in monitoring proper issuance. Ticket takers were trained to advise everyone not to put fingers on the Polaroid lens. Those already wearing spectacles were issued rubber bands in some venues to adjust 3-D glasses over their own. Others could modify the frames to fit existing ones, even as flimsy cardboard sometimes tore or bent in the effort.

Careful handling was needed for customers showing up with vision handicaps that rendered impossible their enjoyment of 3-D. Employees had to be trained to tactfully approach those with crossed eyes, one eye, and/or other myopias. One showman had an optician friend who informed him that only twenty percent of the population possessed equal vision in each eye, suggesting a possible tie-in that encouraged those who couldn’t fully enjoy 3-D to arrange appointments with his office following the show. Be sure you analyze the matter of such values as exist in “negative” advertising cooperation --- attempting to make the ad copy read to the picture’s advantage --- before going in for optical tie-ups, was that exhibitor’s warning to the wise.

Even those eagle-eyed among patrons were challenged by oft-too-dark projection. You really had to pour light on 3-D for it to register properly. Some estimated a sixty to seventy percent loss of illumination between the projector’s output and what viewers saw. Souping up the arc  could generate excessive heat in the aperture area, causing damage to the machinery and the film. Traditional style black masking around the picture would distort as well. Everything was happening so fast with this fad as to make it difficult to address problems in an orderly manner or get trained help needed to correct them.

Boosting projection equipment up to speed proved insurmountable for many theatres. Belief that accessories needed to present 3-D could be readily had from their usual suppliers left management unprepared when harsher realities became clear. Projector bases had to be moved in many instances so that larger magazines could be installed to hold oversized reels used for Natural-Vision. Running two machines at once for synchronization of left and right prints required more electrical power to generate amperage needed. Special wiring was essential and that meant bringing in licensed electrical contractors. This led to compliance issues with power companies and various city ordinances.

A screen congenial to 3-D required buying one new (estimate: $450 minimum) or retrofitting what you had. The latter required a delicate spray-painting job. Done right, it might work. Bungled, as these rush efforts often were, made 3-D and conventional shows look worse for the "upgrade" ... all this and more such disruption for the privilege of running the one available depth feature, Bwana Devil, albeit with a promise of more, but how many … and when? Exhibitors as of January 1953 had to wonder if they were being led down the garden path to a three-dimensional briar patch.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That poster for "College Capers" reveals a tagline that might even surpass Alien's legendary "In space no one can hear you scream" --- "Has anyone seen my panties?"!

10:43 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Well, now we have the real reason 3D died in the fifties. The theatres did not want to spend the money to do it right.

Can't blame them. That's big investment on an unknown quantity.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

I can speak personally to the fact that 3D technology could not be appreciated equally (or at all) by everyone due to natural or unnatural variation. At age 4 or 5 I was given a Viewmaster and I had a lot of great slides (my favorite was stills from some beautiful stop-motion dinosaur movie) but it was years before I realized that if you looked through each eyepiece you could see stereoscopically. The problem was that the distance between the Viewmaster eyepieces wasn't adjustable and my eyes were just a tad too close together to comfortably fix both images at once! I didn't learn how to see stereoscopically through lenses until I was handed a pair of suitably adjustable binoculars. I must have been 10 or 11 years old by then.

9:20 PM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

"A Day in the Country" narrated by Joe Besser . . . No wonder exhibitors desperately wanted to believe in 3D.

12:25 AM  
Blogger Suzane Weck said...

Adorei teu blog.Estarei seguindo. Grande abraço.

8:22 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon responds to Chris on 3-D and vision issues:

Hi John,

Reading what Chris had to say, I can relate! My eyes are also a little more closely-spaced than what the Sawyer's Viewmaster allowed for, but I guess I was just able to squeeze in the parameters, as I was able to perceive the 3-D effect. Those "beautiful dinosaurs" Chris refers to were a combination of stop motion puppets as well as larger mechanically-activated ones constructed by artists and mechanical effects people working at Warner Bros studio for Irwin Allen's 1956 film, "The Animal World". This was mostly a kind of True Life Adventure film without Disney involvement, except for a relatively brief segment featuring a depiction of dinosaurs, always surefire content for young theatergoers. There is a clip featuring these scenes from the film included with WB Home Video's disc of "The Black Scorpion". This disc was a great deal, since in addition to this sequence, presented in its entirey (and, all that many film fans today would be likely to want to see from the full feature), there are also clips from personal footage shot by Willis O'Brien's less-known protege, Pete Peterson, which is extremely impressive. "The Black Scorpion" was also a collaboration between O'Brien and Peterson, as were the spare but effective effects created on a shoestring budget for the British-made "The Giant Behemoth". I once met Gene Evans in 1977 and told him how much I'd enjoyed his many film appearances, mentioning this one. He told me how he'd suggested to the producer that that title was 'somewhat' redundant! But he said the producer, oblivious, replied, "Aw, no! You've got to just imagine it on the marquee! "The GIANT Behemoth"! Evans shrugged, and it was very amusing to hear another report of yet another seasoned professional baffled by the mysterious workings of some producer's brains.


5:05 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks Suzane!

Google translates Suzane's message from Portuguese to read:

"I love your blog. (something) following. Big Hug."

Anyone know the (something) I'm missing?

5:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't help thinking another problem is that once you've seen 3-d(and you're an adult)you don't feel a great need to see it again, whereas with widescreen, you had that relaxing tableaux to look forward to(projected the old way in a big theatre, anyway).If you watch a 3-d movie in 2-d, and you've seen a 3-d movie already, you have a good idea what the movie looked like in 3-d.I'd be glad to watch HUGO on a flat DVD, as you still see the fine deep focus photography.I like KISS ME KATE in 2-d for the same reason.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Imaging an experience is never the same as actually experiencing it.

Most of us discover that with sex.

I had seen more than a few 3D movies before I saw KISS ME KATE in 2D.

But nothing I imagined prepared me for the wonderful experience of seeing it in 3D. Ditto THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, DIAL M FOR MURDER, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, HOUSE OF WAX, etc..

7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was "College Capers" ever released? I can't find any information on it.

2:08 PM  
Blogger VP81955 said...

Among the array of 3-D films scheduled to come out this year (before this cycle runs its course) is one produced by Roger Corman that, by title alone, seems tailor-made for the process. It's called "Attack Of The 50-Foot Cheerleader." Alas, most moviehouses running it in these days of multiplexes would have to scale down the titular colossal co-ed to a mere 20 or 30 feet.

11:25 PM  

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