The Movies Stake their Life on a Revolution....and ANEX-KING RETURNS TO POWER
The advance fighting patrols have reached Canadian theatres as Hollywood opens its three-dimensional last-ditch battle for the lost audience. Next big attraction: Marilyn Monroe right in your lap!
TWENTY-SIX years ago North Americans crowded into theatres all across the continent to hear and see their first sound picture — Warner Brothers’ presentation of The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson. A revolution had occurred in the film industry: silent pictures were soon to vanish from the screen.
Today, Hollywood and all of us who purchase its wares are witnessing another revolution. It’s called 3-D, a terse tag for three-dimensional films. And it threatens not only to make today’s films, or “fiats,” as outmoded as yesterday’s silent pictures, but also to revolutionize theatre design, writing techniques, and acting standards.
After seeing Cinerama, a form of 3-D, author Robert Sherwood declared, “Now there is a tool with which we playwrights can submit the audience to any experience we want to give them, and what is more, condition them for that experience.” Columnist Robert Ruark called it “The movies’ answer to television.” Trade papers enthused, “It’s 1.927 all over again!”
Television, of course, is behind this new adventure in entertainment. There are about twenty-one million television sets in continental United States today—that is, a set for every seven persons. Canada has a quarter of a million sets, and will undoubtedly acquire a great many more as the infant CBC television system grows in stature and prestige. If all these television owners, or even some of them, are to be lured back to the movies there’s got to he something good to lure them. Hollywood might once have hoped that better movies would do the trick, but now, encouraged by the phenomenal success of two pioneering 3-D films, it has chosen to gamble on the novelty of the third dimension.
It was not until last January, following the tremendous public response to This Is Cinerama and Bwana Devil, that 3-D really got into its stride. In February the trade magazine Box Office observed, “Today’s aim for every major film studio is to get there fastest with the mostest.” By March half a dozen of them were already shooting in the new medium, and three completed films were on view in American cities, breaking box-office records.
Canadian audiences have seen the first featurelength 3-D film to reach Continued, Toronto, United Artists’ Bwana Devil, the story of a lion hunt in Africa, and are looking at Warner Brothers’ 3-D horror picture, House of Wax—also being premiered in Toronto. The National Film Board’s two 3-D cartoons, Now is the Time and Around is Around—made by Norman McLaren and shown a few years ago at the Festival of Britain—are touring the country, and Famous Players is equipping fifty Canadian theatres for threedimensional pictures.
Looming on the immediate horizon are Columbia’s historical epic, Fort Ti; Paramount’s costume drama, Sangaree; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s rodeo film, Arena; Twentieth Century-Fox’s religious drama, The Robe—and a provocative little something called 3-D Follies, emerging from the studios of Sol Lesser and starring Montreal’s favorite strip-tease artist, Lili St. Cyr.
By the end of the year every large Canadian city will have had its own introduction to the third dimension— possibly including the most spectacular of them all, Cinerama.
In the meantime, as some Hollywood wit has put it, “Everybody’s got three dimentia.” What is it all about? people ask each other. What is this thing called 3-D? How new is it, how does it work, and what does it promise us?
Briefly, 3-D is the successful achievement of a third dimension—depth—in the realm of motion pictures, which hitherto have been confined to two dimensions—height and width. There are two basic kinds of 3-D, as Hollywood uses the term:
• Real (or stereoscopic) 3-D, requiring viewers to wear polaroid glasses.
• Pseudo (or wide-screen) 3-D, which can be viewed without glasses.
Three main sub types of 3-D are, at the moment, in the news. They are Cinerama and CinemaScope, which use the wide-screen approach, and Natural Vision, which is truly stereoscopic 3-D.
What does depth do for a movie? It gives things a new reality. A good three-dimensional process can bring pictured people mysteriously alive, make scenes vivid and exciting, give a film a flesh-and-blood substantial look.
Bwana Devil, made in stereoscopic 3-D, is not a good picture, but it captures some of this magic. For instance, when (in one sequence down by a river) the reeds part and a native face peers out, it peers really out—that is, the face comes toward you, there in the audience, as close as if the man six rows ahead had turned round in his seat and was staring at you . . . Native warriors jig up and down in a circle, pointing their spears. Another couple of yards, you feel, and that thin boy’s weapon will stick you between the ribs.
The Philadelphia theatre where I saw Bwana Devil early in February carried its advertising to a logical conclusion when it promised patrons “A Lover in Your Arms.” “A Lion in Your Lap” would have been more apt.
This three-dimensional sight is the kind of visual reality that our own two healthy eyes provide us with every day for the simple reason that human beings have “binocular vision”—that is, our eyes are separated so that they see at different angles. Then the two different views seen by our two eyes reach our brain simultaneously and are combined there into one picture, firmly planted in the three dimensions of height, width and depth. Nearly a hundred years ago Oliver Wendell Holmes described stereoptic vision in j the Atlantic Monthly:
By means of these two different views of an object, the mind...feels around it and gets an idea of its solidity. We clasp an object with our eyes as with our arms . . . then we I know it to be something more than a surface.
True, or stereoscopic, 3-D attempts I to imitate this natural vision.
In New York, a spokesman for the Bwana Devil interests explained to me, “One-eyed people lack depth of vision.
! It is in the play of your two eyes that you get three-dimensional sight. We i call our kind of 3-D Natural Vision be; cause it photographs with two cameras i representing your two eyes, perfectly I synchronized. We put our film into j two projectors and project the two reels simultaneously onto the screen. When you look at the screen with your naked eye it appears as if you’re looking at two pictures a bit out of focus. It’s only when you put on our special polaroid glasses that the two outlines move together, the picture comes into perfect registration, and you get a threedimensional effect.”
It costs about fifteen hundred dollars 1 to install Natural Vision in a theatre. The equipment includes a Natural Vision screen and two synchronized projectors. Each projector has a filter made of a different kind of polaroid, a material which plays tricks with light rays. In the glasses worn by the audience the polaroid in the right lens is the same as that in the filter on the projector which reflects the right-eye image, and the polaroid in the left lens corresponds to that in the projector which reflects the left-eye image. The effect is that a person in the audience simultaneously sees two images, one with each eye, and his mind fits them ! together so that they register depth, the third dimension. A big advantage of stereoscopic 3-D is that it can be viewed from any seat in a theatre without distortion.
This Is Cinerama, the amazing film currently being shown in New York to a record crowd, is pseudo 3-D and achieves its effects in a quite different fashion. It is, as the science editor of the New York Times points out, “an engulfer”— by which he means that it manages, by using an enormous curved screen, numerous projectors and half a I dozen microphones, to engulf you—the j audience— in the scene you are witnessing. Cinerama does not pretend to imitate nature’s binocular vision, and you wear no glasses to look at it. Instead, its astonishing three-dimensional effects are achieved by what its inventor calls “peripheral vision”—that is, it brings to your brain not only the impact of what you see in front of you, but also what you see out of the corner of your eyes.
In its psychological suggestion, peripheral vision is amazingly effective. This Is Cinerama opens with a breathtaking sequence on a roller coaster. To photograph the scene, the threeeyed Cinerama camera was placed in the front of the little car; you, the audience, are in the position of a man astride the camera—in other words, you are taking a ride in a roller coaster, with nothing ahead but hills and hollows, and to either side the buildings and shapes and figures that go to make up an amusement park. Your eyes see ahead of you, up and down, and to both sides. The roller coaster starts to move . . . you climb up and up and up . . . the buildings on either side fall back . . . you mount higher still . . . you are at the top, suspended between heaven and earth in a small red roller coaster . . . Then the car drops. And a few seconds later you are sitting in a moving-picture theatre, your voice hoarse from screaming on a roller-coaster ride you didn’t really have.
That’s peripheral vision. That’s Cinerama, so real that General James Doolittle had to clutch his seat for support during the roller-coaster sequence; so real that young jet pilots home from Korea find themselves banking and swinging during an airplane stunt sequence.
Cinerama is so expensive its owners think that two hundred Cineramaequipped theatres across the continent
is the most they can hope for. Conversion of a theatre to Cinerama involves installing a concave screen in three sections—the one in New York City is fifty-one feet across and twentysix feet from top to bottom, almost six times the size of an ordinary screen. Three projectors, five amplifiers and eleven sound projectors are scattered through the house. Once a theatre is converted for Cinerama it’s useless for anything else. Cost of conversion is said to be approximately fifty thousand dollars per theatre, but prefabricated projection booths are now in the
making, which will bring the outlay down.
New York prices for Cinerama— now sold out till June—range from $1.20 to $2.80 a ticket and are expected to stay high in every city where Cinerama plays. A spokesman for the outfit says, “This is quality entertainment for a discriminating audience.” Unfortunately, not everybody can sit in the centre of a theatre—from where Cinerama looks its best. Those who have to sit upstairs, or on side aisles, are treated — quality entertainment notwithstanding — to a picture with
peculiarly distorted sound and sight
CinfmaScope has been defined as “Twentieth Century-Fox’s cheater process for avoiding glasses.” It appears to be a sort of middle way between Natural Vision (inexpensive to install, but requiring polaroid spectacles) and Cinerama (no glasses required, but prohibitively expensive for most movie houses). CinemaScope produces a three-dimensional effect with a camera which sqeezes a wide image onto ordinary film; a special lens in the projector releases the image full-width on the screen. It requires a larger than usual curved screen and synchronized loudspeakers. CinemaScope has been called “the poor man’s Cinerama” because it is less expensive to install (from five thousand to thirty-five thousand dollars, depending on the theatre) and is an engulfer rather than a stereoscoper. Twentieth Century-Fox, owner of the process, has announced it intends to make all its future productions in CinemaScope and that its cameras and projection equipment will be available to all studios, producers and theatres in the United States as soon as they can be manufactured. Already several other companies have indicated their interest — including Warners, Paramount, Columbia and M-G-M. Spyros P. Skouras, president of Fox, recently predicted that about three thousand theatres throughout the world would be equipped with CinemaScope by October; Meanwhile, for showings in unconverted theatres, Fox has developed an optical process for converting film photographed in CinemaScope to Ordinary flat projection, and Paramount plans to bring out a method which will give a 3-D effect to the backlog of flat films on hand.
Where Cinerama brags that it doesn’t have to rely on the Hollywood star system for its effects, Fox likes to dig you in the ribs and chuckle, “Wait till you see our Marilyn Monroe in threedimensional CinemaScope!”
Now, all this interest in 3-D is not new, as anyone will tell you who ever whiled away an old-fashioned Sunday afternoon with a bulky stereoscope set. Thousands of us remember wearing colored glasses (one eye was red, the other green) and looking at Pete Smith shorts away back in the Twenties. Children with Viewmasters have a kind of 3-D today. There was 3-D at the Paris International Exposition in 1900, at the 1939 World’s Fair, at the Festival of Britain, and 3-D in Russia, where a theatre operates full time showing three-dimensional films using a lenticular screen made of small cylindrical lenses. The weakness of the Russian system is that it works only in very narrow theatres (a British patent for an identical process, called Autostereoscopy, was applied for before the last war).
There was 3-D on Broadway in 1930. called Anamorphoscope. It was the invention of a German camera maker called Paul Rudolph, who passed it on to a physician called Sidney Newcomer, who passed it on to a professor named Henri Chrétien, who is credited with being the inventor of 1953 - style CinemaScope.
What’s new in today’s stereoptic 3-D process, of course, is the use of polarized glasses, plus color, plus stereophonic (or 3-D) sound, beamed at its audience from all over the theatre.
Some of the most advanced work in the 3-D medium has been done by Norman McLaren, a young Scottishborn artist with Canada’s National Film Board. A few years ago he was asked to submit something in the way of 3-D cartoons to the Festival of Britain, for showing in the supermodern Telecinema theatre. He came up with two colored animations: Now ■s the Time (from the advice given to 3-D viewers, “Now is the time to put on your glasses”) and Around is Around. These two films, which have been shown to two and a half million people in Europe, got their first Canadian showing at the 1951 Canadian National Exhibition, played five weeks at the Kent theatre in Montreal, entertained New Yorkers early this year at Broadway’s Globe theatre, and began a cross-Canada tour recently.
A novelty animation, set to composer Louis Appelbaum’s delightful 3-D music, McLaren's work presents varicolored geometrical shapes dancing, looping, and waving against beautifully colored backgrounds.
With all these experiments in 3-D floating around for fifty years, people are naturally wondering why Hollywood is so excited about 3-D so suddenly. The Motion Picture Herald believes it has the answer:
Interest in stereoscopy might have been greater within the industry if there had not been the hope that somebody, somewhere, somehow would sometime come up with a third - dimensional process that would not require those damn glasses!
Finally, of course, someone did. His name was Fred Waller and his process was Cinerama—admittedly not true 3-D, but no one was in the mood to worry about technicalities. Sir Alexander Korda declared, “Sound, which came at a time when the silent-picture industry was on the decline, raised the film industry higher than ever before . . . Cinerama, I am convinced, will have the same impact.”
Stock in Cinerama, Inc., once as low as ten cents a share, gradually climbed to four dollars, then soared to nine dollars overnight before settling down to six or seven dollars. This Is Cinerama opened on Broadway last October. In February the advance sale of tickets to the end of May was $331,000. After fifteen years of hard work and headaches, Fred Waller had hit the jackpot.
The Eye Paints A Picture
The background of Cinerama is a long and involved story, almost as complicated as its three-dimensional financial setup in which one company owns the patents, another supplies the equipment, and a third produces and displays the films. Over the years Waller—described as “the kind of fellow who goes out to the barn to build a kitchen shelf and winds up inventing a better nail”-—had invented water skis, a wind direction and velocity indicator, and a camera that measured a man in a fiftieth of a second for a suit of clothes. In the Twenties, as head of Paramount’s trick-film department, he used wide-angle lenses to get special effects. He noticed that these lenses produced a faint three-dimensional effect. He began to wonder: Why do people see the way they do? What do they see? What do they think they see? He came up with the theory, “The eye lens paints a crude picture on the retina, but it’s the brain that fills in the detail.” In other words, much of what we see is what we know is there.
Waller wasn’t getting very far with his reflections until 1939, when he was asked to do some film projections at the World’s Fair, on a curved screen. “Curved screen?” he muttered, and suddenly something clicked. He had been trying to make a camera that would duplicate human sight on a flat screen, but actually what people see when they open their eyes is a curved picture—that is, they see ahead of them and to both sides, as if they were looking at the world on a curved screen.
Waller invented a ponderous camera with eleven “eyes” which focused on a curved screen—the father of today’s Cinerama.
Through the years before This Is Cinerama struck gold Waller doggedly kept working on improvements while the financial strength of the venture ebbed and flowed like the Fundy tide. On the way, Waller gained wartime fame by inventing an aerial-gunnery trainer in which his Cinerama cameras projected shots of enemy planes on a spherical screen in front of trainee gunners, giving them a chance to get
used to combat angles without leaving the ground.
With the support of men like Lowell Thomas and Merian Cooper, the producer of the trick movie King Kong, the financial backing for Cinerama stayed strong enough to allow This Is Cinerama to be made. Soon after it began showing to jammed houses, Louis B. Mayer stepped in as chairman of the board. “Mayer’s name stamps Cinerama as big time,” commented Fortune. Recently a seven-milliondollar deal was negotiated with Technicolor for future Cinerama pictures,
including the musical comedy Paint Your Wagon, with Bing Crosby. Hollywood was properly impressed.
It was even more impressed when Bwana Devil began pulling in the dollars on the west coast. This was the. three-dimensional picture that radio writer Arch Oholer had been working on for three years, amid the dire predictions of everybody but a few stanch friends and his wife that he was riding for a fall. Renting the 3-D Natural Vision cameras of a manufacturer named Gunzberg, Oboler made Bwana Devil on a low budget in Africa, bought up a mess of polaroid spectacles in cardboard frames, and did all his preliminary advertising himself by radio, newspaper and television. Bwana Devil opened in the Paramount Theatre in Hollywood and on the first day the gate was an amazing nine thousand dollars.
United Artists stepped into the scene at this point, paid Oboler half a million dollars down and promised another million and a quarter from future receipts. In the next few months Bwana Devil moved on to thirty other theatres, making money all the way. (United Artists got its down payment back from the first ten engagements.) Polaroid stock soared, and Bwana Devil took second place in all United States bookings.
With Cinerama and Bwana Devil making money, and television more threatening every day, every film com-
Some people say I am so good. They wouldn't, if they knew The many wicked thoughts I think I hope they don’t show through.
LUELLA K. JOHNSON
pany in Hollywood decided to get into the act. When I visited New York early in February, things were in a fine state of confusion. Everybody was talking about 3-D, every edition of every newspaper carried the latest bulletin on what studio was going to make what kind of 3-D movies.
All sorts of problems, angles, and interesting sidelights were coming into view:
• One-eyed projectionists were going to be out of work, since two eyes are required in 3-D projection. The Projectionists’ Union was reported busy on their behalf.
• Thin girls were going to be useless on 3-D. “They’ll look like skinny little runts,” word went around.
• Popcorn sales were going to shoot up, since rewinding the reels of 3-D films would mean an extra intermission halfway through the film.
• Songwriters were going to have to write songs in a different way. Writers would have to tighten up their dialogue. Acting would have to be sharper, crisper, simpler, so as not to detract from the 3-D technique and, because cutting would be extremely difficult, actors were going to have to memorize even long speeches.
• As for those glasses P Were they harmful to the eyes, or weren’t they? M-G-M’s production chief Dore Schary (who wasn’t using them in his pictures) said he was sure they were against the law of nature and must hurt the vision. On the other hand, an ophthalmologist who introduced Bwana Devil said that they were perfectly harmless and very relaxing ... It was rumored that rival companies were buying up polaroid glasses just to spite United Artists. A spokesman for UA said that wasn’t true . . . Should the glasses be cardboard-framed and expendable, like Bwana Devil glasses? Or should they be the more expensive permanent kind? If the latter, what could be done to stop the public taking the glasses home?
. . . What could be done to convince the public that the movie glasses are no good for night driving or sunshading?
. . . What could keep the glasses from getting dirty and so obscuring the view? . . . What are customers sup-
posed to do with their gkv.co during ten-minute intermissions? ... If you stand up to let somebody pass you on his way to a seat, and your glasses fall off, and he steps on them, how do you get hold of a new pair? . . . While cardboard spectacles can be discarded, the more expensive plastic-rimmed type must be handed back as you leave the theatre, where they are collected, sterilized, put back in Cellophane and handed out to newcomers. The Cellophane makes a noise in the theatre as one person after another removes the glasses from the envelope, and the sterilizing stuff makes the glasses smell fishy.
“Heaven help us if anybody gets an eye condition and goes to court and says it’s the fault of 3-D glasses,” a harassed distributor muttered to me.
And so it stands. Many trade realists insist that 3-D is tomorrow’s goal, not today’s realization. Certainly the 3-D films I’ve seen so far are anything but perfect, with the illusion of perspective often lost in the technique and a fair amount of confusion in the picture itself. Bwana Devil and some offerings by Bolex Stereo, which I caught in New York in February, were both bad in this regard. A couple of old Festival of Britain 3-D shorts were beautiful, but almost completely void of action. Cinerama, while powerful and spectacular, displayed ugly dividing lines on its three screens.
Even those most closely connected with the present processes admit there’s still a long way to go. A spokesman for Bwana Devil said, “Sure this picture is full of faults, but most of them resulted from trying to get the third dimension. You wouldn’t judge the future of sound on The Jazz Singer, would you? Well then, give us time.” Cinerama spokesmen say, “We’re working on it. Cinerama will be ten times more effective in a little while.”
Of one thing the industry is becoming certain: there’s got to be some sort of standardization of 3-D. Whether it will be Natural Vision, CinemaScope, or some other process still in the testtube state, nobody knows. But certainly theatre owners, as well as the industry, are going to have to make a decision sooner or later, if Hollywood is to go all-out on 3-D in its attempt to defeat TV.
It is reliably reported that 3-D television in color is not at all impossible. Harry Donovan, producer of Telemou’nt-Mutual Productions in Hollywood, said in February that 3-D color television was ready and just waiting the Federal Communications Commission’s approval. There should be little increase in production costs, Donovan said. A special stereoscopic lens will be placed on the television camera to get a 3-D effect, the image will be projected by twin projectors and—oh yes, you’ll have to wear glasses to see three-dimensional TV !
Others believe that to get 3-D in good effect on television all investments in the entire television setup would have to be scrapped and the thing remade and realigned from scratch. Still, it could be done.
Paul Raibourn, vice-president of Paramount, recently orated before a convention of scientists: “Pitiless indeed are the processes of creative thought upon which engineers rely and in which they glory. They respect the convenience of none. Old gods are tumbled from their pedestals. Misery awaits in their path. Yet their result wiU continue to be the enlargement of human life.”
Which gives us something to think about. If 3-D films outmode our present films, and 3-D television outmodes 3-D films, where do we go from there? *