3D How I Discovered 3-D

Mike Ballew

Second Unit
Joined
Mar 25, 2013
Messages
345
Location
Burbank, CA
Real Name
MIKE BALLEW
Hi, everyone. I wrote up kind of an essay a few years ago recounting the time I first really discovered 3-D movies, in the summer of 1982. I hope you won't mind my posting it here. It's 2265 words long, give or take, so it may take a few minutes to read.


If you are moved to do so, I hope some of you will consider posting similar entries. I'd love to learn how you first encountered stereoscopic cinema. What was that first 3-D movie you saw? What was your first reaction? Were your companions in agreement, or did you feel forced to keep your feelings secret? Let's hear everything. :)



*************


When I was in third grade, about 1979 or so, I once saw some older kid running down the halls of our elementary school wearing a pair of funny-looking cardboard glasses. One lens was red, the other blue-green, and emblazoned along one side was the word "3-D." Even at that young age, I knew vaguely they had made some 3-D movies back in the 1950s; they mentioned these once or twice on Happy Days, and once, surprisingly, on Rhoda.

"Where on earth did he get those?" one of our teachers called out before the kid's running dust had even settled. "I haven’t seen those since I was a little girl!"

I was an early and avid reader, at least when it came to subjects I found interesting, and over the next few years I learned a little more about 3-D movies, mainly from reading the Blackhawk Films catalog. Blackhawk Films, for those who don’t know, were purveyors of 8 and 16 millimeter versions of old theatrical films for the home movie market, and their catalogs were so thoroughly descriptive that they practically functioned as a crash course in film history. Eventually I discovered that our county library, a huge and thoroughly modern wonderland of books, had a whole section devoted to film history and scholarship. The apparent consensus (when it was mentioned at all) was that 3-D was a ridiculous gimmick, a conspiracy by money men and head-in-the-clouds inventors to bilk the movie-going public. Not one decent film had ever been made in 3-D, or so I was told, and if ever 3-D movies resurfaced they were doomed to rejection by the public, who might give them a fleeting glance, sure, but were ultimately much too savvy to put up with such foolishness for very long.

Comes the late spring of 1982. We started seeing a lot of ballyhoo on WFBC-TV, our local NBC affiliate in upstate South Carolina, for a flick they were going to be showing in late July, on a Friday night in prime time. Channel 4 was very cagey in its commercials for the event. The early ads never showed one frame of footage from the film itself, depicting instead an ordinary suburban family parked in front of a wooden-consoled behemoth of a television, typical of that era. Parents and children alike were wearing cardboard 3-D glasses just like the ones I had seen on my schoolmate's face, and a pair of monstrous hands were reaching toward them from out of the TV screen.

By gosh, they were going to try and show a 3-D movie on television! It might be a conspiracy, but at least it was beginning to seem interesting.

Within a few weeks of those first commercials, we started seeing the 3-D glasses pop up at our local Fast Fare convenience stores. At the going rate of two pair for 99 cents, my kid brother Steve and I soon assembled quite a collection. It was fascinating to observe the way the ordinary world shimmered and flickered through the colored lenses. Mom was forever nagging us not to wear them too long, for fear they would ruin our eyesight.

“Momma!” I called out, waving my arms wildly in front of me. “Is that you? I can hear you. Momma?”

I laughed. She, not so much.

The one thing Channel 4 was emphatic about was that a color TV was absolutely essential to enjoy the 3-D effect. Those with black-and-white sets could watch the flick, but theirs would be an inferior, two-dimensional experience.

At last came the big night: July 23rd, 1982. The movie was Revenge of the Creature, a 1955 monster flick we kids were already familiar with from Saturday afternoon "Shock Theater" reruns on the ABC affiliate out of Asheville and the occasional mention in Famous Monsters magazine. Steve and I had been jonesing for this for weeks, and so had all our friends. I personally had eight or ten pairs of glasses in hand when we left our house to go catch the show with our grandparents at their home about ten miles distant. It was meant to be a kind of family party.

Along the way, we stopped in at the home of MaMa Cowart, my relentlessly cheerful great-grandmother, to pick up my Aunt Lori, who was without wheels. From there, Mom and Lori mysteriously disappeared without us in Mom’s car, telling no one their plans. And wouldn’t you know it? MaMa Cowart had been making do all these years with naught but a black-and-white TV, bless her heart. No 3-D for her, not that she seemed to mind. "You boys can watch whatever you care to," she told us, not realizing the thing was not in her power to grant.

The minutes ticked away. I was becoming an inward hysterical wreck. As the clock ran down to Zero Hour, there was no sign of Mom, no sign of Lori, no sign of hope. Even MaMa Cowart’s neighbors seemed part of a cosmic conspiracy. When asked if perchance they were going to be watching Revenge of the Creature, they told us, No, we’re watching Hardly Working with Jerry Lewis, and won’t you please join us, it’s hilarious.

I was quite sure it was. It had been playing in near-constant rotation on one of the big cable channels that month. Had these people no appreciation that this 3-D was a one-time thing?

When Mom and Lori finally put in an appearance at about 8:20 p.m., the first act of the flick was nearly over. Laughing and intoxicated with each other’s company, they informed us they had been to every Fast Fare store in a 10-mile radius hunting for 3-D glasses, and they were all sold out. I brandished my ten pairs in Mom’s uncomprehending face. “We’re missing it! We’re missing it!”

We hustled over to our grandparents' house, where PaPa Galloway, by now only half interested, languidly switched channels to four. In a recurring voice-over at commercial breaks, local personality Stowe Hoyle advised us to adjust our color and tint knobs while looking through the blue filter of our glasses until the provided test pattern made one uniform color. Let me tell you, we tweaked that TV as gently and as carefully as if we were handling a piece of NASA space equipment.

And voila. The movie looked like shite.

I have since seen Revenge of the Creature twice in its original two-strip polarized 3-D, the kind with the clear gray lenses, like Heaven intended. There are a few problem shots, sure, but on the whole it really is a superior example of 3-D craftsmanship. But you wouldn’t have known it that night, not by a long shot.

So I figured the nay-sayers must be right. Three-D movies were a waste of time, a perennial flash in the pan, destined to be consigned to the ash heap of cinematic history until every so often a new generation of dupes emerged to be suckered.

Smash cut to a day just three weeks later: August 13th, 1982.

For several weeks, we had been hearing tantalizing radio come-ons for the latest Friday the 13th film, Part Three this time. We had caught Part One at the drive-in several times and thought so highly of it that we made a point of seeing Part Two at the walk-in, as a family. (I was 9 and 10 years old when those films were released. Chew on that for a minute.) But Friday the 13th Part III had the added attraction of having been filmed using something called Super 3-D.*

Very interesting.

Since Mom’s birthday fell that week and since it sounded like fun, Dad took the initiative and made plans for us to catch an opening day matinee. The four of us plus Aunt Lori and her then-boyfriend trekked up to the Towers Four Cinemas in Greenville, only to learn that the first showing, at one p.m. or thereabouts, was already sold out!

The fact that the flick was so popular only encouraged us. Dad bought tickets for the three o'clock show, and we all hiked over to the adjacent shopping center to while away two hours. I remember being absorbed in a display for RCA SelectaVision discs when Dad came to me urgently.

“Mikey, where have you been?” he asked.

He should have guessed I’d been rooted in this exact spot since maybe one-thirty.

He hustled me toward the doors. “Everybody's on their way to the movies!”

We literally--literally--ran across the parking lot to the theater, where we were handed an oversize pair of what I later learned were Marks Polarized glasses. They had really large windows for the eyes, and the lenses were a kind of medium gray color that became practically transparent when you looked through them.**

We all pressed against the velvet ropes in the theater lobby waiting for the first show to clear out, held in check by a burly, sphinxlike assistant manager, dressed like a church deacon in a dark, pinstripe suit. The Towers Cinema was still a class establishment in the summer of ’82. It wouldn't survive the decade.

Within minutes we were joined by a restless, chattering throng. The three o'clock show was obviously on its way to selling out, too. There was a crackle of excitement in the air, like waiting for a rock concert or a really fierce roller coaster. I remember watching a man about my dad’s age explaining how the glasses worked to his son and his son’s young friend. He held the lens of one pair of glasses against the lens of another and rotated them in relation to each other, making the overlaid windows by turns transparent and opaque. I remember being mildly troubled that I did not already know about the phenomenon of polarized light going in. But I was glad to learn it now. I looked down at my own pair of 3-D glasses. Made of ordinary white cardboard, they seemed powerful and mysterious out of all proportion to their level of craftsmanship.

At last the prior show let out. The people were laughing and happy and obviously well pleased with the experience. The tension of anticipation that had been building steadily all afternoon was now at a fever pitch. Dad, Mom, and Lori pressed in on us kids, trying to ride the wake of our youthful enthusiasm to early seats in the auditorium.

Lori had seen a 3-D movie or two before now. From later conversations I know for a fact she saw Sea Dream at Marineland in Florida, and I think she may have caught Comin’ at Ya! or Parasite as well. So we listened to her when she advised us not to sit too close to the screen. Our family slid into the center seats on a row about three-quarters of the way back, then watched as every single seat in the house filled up around us.

There was a lot of nervous laughter and excited chatter, and throughout the auditorium you could watch people figuring out what to do with their 3-D glasses.

Now, this was a time when movie theaters still had thick, velvety drapes over the screen when movies were not in progress, so you can imagine the sharp thrill that ran up our backs when the piped-in music faded, the lights dimmed, and those curtains began to open, rolling like slow-motion waves on a maroon-colored sea.

Okay, here we go, I thought to myself. This whole 3-D movie business might be a sham and a joke, but no one can say I haven’t given it a fair chance. We shall see what we shall see.

Those of you who have only encountered Friday the 13th Part III on home video will not know that the original theatrical prints opened with a disclaimer, to wit: "The following scenes are not in 3-D. However, you will need your 3-D glasses to view them." At which point the scene fades up on the third act of Part Two, in progress, to set the scene. My brother Steve hadn’t yet put on his 3-D glasses and was making his trademark derisive chortle. What I would later learn to call vertical misalignment in the projected left and right images made the actress on-screen appear to have a flat nose like that of a pig, to Steve's profound amusement. Mom and Dad told him to pipe down before someone else did. He was still laughing about it years later.

A hush fell over the audience. The camera dollied in on the desiccated remains of the villain’s mother, arranged in a kind of morbid shrine. And suddenly, from out of her eyes, the main titles of the film came sailing out of the screen...

...and kept coming, and kept coming...

...until at last they seemed to hang in space 12 inches from my face!

And the thought that crossed my mind in that moment was, Wait a minute. They’ve known how to do this for 30 years or more, and this is the first time I’m seeing it?

Surely it goes without saying that I was hooked. I can honestly say that seeing that movie--or rather, seeing stereoscopic motion pictures for the first time--changed my life. The same passion some people rightly reserve for football, for Shakespeare, for jazz music or for Impressionist paintings, I have for 3-D movies. And that passion has endured unabated through good times and bad for the past 30-some-odd years. I like to say I was 3-D when 3-D wasn’t cool. And some of you can say the same.

* - In reality, the Marks 3-Depix Converter.

** - They also had a kind of dark gray film over the rear surface, apparently a proprietary scheme to cut down on glare.
 

StephenDH

Supporting Actor
Joined
Aug 2, 2005
Messages
689
Location
UK
Real Name
Stephen
My first encounter with 3D movies was an anaglyph screening of "It Came from Outer Space" c1981 at the tiny but luxurious Minema in Knightsbridge. This was soon after I moved to London and slightly ahead of the 80s 3D revival. The Minema was billed as "The only place in London to see 3D!" The Minema also showed "Revenge of the Creature" in 3D a bit later that month.

As I did more research and found out that anaglyphs were relative latecomers to the 3D party, the floodgates opened and it seemed as though every other cinema in London was showing at least one Polaroid 3D movie.

The range of movies on offer was from the sublime ("House of Wax") in major chains to the ridiculous ("The Bubble" and "Flesh for Frankenstein) at the arty ICA, veering off the reservation with "Love in 3D" etc.

About that time I also began collecting Ray Zone's converted 3D comics, acquired a couple of lenticular displays from "2001: A Space Odyssey" and a Nimslo 3D camera.

I've been following the chequered career of 3D ever since.
 

Matt Hough

Director
Reviewer
Joined
Apr 24, 2006
Messages
22,030
Location
Charlotte, NC
Real Name
Matt Hough
I don't think I had ever seen a 3D movie until Comin' at Ya! It was, like Mike's experience with Friday the 13th 3D, a transformative experience. After it was such a hit, the theaters began bringing back some of the Golden Age 3D films to fill in the weeks when new product wasn't available, and that's when I saw Dial 'M' for Murder, House of Wax, and Creature from the Black Lagoon (in a midnight showing). Then TV got into the act and with those abysmal anaglyph glasses, I endured Gorilla at Large and some others (which I've somehow managed to blot from memory). I think I saw all of the 3D movies released in the 1980s period except for Treasure of the Four Crowns which I did go to but the 3D wasn't operating that day, and they gave me a free pass to return which I used for another, non-3D movie. (I don't think Treasure played but a week; I would have used the pass for it if I could have.)


Those 1980s films were poor as films but I do remember liking many of them for the 3D aspects of the presentation. I think the last one of those I saw was The Man Who Wasn't There (or whatever the name of that Steve Guttenburg movie was) which was a bad movie with indifferent 3D. I wasn't surprised the fad had faded away again.
 

Todd J Moore

Supporting Actor
Joined
Oct 26, 2005
Messages
638
Location
Philadelphia, PA
Real Name
Todd Moore
Humorously, my story is pretty darngood close.

I had first heard of 3D in the summer of 1981 when Comin' At Ya!was first released but I had very little information beyond the TV commercials. I was 10 at the time and the movie was Rated R, so there was zero chance of me getting to see it, however.
The following spring, the local channel-- Channel 48 WKBS-- made announcements regarding showing a 3D movie. The glasses were for sale at the local Burger King where my mom worked, 2 for $.49 as I remember it. She got me the glasses and I waited for the night of May 20th, 1982. The fateful day came and I got into trouble at school. My dad had died the previous November and I had pretty well stopped doing my homework. My mom got home shortly before the movie began and made me sit in the kitchen until everything was done and checked. I basically missed most of the first half-hour but was finally able to watch it. At the end of the showing, I wasn't that impressed.

We loved in Bridgeton, NJ then and had what passed for cable back then. Basically, Showtime and the three NY independent channels-- 5, 9, and 11. Channel 9 was going to show Gorilla at Large on July 22, 1982 so I decided to check it out. I'm not sure if the TV was set just right that night or if it imagination or wanting it to work, but I remember being blown away by it. Goliath swinging out of the screen in the first five minutes made me jump. I wanted more.

January of 83 a magazine called Dynamite (if you're of a certain age, you'll remember it) put out an issue with an article on 3D movies and a 3D poster. That poster--various video game characters in 3D--was my first real experience with pop-out. I loved it. The article mentioned JAWS 3D and I really wanted to see it.


Meantime, some other 3D movies had been coming out. Friday the 13th Part 3 and Parasite had both played locally but again were R Rated. House of Wax was reissued in February of 83 but I couldn't get anyone to take me. Treasure of the Four Crowns opened in April but again no dice. My brother considered taking me to Spacehunter but decided on Return of the Jedi instead. Channel 48 ran Dynasty in 3D which I was told I couldn't watch (school again--I missed Channel 11's showing of The Mask for the same reason). I snuck watching Dynasty anyhow. Finally, my family relented and took me to Jaws 3D. The severed fish head instantly grabbed my attention and my love for 3D was secured.
 

Stephen_J_H

All Things Film Junkie
Senior HTF Member
Joined
Jul 30, 2003
Messages
6,312
Location
North of the 49th
Real Name
Stephen J. Hill
I grew up with View-Master, so my first exposure to 3D was in this format. I also recall seeing lenticular cards from an early age, so I was aware of 3D relatively early, including a binocular vision test with polarized panels including a fly, where I was directed to pinch the wing of the fly, The first exposure I had to red and blue 3D was the book Amazing 3D pictured below:



My first film exposure to 3D was Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, and I've been an addict since.
 

Danoldrati

Stunt Coordinator
Joined
May 4, 2007
Messages
69
Real Name
Dan Oldrati
My first is" House of Wax", I was 9 years old and it was a new film. I saw a quite a few 3D films that year. I wish I could remember all the titles. I was very disappointed when they stopped releasing them but I showed them, now I have a 3d library of my own. I need more.LOL
 

phillyrobt

Second Unit
Joined
Oct 21, 2012
Messages
364
Real Name
Robt C
At the City Line Center (gone...now TJ Maxx) I saw Comin' At Ya, House of Wax and Parasite. Around the same time I picked up Amazing 3D from Encore Books (gone as well). Now here's where it gets embarrassing... because of the anaglyph VHS of Friday the 13th Pt. 3 I rented from Radio 437 (didn't even make it out of the 80s)...and the fact that I looked at the pictures in Amazing 3D but never actually read it; I was convinced that I had seen the City Line Center films in anaglyph. Years later in New York the IMAX theater at Lincoln Center opened with Wings Of Courage, I returned for Across the Sea of Time and as many others as I could. In a Rhino Records catalog I saw a set top box that could convert things to 3D but (thankfully) never got around to buying it. When 3D TVs came in 2010 I was immediately interested. In 2012 I was looking at the titles in FYE when I saw Dial M and thought wow why did they choose this to convert (!). Once I found out the truth (which was there all those years in Amazing 3D), I got a TV blu-ray player and the rest......
 

Jesse Skeen

Cinematographer
Senior HTF Member
Joined
Apr 24, 1999
Messages
4,871
The first 3D movie I saw was also Revenge of the Creature on TV, and it looked awful. I was disappointed that it was in black and white, and there was more double-image than 3D effect. A few weeks later another station showed Gorilla at Large which was at least in color, and that looked better. The first 3D movie I saw at a theater was Treasure of the Four Crowns (the first of that wave of 3D movies that wasn't rated R; I'd wanted to see Friday the 13th but my parents said no way), the first time I knew polarized 3D even existed and I was blown away- I thought it was the greatest movie I'd ever seen and had to laugh at all the negative reviews I saw about it later. I also got that "Amazing 3D" book, back in 1983 which has a great history of the medium.


In 1990 I bought the 3D-TV Corporation's shutter-glass system and a few VHS movies through mail-order. Quality wasn't perfect but the effects were cool- first movies I got were The Bubble (under a different title) and the softcore porno from 1969, The Stewardesses which prior to Avatar was the highest-grossing 3D movie of all-time. Tapes were $50 each but I got as many as I could afford, when I moved up to a bigger screen the loss of resolution bugged me though.


I got my first HDTV shortly before the first ones with 3D came out, but through a happy accident that TV started having problems and I got money from the warranty to buy a 3D TV. I've since bought all the 3D Blu-Rays I could afford! I was glad to see 3D come back in theaters, but the upcharges killed my enthusiasm for that. I rarely go to theaters anymore since the prices are just ridiculous.
 

breeezer

Agent
Joined
Oct 13, 2014
Messages
32
Real Name
Bryce
The first 3D movie I saw was "The Stewardesses" in the early 1970s. Had to walk several miles to the local mall because I had no access to a car at that time. I was actually more interested in the 3D than in the porn! The effect (as noted by others later) was like seeing miniature people. I was thrilled when "House of Wax" was released in 3D not much later.


I always loved stereo photography and used my dad's Realist camera. He had owned the local movie theater and I found the old polarized filters they used for the 50s 3D films in our attic. Always wanted to make my own 3D movies, but now I enjoy watching the blu-rays more!
 

noel aguirre

Supporting Actor
Premium
Joined
Nov 28, 2011
Messages
736
Location
New York City
Real Name
noel
My first was 1973 Flesh for Frankenstein aka Andy Warhol's Frankenstein and I've been addicted ever since. It's a winner- the widescreen 3D effect are AHmazing! I saw it subsequently in the '80's at the long gone 8th Street playhouse in NYC- dragged friends to it and they loved it too. I am hoping this gets the Criterion treatment soon!
 

RJ992

Supporting Actor
Joined
Sep 7, 2010
Messages
577
Real Name
Joel
noel aguirre said:
My first was 1973 Flesh for Frankenstein aka Andy Warhol's Frankenstein and I've been addicted ever since. It's a winner- the widescreen 3D effect are AHmazing! I saw it subsequently in the '80's at the long gone 8th Street playhouse in NYC- dragged friends to it and they loved it too. I am hoping this gets the Criterion treatment soon!
Criterion did already release this (and DRACULA) on laserdisc. But I doubt we'll ever get a 3D disc from Criterion (or anyone else) of FRANKENSTEIN.
 

aPhil

Supporting Actor
Joined
Nov 11, 2011
Messages
735
Location
North Carolina
Real Name
Phil Smoot
Thanks for starting this column, and it is interesting to hear about how others discovered 3D.


I was fortunate that my first experience with a Polarized 3D motion picture was a great one. It was in the early 1970's, and it was "House of Wax." The projection was so perfect and the experience so enthralling that I wondered why 3D ever went away. That was before I later experienced the bad stereo projection of the 20th Century that was more common than the good.


I have to take this moment to remember the person running that theater (in High Point, NC) — His name was Jerry Whittington. I did not know him then, but a few years later he became a good friend. He passed away in September, but I owe to him my first wonderful experience with the old classic 3D. The man took the time and care to make sure that the presentation was superb. Unfortunately, I later found out that was not the norm.


For all the complaints about today, we now have a dependable system in the theaters, and (for those who want, like myself) a good system for viewing 3D in the home. Now, if we could just get all the old stereo motion pictures restored and on Blu-ray.
 
Joined
Oct 21, 2011
Messages
32
Real Name
Thomas
My first was 3D movie was Avatar in 2009 at age 20. It was Christams break, so I decided to go see a movie. I checked Rottentomatoes and found some reviews about how amazing James Cameron's new epic was and how you had to see it with the "new" 3D technology. I was in love with the Terminator movies and excited about the idea of a new movie experience, so I convinced my cousin that we needed to see it and see it in 3D. He agreed, and that night I ended up walking away from the most captivating sensorial movie experience of my entire life. The funny thing is that I'm pretty sure we sat close to the front of theater because it was packed, but that didn't end up bothering me. I was still floored and felt like I had been on another planet for a few hours. He liked it too but was not as taken as me. Afterwards, I couldn't stop thinking about the movie and the 3D for days. I'm pretty sure I dreamed about being a blue cat person the following night.


Flashforward 2 years, and I need a new TV. Upon researching, I discover the existence of 3DTVs, which are shockingly inexpensive compared to their 2D counterparts. I knew deep in my soul that I needed one of those machines, and the rest is history. I now have 100+ Blu-ray 3D discs.
 

StephenDH

Supporting Actor
Joined
Aug 2, 2005
Messages
689
Location
UK
Real Name
Stephen
Avatar's 3D is stunning but the movie itself is so lame it's embarrassing. It's a good thing Ursula K. LeGuin isn't the litigious type as the most of the plot is "borrowed" from her novel "The Word for World is Forest".
 

Similar threads

Forum Sponsors

Forum statistics

Threads
344,432
Messages
4,709,986
Members
141,269
Latest member
ekelks