Important 3D "Firsts" in the Movies

audienceThe first presentation of 3D films before a paying audience took place at the Astor Theater, New York, on June 10, 1915. The program consisted of three one-reelers, the first of rural scenes in the USA, the second a selection of scenes from Famous Players' Jim, the Penman (US '15), with John Mason and Marie Doro, and the third a travelog of Niagara Falls. The anaglyphic process used, developed by Edwin S. Porter and W.E. Waddell, involved the use of red and green spectacles to create a single image from twin motion picture images photographed 2½ inches apart. The experiment was not a success. Lynde Denig wrote in Moving Picture World: "Images shimmered like reflections on a lake and in its present form the method couldn't be commercial because it detracts from the plot."

The first 3D feature film was Nat Deverich's 5-reel melodrama Power of Love (US '22), starring Terry O'Neil and Barbara Bedford. It premiered at the Ambassador Hotel Theater, Los Angeles, on September 27, 1922. Produced by Perfect Pictures in an anaglyphic process developed by Harry K. Fairall, it related the adventures of a young sea captain in California in the 1840s. The only other American feature in 3D prior to Bwana Devil (US '52) was R. William Neill's Mars, aka Radio Mania (US '22), with Grant Mitchell as an inventor who succeeds in making contact with Mars via television. It was produced in Laurens Hammond's Teleview process.

The first feature-length talkie in 3D was Sante Bonaldo's Nozze vagabonde (It '36), starring Leda Gloria and Ermes Zacconi, which was produced by the Società Italiana Stereocinematografica at the Cinee-Caesar Studios. The 3D cameraman was Anchise Brizzi.

The first feature-length talkie in color and 3D was Alexander Andreyevsky's Soyuzdetfilm production Robinson Crusoe (USSR '47), starring Pavel Kadochnikov as Crusoe and Y. Lyubimov as Friday. The process used, Stereokino, was the first to successfully dispense with anaglyphic spectacles. Developed by S.P. Ivanov, it employed what were known as "radial raster stereoscreens"—a corrugated metal screen with "raster" grooves designed to reflect the twin images separately to the left and right eye. The most difficult technical problem encountered during the production of Robinson Crusoe was persuading a wild cat to walk along a thin branch towards the camera. After five nights occupied with this one scene, the cameraman succeeded in getting a satisfactory shot. The effect, according to accounts, was riveting, the animal seeming to walk over the heads of the audience and disappear at the far end of the cinema.

waxcamra The first 3D feature with stereophonic sound was Warner Brothers' House of Wax (US '53). When it was premiered at the Paramount Theater, New York, with 25 speakers, the Christian Science Monitor was moved to deplore the "cacophony of sound hurtling relentlessly at one from all directions". André de Toth, director of the movie, may have been able to hear the cacophony, but was unable to see the 3D effect, as he only had one eye.

During the 3D boom that began with the low-budget Bwana Devil (US '52), over 5,000 theaters in the US were equipped to show 3D movies, but the fad was shortlived. 3D production figures were: 1952—1; 1953—27; 1954—16; 1955—1. In addition there were 3D movies produced in Japan, Britain, Mexico, Germany and Hong Kong, but many of these (as well as some of the US productions) were released flat.

Sporadic production resumed in 1960 with the first Cinemascope 3D movie, September Storm (US '60), since when there have been 54 further three-dimensional films.

This quick overview of the "firsts" of 3D movie history was published in the 1993 edition of the Guiness Book of World Records. For those interested in a more leisurely journey through the world of 3D movies, we heartily recommend 3D Movies: A History and Filmography of Stereoscopic Cinema, a book by R.M. Hayes, which is available through Reel 3D Enterprises.
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