Backyard Movie Party 2006, Part II – The Sequel

Rare original poster art for Maurnau's 'Nosferatu' (1922)

On Friday, September 29, Brian and Gary and I had a second Backyard Movie Party behind their duplex, just three weeks after the one on Labor Day Sunday. Miraculously, the weather cooperated and it was clear, slightly crisp night.

There are a couple great Flickr albums of low-light photographs of the evening by Patrick and Brian.

Following are the film list and post-facto program notes from Backyard Movie Party 2006, Part II – The Sequel. When available, the soundtrack on the film was used. For silent prints (and one sound film), recorded music from various modern sources was played. (iPod Nanos were just made for stuff like this.)

Cinematograph Souvenirs of America (1896, Lumière, FR)
Louis and Auguste Lumiere, and various operators
B/W Silent. Music: “Souvenirs” (1982) for organ by John Cage, performed by Stephen Drury.

Actualities and views filmed in the US by the Lumiere brothers during their first world tour in 1896. They and a crew would shoot new films in the country they were visiting. This footage would then be shown along with the original French prints at huge gala screenings received with tumultuous ovations. Included in this Blackhawk Films compilation are Lumiere actualities of Washington DC, New York City, a police parade in Chicago, and others. The organ music by John Cage was spacious, often very quiet and subtle, and slightly ominous. (I also like the intellectual pun of using Cage to provide the obligatory silent movie organ music.)

KoKo and the Kop (1927, US) b/w
Directed by Dave Fleischer. Produced by Alfred Weiss.
B/W Silent. A 1950 rerelease by Stuart Films, with added jazz soundtrack.

Max Fleischer, in his den, makes cardboard cutouts of some drawn city streets and buildings, tacking them to the wall. The inkwell is opened, and out come KoKo and his sidekick and foil, Pup. KoKo is a policeman who tangles with the hungry Pup, a prankster who’s intent on stealing a bone. Features some particularly surreal and fluid animation for the time. It not only got laughs tonight, it was played again as an encore by audience request. Earlier in 1927 there had been business changes (including a new producer), and the Koko series was renamed from Out of the Inkwell to Inkwell Imps. The different capitalization of Koko/KoKo’s name was a result of related copyright details.

Still from 'Betty Boop's Ups and Downs'

Betty Boop’s Ups and Downs (1932)
B/W Sound. An NTA television print ca. late 1950s or early ’60s
Animated by Willard G. Bowsky and Ugo D’Orsi.
Directed by Dave Fleischer. Produced by Max Fleischer. Executive Producer: Adolph Zukor.

It’s the depths of the Depression, and Betty is dispossessed. As she leaves her house, a “For Sale” sign goes up. The picture backs away, and then the whole block is for sale, then the whole country, and finally, the whole world. The Moon gathers all the planets around to auction off the Earth. Mars and Venus do not bid high enough, but the planet Saturn gets the high bid to buy Earth (of course, the Moon demands cash up front from Saturn, not really seeming to trust him). Saturn decides to see what happens if he takes gravity out of the earth…so he reaches in and pulls out a large magnet. With no gravity, Betty and all her friends and the houses, etc. begin falling up. Gravity is reversed, along with all other activities on earth.

Aladdin’s Lamp (1906, Pathé Frères, FR)
(aka Aladdin and the Marvelous Lamp, orig. Aladin ou la lampe merveilleuse)
B/W, originally hand-colored. Silent. Music used: “My God My Love Has Come” by the Master Musicians of Jajouka featuring Bachir Attar on Jajouka Between the Mountains (Womad Select CD, 1995)

Directed by Albert Capellani. Production Design by Hugues Laurent. Produced by Ferdinand Zecca.
Cinematography by Segundo de Chomon (who also photographed tonight’s The Red Spectre). With Georges Vinter as Aladin.

A trick film telling the legend of Aladdin and his magic lamp in simplified form. Peasant Aladdin falls in love with a princess. Promising he can win her hand, a mysterious stranger leads him to an enchanted cave, where he is beset by acrobatic gremlins and strange phenomena. He finds the magic lamp and uses it to escape. Back home, the lamp brings Aladdin wealth, luxury, and even marriage to the princess. But an evil magician appears and steals the lamp for himself. All of the magic is undone and Aladdin’s charade is exposed. He must regain the lamp or lose everything — even his life. Aladdin defeats the evil magician, regains the lamp and the princess, and lives happily ever after. In direct competition with Melies, Zecca was responsible for all trick films (and much else) for the Pathe company. poster art for Disney's 'The Skeleton Dance'

The Skeleton Dance (1929, Disney US)
B/W Sound. Blue toned print
A Disney Silly Symphony (using the Cinephone sound process)
Animated by Ub Iwerks. Music by Carl W. Stalling. Directed by Walt Disney.

Watch The Skeleton Dance at YouTube. The supernatural hijinks that go on in a graveyard at night. A Halloween-season classic featuring dancing skeletons playing each other like xylophones, lovely animation art, and one of the very first Carl Stalling cartoon scores ever. This was the first Disney Silly Symphony film, a sound series created in the immediate afterglow of the smash success of Steamboat Willy. Shown was an extremely rare toned print (or rather, a color copy of a toned print). This is different from tinting, where a wash of colored dye is applied to black-and-white film. This colors the whites and affects the greys, but leaves the blacks (mostly) black. This is the most commonly seen early color process. Toning, on the other hand, is kind of the reverse. Through a chemical process, the black is replaced with a color — red, or blue, or whatever. The blacks still look true, and the whites in the image are still white. But the “greys” are now shades of the color — the red or blue or whatever — instead of black. It’s unusal to see now, and it can be very striking (like in this film). But during the later silent era it was increasingly common. Some deluxe productions even used tinting on top of toned stock. Imagine the possibilities.

The Merry Frolics of Satan (1905, Star Films, FR)
(orig. Les Quatre Cents Farces du Diable)
B/W with multi-colored tinting. Silent. Music: “Hal on Earth” and “Calling All Mothers” by the Hal Russell NRG Ensemble from Hal on Earth (Abduction CD, 1989)
Produced and directed by Georges Méliés.

Georges Melies as Satan in 'The Merry Frolics of Satan' (1905)Melies is at his peak in this riotous 1905 film. A pair of British dolts visit an old wizard to obtain magic “pills” (more like “bombs” really) that explode and create whatever the thrower wants. Naturally, the wizard is actually Satan himself, who pursues and, well, bedevils the hedonistic fools with an army of acrobatic imps. The more the dolts use the magic bombs, the worse things go. After destroying various vehicles, taverns and dining rooms, the Brits flee on a carriage…until the horse transforms into a demon and carries them all down a volcano, straight into Hell. Dancing legions of demons and imps hoist them overhead, roasting them on a giant gerbil-wheel spit as Satan waves with glee from his throne. Explosions, flame, and brimstone smoke obscure everything, and the film ends. Melies was commissioned to film a version of this to be part of a theatrical pantomime staged by the Châtelet. The show, based on an 1839 chestnut called The Devil’s Pills, included the “demon horse” sequence as film — the rest was staged live. After that production closed, Melies expanded the film, shot new sequences, and put it into general release through his Star Films company.

The Red Spectre (1907, Pathé Frères, FR)
(orig. Le Spectre Rouge, aka El Espectro Rojo, Satan de Divierte)
B/W with stencil color and hand-coloring. Silent with added electro-acoustic soundtrack of unknown provenance.

Directed and photographed by Segundo de Chomón (who also photographed Aladdin’s Lamp in this program).
In a strange grotto deep in the bowels of the earth a coffin uprights itself, dances, then opens, and out steps a demonic magician with skeletal face, horns, and cape. The devilish magician then performs a series of magical acts. A classic trick film of the time, much enhanced by Pathe’s trademark stencil coloring (albeit rather faded in this print), with the rather unusual addition of selected hand coloring. A beautiful and strange film. This particular print also came to me with an unusual optical soundtrack of electro-acoustic music — chamber-orchestral instruments combined with electronics. Some fragments I also recognized in the Blackhawk sound-added print of Nosferatu shown tonight. If the soundtrack was stitched together from royalty-free sources, then someone really put some love into it. Great stuff.

Fall of the House of Usher (1928, US) Still from Watson & Webber's 'The Fall of the House of Usher' (1928)
B/W Silent. Music used: “Sense of Doubt”, “Moss Garden”, “Neuklon” by David Bowie (with Brian Eno), “Heroes” (LP, 1977)
Director/Cinematographer: James Sibley Watson, Jr. Set Designer: Melville Webber. Writers: Watson, Melville Webber and e.e. cummings, from the 1839 story by Edgar Allen Poe.

A beautifully abstract rendition of Poe’s dark story of the cursed Usher family and their doomed castle. One of the great silent avant garde films. Not to be confused with the longer French version by Jean Epstein and Luis Buñuel, also released the same year. Read some program notes about this film that I compiled in 2003.

Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922, DE)
(orig. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens)
B/W Silent, with added orchestral soundtrack (Blackhawk Films print)
Directed by FW Murnau. With Max Shreck as Count Orloff.

The great Murnau horror classic, albeit in the truncated 65 minute edit that has been most common. Fortunately, 90-plus minute restored versions are now available on DVD. Read more about Nosferatu at Wikipedia, which also has an interesting entry on the origins of the word “nosferatu”.

View from the screen, Sept. 29, 2006 - photo by Brian Alter

Blah blah blah…

Shortly after the September 3 Backyard Movie Party, house host Brian emailed me and said, “Let’s do another one on Friday, September 29.” I was positive it would rain, but said sure let’s do it. One 3D movie festival later and I’m back in town and Brian’s still up for it — so we go for it. By some miracle the weather actually cooperated beautifully (though it was a little chilly and the post-sunset condensation was more intense than I’d expected — note to self: more plastic bags next time).

Slightly smaller attendance this time, owing in part to the last-second invites (gotta stop that), and despite some returnees mostly a different crowd. Everyone was friendly and had a good time. I was especially flattered by the kind praises of an older gentleman I did not know who, I think, was of British extraction.)

Once again there was a feature (the one-hour version of Nosferatu with a pretty good added orchestral soundtrack) and a bunch of shorts. This one had a slightly artier bent. It was almost all silent film, with added music of one sort or another — except for two early sound cartoons from 1929 and 1932. Basically the program was influenced by the choice of feature (The Fabulous World of Jules Verne was another candidate) and anyway despite being a silent film geek, I don’t get to show them to audiences very much.

I’ve been doing movie parties since I was a kid (a tale for another day), but I can only remember one year when I was able to do two (one in the living room and one in the garage). Multiple screenings, sure, but not movie parties.

Film Notes on 3D Rarities II at the World 3D Film Expo II, 2006

3-Dimension Rarities II3-Dimension Rarities II

Sept. 17, 2006, 1pm
World 3D Film Expo II
Grauman’s Egyptian Theater
Hollywood, CA

(All of my posts about Word 3D Film Expo II can be found here.)

A truly history-making screening of rare, extremely rare, and astonishingly rare 3D short films and surviving fragments, as well as excellent new 3D video footage. There were a small number of repeats of Rarities from the first (and they thought only) 3D Film Expo in 2003, but the majority of the films shown were essentially premieres.

The headline for the papers was the world premiere of the miraculously restored Kelley’s Plasticon Pictures and related test footage from 1922 — now the oldest surviving 3D film in the world, and second oldest film known to have ever been shown to a paying audience. What’s more, the 3D imaging was phenomenal, like looking into a time machine. This film is discussed further below.

The following film list, in order shown, originated from my hand-written notes made during the screening. (There were no handouts or program notes, alas.) Please pardon any rough edges — I am adding and rewriting as time allows.

Meanwhile comments, corrections, and addenda are most welcome.

The screening was hosted by Expo II producer Jeff Joseph and technical director Dan Symmes, who introduced each film.

3D Jamboree
1956 (USA), Technicolor polarized, widescreen
Dir. William Beaudine
Brand new dual-35mm print struck from the original negatives

Cheers erupted from the (mostly older) audience when this was announced — not just a prized rarity, but the premiere of a stunning brand new print.

3D Jamboree was made to be part of a long-running movie attraction at Disneyland that premiered on June 16, 1956 and ran at the old Fantasyland until 1964. 3D Technicolor footage of the Mousketeers was shot to wrap around Disney’s other 3D properties, the cartoons Working for Peanuts (with Donald Duck and Chip ‘n’ Dale) and Melody. This particular screening did not include the cartoons (which were both shown twice during other screenings at the Expo), but included everything featuring the Mousketeers.

The 3D had good depth and overall was pretty flawless. The color negatives had survived extremely well, and the image quality was excellent and lush. For me though, the young whippersnapper, it was just kinda too bad it was used on the Mouseketeers — although it did make for a very bizarre 1956 time capsule.

There was a singing intro (with the trademark ramrod-stiff staging required by early television), a little 3D shtick with a long balloon, and segue segments for the two cartoons. This was followed by a weird staged routine and a song sung by a very young Annette as she swings back and forth right at you in a swing and frilly 1800s sun dress. Meanwhile, the rest of the Mousketeers were arrayed in little clusters around the soundstage, dressed in period costumes and doing shtick, with a few running around doing the Keystone Kops routine. 3D shenanigans ensue, perforce.

In announcing the film to the crowd, producers Jeff and Dan unveiled, with gleeful flourish, a large poster for the film. It was one of the big cards displayed in a main entryway to Disneyland, “travel” placards to the various “lands”. The designs were only ever used there, and few (sometimes only one or two) were ever made. So this poster is most probably the only surviving copy, unless one is still lurking somewhere in the Disney archives. It looked pristine, as though it had never even been used. It had been offered on eBay, where Dan Symmes bid on it. Everyone lost when bidding didn’t meet the reserve. Coincidentally, it turned out a mutual friend knew the seller, and eventually a deal was struck and the poster was acquired for the 3D Film Archive.

Festival co-producer Dan Symmes faked us out about this film. During a breakdown on the afternoon of opening Saturday, he killed time by taking questions from the crowd and discussing 3D stuff. When someone asked about 3D Jamboree, he said they hoped to show it but one of the surviving Mousketeers, “won’t say who, wants a whole lot of money to allow it.” Either it was a puckish ruse, or they managed to work it out before the screening.

There was another later Disney 3D film attraction, Magic Journeys, that ran for some years at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland.

New Dimensions
1943, shot ca. 1942 (USA), polarized Ansco Color print
Produced by Chrysler Corporation
Color remake of In Tune with Tomorrow (1934, b/w, polarized 3D)

A portion of this film, minus the end and with new opening titles, was released in 1952 as Motor Rhythm (which was shown twice during Expo II). This screening was only of the material different from Motor Rhythm, not the fully-assembled film — namely, the original opening credits and an outro promoting Chrysler’s then-new 1941 line of cars. The omitted portion of the film is a wonderful 3D stop-motion animation sequence of a car assembling itself.

[Lumiere Anamorphic 3D Test Footage]
1934 (France), b/w polarized

Anaglyphic still from August Lumiere's 3D test footage of 1933-34The Lumiere brothers, of course, are credited with inventing the first successful film projection process in 1895. Only the truly nerdy know about the 3D experiments almost 40 years later.

The Lumiere 3D process used a rather remarkable technique that is a little difficult to explain verbally, but I will try. The two “eyes” were rotated 90 degrees and printed side-by-side in a single frame of film. A special twin-anamorphic lens compressed the roughly square aspect ratio of each “eye” of the image so that they could fit together in the alotted frame space. This is the reverse of the principle used for Cinemascope-type widescreen, where the wide image is compressed to fit into a standard 1:33 frame. Instead, the (more-or-less) 1:33 image is compressed to fit into a fraction of the frame, alongside its twin — both of them rotated so their horizon is vertical.

To restore the film, these images were extracted, unsqueezed to their true aspect ratio, and then printed to dual 35mm. This same specially-converted print was shown (and I believe premiered) at the first 3D Film Expo in 2003.

It was beautiful. Appropriately, as you can see from the anaglyphic still included here, the reel included a 3D reenactment of the Lumiere’s famous train shot from 1895. There was a little bit of artifacting at times, but it was modest and forgivable, especially since it was otherwise quite true. An anaglyphic version of this rare test footage is to be found on the Festival of 3D Movie Trailers DVD produced for the first Expo (which is still available at this writing…hint). Unfortunately, it’s still TV 3D and gives little hint of the spectacular quality of the dual-35mm print we were treated to.

Thrills for You
1939 (USA), b/w polarized
DP: Leventhal, shooting with a Norling rig.

'Thrills for You' memorabilia

Produced by the Pennsylvania Railroad and originally shown at the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco. It had been thought lost for 65 years, until a 16mm print was recently discovered, restored, and a dual 35mm print made from that.

Excellent 3D imaging. Most of it was presented as verité documentary with music and minimal narration. Features awesome train footage — on board, passing landscapes, trainyards, factory interiors, the whole works.

[Vectograph test footage]
ca. 1953 (USA)
Joseph Mahler and Edwin H. Land

Photograph of Edwin H. LandOne of 2 test reels made in Los Angeles using the experimental Vectograph film stock. (Although some sources rumor of “several” reels, we were told with certainty only two were actually made). This print utilized reprinted 3D elements of the cartoon Melody (Disney, 1953). This is the only known surviving Vectograph film footage. Dr. Land (pictured at right) ordered the films destroyed, but this print, literally cut into pieces, was rescued from the trash and carefully re-assembled.

The Vectograph film stock can probably never be reproduced. Each polarized eye is printed on opposite sides of a single strip of film. Since it’s polarized, the image can be color. Although one would think this would result in shadowy or distorted image, it actually it worked surprisingly well. There was some modest though noticeable ghosting in some places (perhaps due to momentary mechanical imprecision during the optical printing), and the color had deteriorated. But overall it looked to me like a pretty successful experiment — why Dr. Land so resolutely abandoned the process is a little bit of a mystery (though it likely had to do with the 3D crash at the time).

As described by Lenny Lipton in his book, Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema, Land was first approached with the concept of the Vectograph in 1938 by a Czech inventor named Joseph Mahler, who made his living in part by supplying sheet polarizers.

“The Vectograph is similar to the anaglyph [red-blue] , since both images are superimposed on each other and may be projected with a standard projector without any modification. Because the coding of information depends on polarization rather than color, one would assume the full-color Vectograph might also be possible…” [Lipton, p. 88]

[William Crespinel 3D test footage]
The can the film was found in is labeled 1927, but the footage was probably actually shot ca. 1923
(USA) b/w, anaglyphic (r/b)
3D test footage shot in the early 1920s by Willliam T. Crespinel

Shown was a 1999 dual-35mm print struck from dupe neg; produced and owned by the George Eastman House, Rochester, NY (where the original still resides). Norling was apparently involved to some extent, though this was not elaborated on. These experiments were possibly related to the later Audioscopics films Pete Smith produced for MGM in the late ’30s and early ’40s.

One of only two anaglyphic films (their original format) shown during the entire festival, along with the following.

Third Dimensional Murder
(aka Murder in 3-D and Murder in Three Dimensions)
1941 (USA), b/w anaglyphic (r/b)
An original Technicolor print!

Gag publicity shot for 'Third Dimensional Murder' (1941) - Pete Smith (left) and Ed Payson (right)Probably the only surviving original Technicolor print of this film. The 16mm prints circulating in collectors’ circles, although generally pretty decent, are originally from a reduction dupe of (I think?) a 2nd generation print (possibly not even Technicolor).

Overall, the effectiveness of the 3D matched that of my 16mm print, though of course this one was much clearer — and bigger!! Though the effectiveness was still uneven, the only real (tho spectacularly) bum shot was one hand-from-the-wall gimmick, which was completely misaligned. But otherwise the 3D was consistently high quality and probably the best anaglyphic 3D I’ve seen. You can read some program notes about this film I compiled a while back.

New York City in 3D
2006 (USA), color
StereoVision 3D (with Dolby polarized dual video projection)
super-wide aspect ratio (Scope-ish) — huge

A new 3D video short by SabuCat Productions. Begins with 3D views culled from the NY Public Library (stereo-opticon slides, etc.) floating about — it was very effective and wonderful to see the old views, though I found myself wanting more lingering close-ups of them. This transitioned to modern-day views of the the city, in video footage shot ca. 1996. This included flying views of the World Trade Center, which was handled with understatement, but I confess it was unexpectedly moving. We were also flown over other parts of the city, as well as given land shots.

An excellent testament to the quality possible with well-handled 3D video.

Carmenesque
1953 (USA)
Starring Lili St. Cyr
Produced and directed by Saul Lesser
Shot using the Stereo-Cine dual-35mm process by Karl Struss

An original poster for 'Carmenesque', a short 3D burlesque film starring Lili St. CyrA very rare dual-35mm 3D burlesque routine. Shown flat — only one eye is known to survive. According to the 3-D Film List compiled by 3-D Revolution Pictures, this was originally part of a longer project titled The 3-D Follies that was abandoned before completion.
Features a wise-cracking parrot (absolutely awful jokes) that sounds suspiciously like Mel Blanc. A real artifact of its time.

Lili St. Cyr was a burlesque star and stripper who also made a number of short films during the early and mid 1950s. The market for this sort of film had to be impossibly small — high-end gentleman’s clubs (or underworld headquarters?) that could accommodate dual-35mm projection for an adults-only audience. I’d love to know more about the production history of this film. Especially since, as I understand it, most “sexy” films during the ’50s were produced to one extent or another by the Mob.

A Day in the Country (originally Stereo-Laffs)
1953 (USA), b/w
Originally anaglyphic
Remastered to polarized dual-35mm
Produced & directed by Jack Reiger (also worked w/ Pete Smith)
Released by Lippert Pictures

Anaglyphic still from 'A Day in the Country' (1953), recreated using Dan Symmes' 20/20 Process

One of three Lippert 3D shorts made at the time, all thought long-lost until a print of this was only recently discovered. Working from a faded and battered anaglyphic print, Dan Symmes used his 20/20 process to extract each “eye” of the red or blue image to separate motion pictures. These were then resynchronized, the image quality tuned up, and finally printed to dual 35mm for polarized interlock projection. A bumpkin family vacation, with misadventures and lots of slapstick. Shot MOS. Narrated in the Pete Smith style, complete with ham-handed sound effects. Shot somewhere around Sussex or Essex, NJ. (Dan was able to read a sign in the background from 2 frames of one shot and found the intersection on Google Maps.)

Symmes writes about the restoration of A Day in the Country on his web site, 3D Moving Pictures.

As it turns out, just weeks after Expo II concluded, Jeff Joseph unearthed paperwork that showed the film was originally titled Stereo-Laffs and had been licensed for exhibition in New York state in 1945. More recently, Joseph discovered even more amazing information: Stereo-Laffs had actually been available as early as 1941 — meaning it was probably shot in 1940!

Kelley’s Plasticon Pictures: Movies of the Future and Thru’ the Trees: Washington, DC
1922-23 (USA)
Produced & directed by William Van Doren Kelley
Photographed William T. Crespinell (some, perhaps all?)
Originally anaglyphic (r/b); fully restored and shown in a new polarized dual-35mm print

Re-created anaglyphic still from Kelley's 'Thru' the Trees' (1922)

The oldest known surviving 3D footage in the world.
First shown on Dec. 24, 1922 at the Rialto Theater in New York City.
(Only screening??)

World premiere of the restored film, itself unseen since the 1920s. A landmark achievement in film preservation, especially considering the technical hurdles that had to be overcome.

The first segment was comprised of experimental footage: simple moving tableaux showing silhouetted human figures and various objects — ladders, balls being thrown and caught, some very effective stuff with poles. Shot at extremely low angle, looks like floor level. Very nice indeed.

This was then followed by excerpts from Thru’ the Trees, shot by William Crespinel in and around Washington, DC. Amazing footage, with very effective 3D — it was like stepping into a time machine. Most shots are outdoor views of various famous locations, buildings, and monuments. The camera is usually situated with intervening trees and branches, providing visual framing to enhance the depth (hence the title). Men in straw hats and Model T Fords traverse the surprisingly empty streets. My notes from the screening say simply, “Stunning.”

This is the second oldest known publicly-shown 3D footage, after The Power of Love (which played for one screening in Hollywood, at the Ambassador Hotel, and a handful more in New York City — and is still believed to be lost).
Anaglyphic glasses used for Kelley's Plasticon PicturesFor this film, Kelley used an experimental color process he had developed, called Prizma Color, which used two colors ala early Technicolor. It was used for a natural color effect during the opening “flasher” bumper, which showed the red-blue Plasticon glasses (opera style) and explained that red goes on right. The rest of the original film used Prizma to create the anaglyphic 3D effect.

The recovered original anaglyphic print was so faded that the image could barely be seen with the naked eye, and the opening “flasher” segment had faded worst of all. Nevertheless, Symmes and the lab Triage (I believe) were able to extract and recover the stereo images for this spectacular brand new b/w dual-35mm print. What’s more, they were able to successfully restore the opening bumper in its original color. Although there was a limited palette to reproduce (the glasses and a hand over a white background), it looked quite realistic — indeed, better than some of the proto-Technicolor stuff I’ve been able to see.

Symmes writes at length about the rediscovery and restoration of these films on his great web site, 3D Moving Pictures. Even better for lucky you, Kelley’s Plasticon Pictures are reproduced in still form here, complete with large-sized anaglyphic images (a sample of which is included above). Thanks, Dan!

Rescuing this film in any viewable form would be something for the history books. That Symmes was also able to not only recreate its breathtaking 3D images and restore the Prizma Color process for future generations is an especially grand achievement. Alas, the Academy apparently failed to take note.

World 3D Film Expo II (2006) – Blogs, Reviews, and Links

Here is a collection of various blog postings and web articles about the World 3D Film Expo II, held Sept. 8-17, 2006 at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, CA. This will be expanded as time permits.
3D Film Preservation Fund

Please consider a tax-deductible donation to the 3D Film Preservation Fund. This organization, along with SabuCat Productions and the 3D Film Archive, played a pivotal role in Expo II and continues to be the vanguard of 3D film preservation.

Official World 3D Film Expo II photos page.

Turner Classic Movies: 3D Festival Movie Reports by Jeff Stafford

Real D Blog by Lenny Lipton, author of Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema: A Study in Depth (1982, Van Norstrand Reinhold Co.)

World 3D Expo 2006 by Alan Rode (FilmMonthly.com)

Solar Transit of the Space Station and Atlantis

Just a few days ago on Sept. 17, 2006, astronomer Thierry Legault in Normandie snapped an astonishing photograph (scroll down for the big view) showing the International Space Station and the detached shuttle Atlantis silhouletted against the full solar sphere. Absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful and humbling. Mind boggling.  You have to see it to believe it.  Really.
(Thanks to Joe G. for the foreward.)

Back from the World 3D Film Expo II

I’ve just returned from the 10-day World 3D Film Expo II at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater. It sure is strange to not be in downtown Hollywood immersed in 3D and movies every waking moment, walking around in sunny 80-90 degree heat. The first thing I’ve noticed, too, is how early the sun is now setting here in Seattle — about 2 min. earlier each night for 11 nights has made a big difference. Er, I’m still kinda post-vacation shell shocked, so pardon me if I ramble a little. (And do I really have to go back to work tomorrow??)

What an incredible experience. I could hardly have asked for a better time (let along a better 2-week vacation from work.) The film festival itself was fantastic. Every day had at least 2 or 3 features, but about half the days ran 14 hours long and had 6 features each. Rare shorts, cartoons, and even a couple newly-shot video interviews preceeded most shows, and every show had an intermission (as almost all did originally) — a tradition I sorely miss, even if in this case it was due only to the capacity of the theater’s projectors.

No preview trailers were shown, not even as a short early afternoon filler show. This is too bad and a little surprising since event producer SabuCat Productions owns trailers for many (if not all) of the 3D films, albeit in varying states of projectability. But it’s also completely understandable, given the amount of effort already involved just with the shorts and features. Fortunately, no less than 45 of these are included on their 2003 DVD, Festival of 3D Movie Trailers, produced for the first 3D Expo. (It also includes some nice anaglyphic sequences, including the 1934 Lumiere 3D experiments.)

All films at the Expo (with only a few special exceptions) were projected using polarized 35mm dual-interlock, where two projectors are synchronized to run one reel of 35mm film each — literally the left and right eyes. The legends of 3D migraines are grossly exaggerated — although it needs almost constant attention from the projectionists, almost everything I saw at the festival was sharp and clear (though some studios’ 3D cameras were clearly more effective than others). At its best it was completely natural. Most of the prints were either sole surviving prints, or brand new prints rescued from sole surviving negatives and even camera elements. Everyone at SabuCat Productions and the 3D Film Archive deserves a standing ovation.

The projectionists at the Egyptian also deserve the highest praise. Except for a few snafus (and the opening Saturday was a bumpy ride), they did a great and attentive job running 2 projectors in careful sync for 12 hours and more at a time, all the while constantly tuning the notoriously persnickety 3D imaging and coping with some 75 or so films, most 50 years old and in all states of repair, every one of them being a double set of itself. The ovation and cheers they got on closing night were well earned.

I was trepedatious about the legendarily snub-ish Hollywood crowds, but mostly it was a gloriously nerdy crowd. There were a few standoffish people (and I reckon some found me a boor as well), but mostly everyone was friendly and happy to be there, having come from all points. The staff remained friendly, efficient, and helpful even in the face of exhaustion. (Of course, we were all nearly as tired ourselves and easy to herd.) There were about, oh, 100-150 maybe 200 die hard pass holders and over the week people clustered into various squatters camps throughout the main floor and balcony.

Speaking of which, I have to interject: watching movies from the balcony of the Egyptian kicks ass. It’s bar none the best movie balcony I’ve experienced. Stadium seating and not a bum seat in the place (except for the back row). Moreso, the 3D from there was flawless and sometimes even better than on the main floor.

I made fine new friends with Bob Jessopp, a videographer and neighborhood councilman (if I have that right) all the way from Aukland, New Zealand; L.A. locals Mike Hyatt and Micki Sackler — a wonderful couple with long careers in film tech, collection, restoration and presentation; Greg, a video and AV systems guy from Lexington, KY, not too terribly far from my own hometown of Indianapolis. Also Andrew, a media studies professor at a community college in New York was knocking around. 3D historian Bob Furmanek and his assistant Jack Theakston were very friendly and, of course, knowledgeable. (Bob even knew about Captain Milkshake when I asked him about it.) Festival producer Jeff Joseph and technical director (and author) Dan Symmes (pron. “Sims”) were likewise, mingling freely with the crowd dressed in t-shirts, jeans, and their omnipresent radio headets. Jeff’s wife was also very kind.

It being Hollywood and a rare film event in a storied theater, I had a few brushes with celebrity, of course. Director Joe Dante, who is on the 3D Film Preservation Fund’s advisory board, was there for many screenings and also led several Q&As. I sat next to he and his family for one film. I also got to meet Curtis Hanson, the director of LA Confidential who lately has been producing; Bob Swarthe, who did the effects animation for Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Trek: The Motion Picture and special effects for One From the Heart (an unjustly slandered film); Schawn Belston, one of the top negative and film restoration guys at Fox. Leonard Maltin (also a 3DFPF advisory board member) was also around. Effects genius Dennis Muren from Industrial Light and Magic attended Dial M For Murder and The Charge of Feather River (though I didn’t get to say hi). Plus any number of actors and film folk, some of whom I recognized and others I did not. Also many of the actors, directors, and stunt men in the Expo’s films appeared for Q&A sessions, as well.

The Egyptian Theater, where the first 3D Expo was also held back in 2003, is just a block east of downtown Hollywood — Grauman’s Chinese Theater (where long-suffering actors in character outfits pimp tourist snapshots from the throngs for $10 a throw), the giant mall built to look like the legendary Gates of Babylon from DW Griffith’s Intolerance, the El Capitan Theater — a landmark theater now now controlled by Disney and ABC (with entrances to The Little Mermaid and Jimmy Kimmel Live mere steps away from each other), the legendary 1927 Roosevelt Hotel (now crappy and too hip for itself), the chotchke shops, the whole works. All within like a 2 or 3 block strip on Hollywood Boulevard. Very surreal, all the more because the area is actually pretty seedy and has only recently begun a clean-up (read: gentrification). The weekend club traffic is bizarre.

I stayed at the Highland Gardens, just northwest of the hubbub by a block or two (at Sycamore and Franklin, right next to the Magic Castle Club and Hotel). I was very happy with the place — reasonably priced, especially for the location (a 15 min. walk to the theater), and I had a gas kitchenette stocked with basic dishes, pans, etc. There were some problems with my first room (which was also a little dark and cavey and right next to the only courtyard entrance). I wasn’t playing the heavy at all, but before I knew it they upgraded me to a huge suite away from the rest and overlooking the pool, for the full 11 days, at no extra charge. Now that is service! Although the building is overall a little old and worn, the maid service was great and everything was clean and (mostly) functioning.

Jeez, so much more to say about the trip, but for now I’ll close with my current short list of 3D Expo II highlights. (And do I really have to go back to work again? Did I ask that already?)

Wings of the Hawk. Directed by Budd Boetticher; Clifford Stine, director of photography. Man, what a great 3D flick, and a good movie besides. I’d like to see it again flat, but I think I’d chalk this up as one of the classic ’50s westerns. In 3D, the photography has some of the best and most enveloping depth of all the features I’ve seen. Part of it is the genius of setting the action on steep hillsides and inside small canyons, with the frame staged not only laterally but vertically as well, in 3D space. But that’s only part of the formula, because both the director of photography (Clifford Stine) and the camera optics themselves were obviously superior. I remember thinking when it ended that not one single shot of the film had felt like a throw-away, and the big 3D gimmicks — things thrown or poked at the inevitably tittering audience — were actually done in context so they remained part of the story experience instead of being a clownish aside. Boetticher’s direction is confident and steady, and his sense of action and how to use depth with it were bang on (pun intended). I definitely want to see more of his films, which are unfortunately hard to find on DVD. …By the way, the title of the film has absolutely nothing to do with anything. The story is supposedly based on a novel of the same title, it would seem perhaps only the title and few other pieces remain.

Cease Fire! Directed by Owen Crump; Ellis W. Carter, cinematographer. Filmed on location near the war zone in South Korea in the months just before the cease fire of the Korean War. Crump persuaded producer Hal Wallis to back taking 3D cameras there to film a story with actual soldiers there cast in all the parts. Although there was a basic script, Crump encouraged the men to create their own dialog by improvising with what they would normally say in a situation. The 3D (a new print from the camera negatives in pristine black and white) was absolutely some of the best 3D photography ever. Beautiful depth of field and almost always very well framed. Staged footage and battle recreations were combined with extensive location B-roll and at least some of what looked an awful lot like actual combat footage. The battle recreations involved US Army sharpshooters and ordnance instead of Hollywood effects rigs. The pacing lagged at a few points, but as a film Cease Fire definitely holds its own as a war flick let alone that rarer breed, the Korean War flick. And oh that great 3D. More on this film later.

Inferno. A great Technicolor noir with Rhonda Fleming with outstanding outdoor photography of a central character crawling through desert canyons and cliffs.

The Diamond Wizard (USA), The Diamond (UK) – a very well done and unjustly obscure British detective noir with techno-sci-fi tinges. It was beautifully shot in black and white 3D, but never actually printed for it. In fact, the final 3D negative was never actually completed until the last elements were recovered in Britain only a few years ago. SabuCat Productions and the 3D Film Preservation Fund managed to complete the 3D negative and create the first dual 35mm print ever. The Expo II screening was the world premiere.

The Stranger Wore a Gun with Randolph Scott playing a mercenary cowboy with a heart of gold who becomes embroiled in an enticingly dark and twisted plot of double and triple crosses. A good film with very good 3D, this remains in my top-most favorites of the festival. Alas, its one-of-a-kind negative means it will soon be lost forever.

The Charge at Feather River with Guy Madison and Frank Lovejoy is an absolutely classic conservative ’50s shoot-em-up western set in the Indian wars and the costly rescue of two settler girls abducted by a tribe five years earlier. Well paced, full of constant well-staged action, some very intriguing social subtext (both intentional and not), and excellent 3D photography to boot.

The Glass Web. Director Jack Arnold’s nearly-lost third 3D film, and a very good one at that. An above-average noir murder suspence thriller set behind the scenes of a hit weekly TV crime show. Being the early ’50s, TV shows were produced live to air, and there’s great footage of that. Edward G. Robinson is at his sociopathic best in a role that evidently got him off the Hollywood “grey list” of the time.

And of course the Rarities show on the afternoon of closing day was outstanding and literally history making. Among the delights — about which more later — was a miraculously restored print of the earliest known surviving 3D footage, shot circa 1922 – 1924.

Unfortunately, the SpaceVision prints of Paul Morrissey’s demented Frankenstein (1974, in a literally brand new print from the original neg being run for the very first time) and Arch Oboler’s snoozy and over-long The Bubble both suffered from issues with the lens system at the theater. This was very much to the chagrin of the producers. Apparently they were not able to obtain the proper rig and had to make do with a last-minute substandard replacement of some kind. The small projected image was further marred by lens-induced shadowing in the right eye and cropping too large for the actual aspect ratio of the image. My recollection of The Bubble when I saw it in the ’80s was the image was dark, the 3D eye straining, and other issues. These screenings were not really a fair representation, either, but I can’t say I found it much better than the ’80s.

More later I’m sure, especially once I figure out how to get the photos off my cell phone…

So…do I really really have to go to work tomorrow?

Backyard Movie Party 2006

On Labor Day Sunday 2006 (Sept. 3), my pal Brian Alter and his duplex-neighbor Gary hosted their second annual backyard movie party, with me once again providing the films. Last year we were forced to retreat to Brian’s fortuitously-empty basement, but this year we were blessed with beautiful weather, complete with spectacular clouds shlooping across the Ballard moon and sky.

Brian has posted a Flickr album of photos from the night — some very nice low-light shots.

It was fairly last-minute and invitations were kept intimate, but even still there were a good 20 people or so lounging about Brian and Gary’s perfectly bowl-shaped backyard.

For me it was an extra special occasion as it was the 10th anniversary of having moved to Seattle, with the backyard movie party tradition being carried on, intermittently and mostly thanks to Scott Colburn, to now. I’ve been doing movie parties in backyards and garages since I was 10 or 11, so it was especially fun for me to celebrate this way.

This was also only three days before I left for the 10-day World 3D Film Expo II, about which I’ve been posting copiously. All the more reason, then, to show a couple 16mm anaglyphic 3D films.
Here’s the playlist of films we showed (all 16mm):

Superman: The Bulleteers (1942)
Fleischer bros.
8 min, color, sound
The 5th in the Fleichers’ legendary Superman series, and one of the very best of the lot.

Koko’s Earth Control (1928)
Fleischer bros. — prod. Alfred Weiss; director & animator(s) unknown
8 min, b/w, silent
Music: Integrales by Edgar Varese, cond. Pierre Boulez
One of the very last Koko the Clown films. In it, the world ends because the clown’s dog flips the wrong switch on the Earth Control machine. Features probably the bleakest ending of any mainstream cartoon ever. I thought the Varese hyper-doom worked very well with it.

[Maurice Sendak] (ca. 1964)
opening title & credits missing; provenance unknown
15 min, color, sound
Hanging out w/ Maurice in his studio, talking toys, books, and illustration. Awesome film.

The Palace of the Arabian Nights (1904)
prod. & dir. Georges Melies
15 min, b/w, silent
Music: tracks 6, 7, & 8 from Master Musicians of Jajouka, Apocalypse Across the Sky (Axiom/Island, 1992)
Hallucinatory “adaptation” of the Arabian Nights stories, featuring some of Melies’ most elaborate stagings ever. Rare.

Third Dimensional Murder (1941, aka Murder in Three Dimensions)
A Pete Smith Novelty, dir. George Sidney
7 min, red/blue anaglyphic 3D, sound
Early 3D release made to show off the effect. Seven minutes of non-stop throwing of shit at you! And the Frankenstein monster!!

It Came From Outer Space [digest] (1953)
dir. Jack Arnold
18 min, red/blue anaglyphic 3D, sound
A well made digest that has turned a little red with age but is still effective.

Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster (1974)
(aka Godzilla vs. the Bionic Monster, orig. Gojira tai MekaGojira)
dir. Jun Fukuda
80 min, color, sound
The special feature presentation was more-or-less kept secret. The cheer that erupted when the title card flashed (after a nonsequitur intro) was one of the best moments of my summer. Not to be maudlin or anything.

Bimbo’s Initiation (1931)
Fleischer bros., animation by Myron “Grim” Natwick (uncredited)
7 min, b/w, sound
Great and weird early Bimbo / Betty Boop cartoon, complete with gleeful ass-slapping. “Wanna be a member? Wanna be a member? ……….Nyo.”