A personal anecdote about my long, loving relationship with 3D movies
It occurred to me recently, as I exited the local multiplex after a film screening, that the kids today casually tossing their handsomely designed plastic 3D glasses into the designated recycle bins, have no inkling as to how wonderful they have it.
3D is a remarkable magic trick that people take for granted. The fact that, with aid of a pair of innocuous goggles, cinema can betray its flat origins and trick your senses into believing that all manner of mise-en-scene is emerging from the screen, drawing the viewer into its designer world and further marrying moving image to the targeted eyeballs being attacked.
Indeed, 3D is marvelous. And meaningful. And we’re so very lucky to live in a world where such a grandiose escapist gag is both so immaculate and relatively affordable.
As you can glean from this hyperbole, I am indeed an ardent fan of 3D. Always have been, since I was given my first 3D comic book.
When I was a child, 3D was an all-out obsession.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s 3D was just beginning to rear its head again, decades after its golden age in the 1950s. We know that the technology, which had existed since the silent era, first found commercial popularity at the time when television was drawing people away from the movie theater experience, pushing studios to come up with novel ways to drag the pundits back and give them a thrill that could only be attained by buying a ticket to the “flat tops”.
Arch Oboler’s Bwana Devil was the first feature film to prove the viability of 3D and Warner’s Vincent Price epic House of Wax was the first studio 3D film, one that locked in the ensuing wave of films to follow. Alfred Hitchcock even dabbled in the polarized, silver-screen-aided gimmick with his brilliant Dial M for Murder, one of the most artfully rendered 3D films ever made.
But, like all trends, 3D faded away in the 1960’s as younger audiences started demanding more urgent and earthy (and European influenced) entertainment.
When I was a kid, when home video was born and, like TV before it, became an even greater threat to to the film industry, 3D briefly returned.
And then there was Tony Anthony’s 1981 Italian gore western Comin’ At Ya!.
That film was a hit and inspired more filmmakers, both independent (Charles Band’s Parasite was a modest hit) and studio-bound (Universal had Jaws 3D and Paramount had Friday the 13th Part 3D), to make 3D movies, this time using a more economical split-stereo process that only needed a single filmstrip and projector with a special decoder lens adhered to the machine.
But that wave quickly died out too, when the movies (usually horror) being produced weren’t critically or commercially successful.
But back to the point of this essay: why 3D means so much to me.
As most of the 3D films of the early 1980’s were rated R, I couldn’t see them. I was but a we lad of 6 or 7.
I wanted to. But, in Canada, R ratings meant NO kid under 18 could see the picture, with a grown-up or otherwise.
So I was shut-out.
I fantasized about what these films would be like. What terrors would await me. What thrills. What fun!
One day, while sifting through my parent’s copy of The Toronto Star, I noticed a print ad.
In it, there was a photo of a gorilla…wearing 3D glasses!
The text around the shaggy beast screamed of a 3D festival that was aiming to be screened the following Sunday on local television channel Global TV.
The only way one could get the glasses needed to enjoy this triple feature of wild, vintage 3D movies was to either go to the local “Mac’s Milk” convenience store and buy them…
…track down the man in the monkey suit.
The network had apparently hired a few folks to dress up as gorillas and run around the city all week, handing out pairs of 3D specs to those eager to absorb the movies. Great promo for the channel, great promo for co-sponsor “Mac’s Milk” and an exciting, PT Barnum-esque hook to bring Toronto pop culture lovers together. The reason for this guerrilla/gorilla tactic was that the main feature on the 3D movie festival bill, was the great Anne Bancroft/Cameron Mitchell 3D suspenser Gorilla at Large. My jaw hit the kitchen floor.
I needed those glasses.
Better yet…I needed to find one of those apes!
I went running to my Dad (who was and remained my best movie buddy until his recent passing) to show him the ad and to tell him about how IMPORTANT it was for us to get these glass and search for the gorilla.
Alas, my bubble was quickly popped when my Pop told me that we were off to the cottage the weekend the 3D festival was screening and simply would not be home in time.
Now, most children would be thrilled to go up North to their summer home (or rather, my Grandparent’s summer home) to swim, boat, play and have fun. Not me. I was devastated. All week I was in a funk. All I could think about were those apes running rampant. All I could think about is the once-in-a-lifetime cinematic experience that I was being denied.
The cottage would always be there.
But, as the print ad stated, those glasses were only on sale FOR A LIMITED TIME, never mind the small window I had to hunt for the monkeys.
That weekend at the cottage, we got the Saturday paper and there again was that damned print ad, reminding me of the beauty I was going to miss on that Sunday night.
Now, turns out, my parents were primed to leave the cottage on Sunday afternoon.
There was a GLIMMER of hope that we’d be back in time to catch the 3D festival!
I begged my Dad to find a “Mac’s Milk” on the way home. But he refused. He told me he had tried to find the glasses and was told that they were sold out, city wide.
Now, some readers may find it cruel that my father did this. That he prolonged my misery as long as he did. But the old man was a showman through and through and he knew full well how to orchestrate a life experience, taking what for many would be a pithy distraction and stretching out the drama to make for an anecdote that would endure.
Of course, when we got home, two pairs of “Mac’s Milk” 3D glasses were waiting for me. Dad had bought them the weekend prior.
I lost my mind! I was the phoenix from the flame! I was Lazarus!
Most of all, I was totally in love with my Dad.
The Jiffy Pop popcorn was popped (and, like always, semi-burned) and we sat on the sofa to see what we would see.
Sure, we had to fiddle with the color bars on the TV endlessly and sure, the red/blue anaglyph glasses gave us headaches and branded our eyeballs with color filters for the next 24 hours (trivia: if the red lens is over the right eye and the blue lens is over the left, oddly, your brain will reverse the colors when you take the glasses off, so you see blue from the right and red from the left…stupid brain!) and sure, the 3D gags weren’t always awesome, with many of them ghosting and doubling.
But I was there. The story had its ending. A happy one. Dreams could and did come true.
And that night I watched the Vincent Price flick The Mad Magician, the 3D Three Stooges short “Spooks” and, of course, Gorilla at Large.
It was all a kind of modest magic. Moments like this that always made me find the voodoo in simplicity. Made me realize that the most pivotal life experiences, the ones that stick with you and help design who you will be, aren’t always operatic in scope.
They’re quiet. Personal.
And sometimes, they’re in glorious, rickety anaglyph 3D.
A year or so later I saw the PG rated Jaws 3D in the theatre with Dad. It was in polarized 3D. I thought the movie was awesome. Then, anyway. It was the first theatrical 3D film I as allowed to see and I remember taking 50 souvenir Jaws 3D mags from the lobby. Wish I still had one!
So with that, every-time I step into a movie and put on the glasses and have immaculate digital trickery thrust upon me, I remember. I remember the quest. And I value how awesome 3D is and how lucky we all are to have it.
Still…it would be nice if we had a few more gorillas to chase.