Loyal readers may remember my little rant about the modern 3D craze. Perhaps my dissatisfaction with today’s 3D is what makes me that much more excited read about this series of classic 3D films screening at the Film Forum New York in today’s NY Times.
Generically known as “double system” — because it requires the use of two 35-millimeter projectors, running side by side in perfect synchronization — ’50s 3-D at its best produced an illusion of depth of such brightness and clarity that it puts many modern single-projector systems to shame.
And forget about those red-and-green glasses. Though it’s a myth that refuses to die, the 19th-century anaglyph process (to give the red-and-green technology its textbook name) played only a tiny role in the 3-D boom of the ’50s.
Back then, just as in the systems most widely used today, polarized lenses were used to separate the two images projected on the screen into left-eye and right-eye views. But because 35-millimeter film has a higher resolution than the digital video used for today’s 3-D, and the use of two projectors allows more light to strike the screen than the single projector of digital 3-D, the illusion produced by the double-system technique has a sharpness and presence all its own.
Doesn’t that sound way more fun than the latest crop of films, converted to 3D after the fact, with their cumbersome glasses and overarching lack of 3D art direction?
Listen to this quote from J. Hoberman about 1953’s Man in the Dark: “Truly classical. Nondescript locations become impossibly exotic: A shabby barroom seems as monumental as the Parthenon; tracking past flat shop-window reflections on a 3-D street creates a cubist wonderland. The movie’s climactic roller coaster fight, scaffolding popping out against bargain basement back projection, is an even more kinetic riot of flatness and depth.” Now that’s 3D!
(NWFF’s technical director and lead projectionist Matt Cunningham might beg to differ, however. Read the rest of the article for more detail about why this fad went the way of live dubbing.)