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BLU-RAY REVIEW: “3-D RARITIES”

BLU-RAY REVIEW: "3-D RARITIES"

The Blu-ray 3-D Rarities
shows that three-dimensional film techniques go back much further than most contemporary
audiences realize. Although this collection is a very mixed bag that ranges
from the entertaining to the dreary, it will delight aficionados.

Much of the earliest footage—dating back to 1922—consists of
tests and technical demonstrations designed to prove that it was possible to
create three-dimensional images on screen. Too many of these shorts present
themselves as the “first ever.” Not surprisingly, the material from the 50’s
includes several trailers for Hollywood features made during the 3D craze,
including the sci-fi epic It Came From
Outer Space
. Others push forgotten B pictures like The Maze and Hannah Lee,
which even hard-core 3D fans may be glad they’ve missed.

A short documentary about World Heavyweight Champion Rocky
Marciano’s rematch with Jersey Joe Walcott offers rare footage of the great
boxer, but it’s a slow, stodgy film that only a boxing fan could love. It pales
next to another short from 1953, writer-director Gerald Schnitzer’s Doom Town, which depicts a newspaper
reporter’s journey to witness an atomic bomb test in the Nevada desert. The
gritty, scary footage of the blast destroying a dummy town and the skeptical
narration stand in stark contrast to the government’s pro-nuclear policy. The
film was apparently pulled from theaters soon after its premiere.

Several of these shorts, notably the promotional M.L. Gunzburg Presents Natural Vision Three
Dimension
(1952), feature unnecessary cheesecake shots, which may remind anime
fans of the gratuitous panty shots in “fan service” series. But the film also
offers rare footage of the Beany and Cecil puppets from Bob Clampett’s “Time
for Beany,” voiced and manipulated by Daws Butler and Stan Freberg.

 

Things hit rock bottom in I’ll Sell My Shirt (1953), two unrelated two hubba-hubba shorts
featuring rather slab-sided women undressing. In the title segment, two crashingly
unfunny comics repeat a skit left over from the grade C burlesque circuit.
Happily, this kind of cheerless exploitation film passed its expiration date
long ago.

 

The most interesting entries in the collection are animated.
In New Dimensions (1940) Artists and
technicians at Loucks & Norling assemble a full-size Plymouth sedan piece
by piece. It’s a tour-de-force of overscaled stop-motion, and the filmmakers very
cleverly hide the wires and other supports needed to move heavy engine and body
parts.

Two real gems in the collection are the rarely seen short
films the British Film Institute commissioned for the Festival of Britain from
Norman McLaren in 1951: Now Is the Time
and Around Is Around. Both films
showcase McLaren’s use of unconventional techniques, including synthetically
generated sound, three-dimensional drawings, drawings on blank film stock and
oscilloscope imagery. The next year, his long time NFB collaborator Evelyn Lambart
produced a film set to the national anthem, O
Canada
, a single, long trucking shot over artwork done with pastels and
metal cut-outs that recalls McLaren’s C’est
L’Aviron
(1944).

In contrast, the excruciating The Adventures of Sam Space was shot in 1954, but not released
until 1960. This witless stop-motion short feels like a bargain basement George
Pal Puppetoon. The animation is crude at best, the storytelling nonexistent. An
inconclusive ending suggests Sam Space
was intended as a pilot for a future series, but the film was shelved for good
reasons.

Sam Space is so
bad, it make the Casper cartoon Boo Moon
(1953) look (relatively) good. Casper is unhappy because he doesn’t any
friends, so he goes to the moon, where he helps the subjects of King Luna fight
off the nasty Tree Men. It’s a typical Casper short, but the 3D effects work
surprisingly well in some sequences.

3-D Rarities may
not provide consumers with the excuse to buy the 80-plus inch 3D TV they’ve
been dreaming about, but it’s an intriguing collection of material from a
little-known area of film history.

3-D Rarities
Flicker Alley: $39.95, Blu-ray

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