Friday, September 24, 2010

Goodness gracious! A lion in my lap, no less.

If memory serves, I saw Bwana Devil (1952) at the Strand Cinema in Colaba, wearing the special polarized specs, in either 1953 or 1954. The tagline in its publicity material, I distinctly recall, was: A lion in your lap! A lover in your arms. This Natural Vision movie kick-stared the 1952-54 3-D craze in the US as a kneejerk reaction to the TV threat to cinema, the others being CinemaScope and the 3-projector Cinerama. But the makers of Bwana Devil were so hell-bent on proving its three dimensional credentials that the ingredients which make a movie (plot development, acting and the rest) were ignored with disastrous results. Most critics in the West mauled it mercilessly. Even I who used to be quite na├»ve about English movies then found it intolerable. A better-made 3-D movie, I’m told, was Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954) using the process to bring out the depth of field instead of wasting it on gimmicks such as stuffs being hurled at you. It was released in India in the 2-D format as also was the horror flick House of Wax (1953) made in the alternative StereoVision 3-D process with its paddleball man and cancan girls showing off the 3-D edge. For that matter, even The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and It Came from Outer Space (1953) came to India minus the 3-D. All this chitchat reminds me of a character in the sci-fi comedy Back To The Future (1985) set in the mid-fifties who wears the red/blue 3-D glasses to remind us from which era he hails. He is called 3-D. Coming back to 3-D and me, though, I later realised that, in the West, from the 1860s to the 1920s, almost every middle-class home owned a Holmes stereoscope and stereo cards. 5bckrx. In the 1920s, it seems a couple of movie halls in New York City had mounted on the seat in front a pair of gooseneck rotary-shutter viewers somewhat like the present liquid crystal shutterglasses. 5bckry. Again, I read about the 70s sexploitation 3-D movie, The Stewardesses (1969) and the critically acclaimed Andy Warhol's Frankenstein (1973) purely by chance. There was apparently a brief revival of the 3-D fad in the 1980s with Jaws 3-D (1983) and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (also 1983). Finally came the 3-D revival in the new millennium spearheaded by the 2009 magnum opus Avatar. Alfred Hitchcock briefly toyed with 3-D (Dial M for Murder) but did not persist with it. He went nowhere close to CinemaScope with its aspect ratio of 2.35:1. He did experiment with VistaVision in To Catch A Thief (1955), Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959) before returning to the good old aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in the standard (Academy) format for the black and white cult classic, Psycho (1960). Makes sense and works for me too.