Bob Furmanek, director and CEO of the 3-D Film Archive has been working toward a goal for about thirty-five years. That goal is to find, preserve and share 3-D material. Bob’s vision came to life yesterday afternoon when an enthusiastic, sold-out crowd saw the premiere of 3-D Rarities at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. I was one of the lucky ones in attendance, one of the ones whose right and left eyes were opened to the wonders of stereoscopic cinematography.
The timing of the MoMA premiere and the film’s companion 3-D Rarities bluray available from Flicker Alley this week coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first documented public exhibition of a 3-D film on June 10, 1915 at the Astor Theater on Times Square. While that 1915 three-reeler is lost Mr. Furmanek and a select few film historians and technicians associated with the 3-D Film Archive have found and restored an impressive collection of rare short subjects dating back to as early as 1922. The MoMA screening ran at about ninety minutes, but the bluray includes over two and a half hours of rarities.
Among the prized shorts offered in yesterday’s MoMA screening were the earliest existing 3-D film Kelley’s Plasticon Pictures, which offers segments of detailed instructions to audiences about the use of the magic glasses. Another short takes you on a 3-D drive across the newly built George Washington Bridge and down a Coney Island roller coaster. In other words, if what comes to mind when 3-D is mentioned is nothing more than the likes of The Creature from the Black Lagoon or House of Wax, to name just two 3-D features of note then you’ll find 3-D Rarities as eye-opening as I did. The shorts included in this collection cover a wide range of subjects and offer a glimpse into how widely 3-D technology was used. Aside from being highly entertaining several of these shorts are also culturally and historically significant.
It’s difficult to choose standouts in the ninety-plus-minute program we saw yesterday because each short is entertaining in its own way. There was a bit of something for every taste – from night-club entertainer Slick Slavin doing impressions of Cagney, Colman, Laughton, Stewart, Greenstreet, Lorre and Bogart in Stardust in Your Eyes (1953) – to a fascinating stop-motion Chrysler film New Dimensions (1940) that illustrates how the Plymouth Sedan was made – to the sobering Doom Town from 1953, which centers on atomic testing as it was being done at Yucca Flats in Nevada. Also served were a number of movie trailers from the 1950s, which are a hoot. Among those shown at the premiere included It Came from Outer Space (1953) – McDonald Carey, Joanne Dru and John Ireland in a clumsy, but entertaining short promoting the 1953 Western Hannah Lee – and Rita Hayworth dancing in 3-D in the promotional reel for Miss Sadie Thompson (1953).
What may well be my favorite in the impressive lot of shorts, however, is the 1952 M. L. Gunzberg Presents Natural Vision 3-D Dimension, which stars Lloyd Nolan. Made as a prologue to Arch Oberler’s Bwana Devil this short explains how 3-D works and even features a opthomologist explaining how the technology is “healthy and beneficial.” Miss America 1949, Shirley Tegge and famous puppets Beany and Cecil are also featured in this one.
I think you can tell how excited I am about these productions, which looked great on a big screen. While I’m not qualified to offer commentary on the specifics of the restoration I can promise this collection is well worth your time and attention.
I want to offer congratulations to Bob Furmanek and the team of experts who worked so hard to save these films and put them together in such a varied, entertaining collection. I am floored thinking about the work that went into bringing these productions back from the dead – double the work that it takes to restore 2-D films to put it in perspective. For those of you interested in learning about the history and transfer details for each short these can be found in the 24-page book included in the 3-D Rarities bluray.
Pictured from left to right: Greg Kintz who did the 3-D restoration of the films, Producer Bob Furmanek (3-D Film Archive), Dave Kehr, Adjunct Curator, Department of Film at MoMA, Executive Producer, John McElwee of Greenbriar Picture Shows and Associate Producer Jack Theakston (Rome Capitol Theatre)
I also want to offer congratulations to Flicker Alley for adding 3-D Rarities to the already impressive list of rare films available on the site. The more I visit Flicker Alley the more I crave early film. Incidentally, you might want to visit the announcement for the upcoming Classic Movie History Project Blogathon, which I am co-hosting with Movies, Silently and Silver Screenings because Flicker Alley is giving away a copy of the 3-D Rarities bluray. Go here for details.
Finally, for those of you in or about New York City this summer visit MoMa for details on several exciting movie series slated to screen. Included in the schedule, by the way, are two more screenings of 3-D Rarities on June 28 and July 4 so don’t fret if you missed the premiere. You have a couple of chances to watch these shorts as intended. I promise you’ll have a great time.