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c. 1940s - 1950s

Secrets of the 3D cinema

Get your glasses, it's on

3-D Movie Viewers. Formally-attired audience sporting 3-D glasses during opening night screening of film Bwana Devil, the 1st full-length color 3-D (aka Natural Vision) motion picture, at Paramount Theater. (Photo by J. R. Eyerman/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

How’s your 3D TV? What do you mean, you’ve yet to get one? Ah well, it was ever thus. Despite being hailed as an all-conquering visual revolution for more than 70 years, the 3D experience seems to forever — if you will pardon the pun —  fall rather flat.

Although 3D cinematic experiments began in the late nineteenth century, it was the 1950s that were the 3D golden age. Horror films, tame by today’s standards, were especially popular. 

In fact, Vincent Price took on the moniker “King of 3-D”, starring in more 3D features than anyone else, including Dangerous Mission, The Mad Magician, and Son of Sinbad.

In 1953, Disney entered the 3rd dimension with 3D Jamboree, and Universal had its first 3D hit with It Came From Outer Space. But by the tail end of that year, the writing was on the wall (or screen).

The problem was two-fold. For various, and slightly complicated, reasons, projecting the film was tricky to get right.

But really the biggest issue — and in all likelihood the reason why you have yet to fork out for that 3D TV — was the glasses.

Because it seems putting on a pair of paper spectacles was / is simply too much of a faff, as well as being eternally unstylish. Even today, after the resurgence of 3D cinema, audiences are still electing to stick to the first two dimensions.

Not that most of the people in these candid pictures were paying much attention to the screen. Primarily taken in New York, they are the work of legendary photographer Arthur Fellig, known as “Weegee”, using an infrared camera.  

And, in the darkness, those glasses, geeky as they were, provided another layer of all-important anonymity…

Arthur Fellig / International Center of Photography / Getty Images
Arthur Fellig / International Center of Photography / Getty Images
Arthur Fellig / International Center of Photography / Getty Images
Arthur Fellig / International Center of Photography / Getty Images
Arthur Fellig / International Center of Photography / Getty Images
Arthur Fellig / International Center of Photography / Getty Images
Arthur Fellig / International Center of Photography / Getty Images
Arthur Fellig / International Center of Photography / Getty Images
Arthur Fellig / International Center of Photography / Getty Images
Arthur Fellig / International Center of Photography / Getty Images
Arthur Fellig / International Center of Photography / Getty Images

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