Rares sont les moments où un art est sur le point d’être profondément remis en question par une évolution technique. C’est pourtant ce qui semble arriver, ces derniers mois, avec le brusque réveil de la troisième dimension au sein d’un cinéma qui redécouvre là quelque chose qu’il avait déjà rencontré il y a de cela des décennies.
En effet, depuis la sortie sur les écrans d’Avatar, de Cameron, (ou plutôt, depuis la sortie hors des écrans d’Avatar, puisque la troisième dimension a ceci de particulier qu’elle ne se contente plus de simplement projeter sur une surface plane des images en mouvement, mais elle génère un effet de relief, et de profondeur qui semblent excéder la surface de projection, remettant en question, de manière fondamentale, les données essentielles de ce qu’on appelait, jusque là, « cinéma »), cette technologie semble, pour de bon, prendre son envol. Même si la large diffusion des moyens techniques permettant la diffusion d’oeuvres ainsi conçues en relief est handicapée par le coût des équipements nécessaires, et la contrainte de devoir chausser d’étranges lunettes, qui constituent, qu’on le veuille ou non, une séparation d’avec ce qui est à voir, tout en le rendant possible (un cadre a priori de la perception en relief, pour ainsi dire), on voit trop bien la mesure dans laquelle les jeux vidéo vont forcément tirer parti de cet artifice, et comment une certaine catégorie de films vont se jeter dans la brèche s’ouvrant, vers des expériences nouvelles, du moins dans l’artifice.
Pour autant, rares sont encore les réflexions théoriques portant sur la manière dont le cinéma pourrait être, en profondeur, bouleversé par l’apparition de cet effet pour le moins spécial. Or on sait bien comment l’apparition de la perspective, à la Renaissance, a participé à la genèse de la subjectivité moderne. Il n’est dès lors pas illégitime de chercher à analyser, plus en profondeur, la manière dont la troisième dimension spatiale va agir sur la forme même qu’auront, à l’avenir, les films, mais aussi sur la structure même de l’esprit. Peu de penseurs se sont encore attaqués au problème, mais une ébauche de réflexion est proposée dans le New-Yorker du 8 Mars 2010, sous la plume d’Antony Lane, critique cinéma au sein du période new-yorkais depuis 1993. Au-delà d’un rappel de l’histoire même de la technique tridimensionnelle au cinéma, qui permet de se souvenir que l’affaire n’est pas vraiment nouvelle, puisque par exemple, Sirk et Hitchcock avaient déjà tourné chacun un film en relief (Taza, son of Cochise (1954), pour le premier, seul western de Sirk, projeté en « super 3D living », Dial M for murder, (1954, lui aussi, Le meurtre était presque parfait, en VF), pour Hitchcock, dont de nombreux plans furent tournés spécifiquement en prévision des effets de trois dimensions, mettant le fameux téléphone, ou les tout aussi fameuses clés au coeur de l’action). Mais plus essentiellement, on s’y demande, aussi, si l’ajout de la profondeur au film ne renforce pas, paradoxalement, sa superficialité. Là, une réflexion plus profonde, mettant en jeu tant Platon que Godard, serait utile, pour creuser les pistes que cet article ébauche. On s’aiderait avec intérêt, ici, en confrontant Avatar, tourné en 3D, mais dont le relief présente un intérêt avant tout spectaculaire, et Alice in Wonderland, de Burton, dont les effets 3D furent ajoutés en post-production, mais jouent un rôle central dans la structure même de la mise en scène, perçant comme des trous dans les différentes dimensions dans lesquelles les personnages évoluent.
Comme tout le monde lit désormais l’anglais couramment, je colle ici l’article tel qu’il fut écrit, en V.O. non sous-titrée.
Did you enjoy “Rottweiler”? How about “Bwana Devil” or “Black Lolita”? Maybe you preferred “International Stewardesses,” although you might know it under the more thoughtful title of “Supersonic Supergirls.” You will not need reminding that these are among the crowning achievements of three-dimensional cinema: its “Grand Illusion,” its “Psycho,” its “8½.” There are people who track down rare 3-D screenings of “Comin’ at Ya!” and “The Disco Dolls in Hot Skin” the way regular buffs flock to a new print of “The Searchers” or dream of the lost, unbutchered portions of von Stroheim’s “Greed.” For those who have kept faith with 3-D, and have withstood the taunts of skeptics over the decades, no illusion has been grander, or harder to attain.
“Bwana Devil,” set in Africa but filmed in Malibu, is a case in point. As one scours the histories of the medium, this is the title that swells with revolutionary significance. Think of it as “The Birth of a Nation” with an added z-axis. It was shot with a dual-camera rig, with two cameras facing weirdly lens to lens, and a pair of mirrors between them; light from the scene would be reflected via the mirrors, angled at forty-five degrees, into each lens. The resulting full-length feature, screened through twin projectors, viewable with 3-D spectacles, and released on November 26, 1952, initiated a short but golden period of 3-D, “with more than fifty stereoscopic films released between 1952 and 1955.” So says Ray Zone, one of the foremost experts in the field, and certainly the most exquisitely named. Was he given the name at birth, and thus obliged to enter a suitable area of study, or did a fascination with 3-D lead him to assume this nom d’image?
In a series of interviews with leading practitioners of 3-D, Zone spoke to Arch Oboler, the director of “Bwana Devil,” more than thirty years after the film’s release. Like most of his peers, Oboler seemed excited to be dredging up the past, but not half as excited as he was by the glories yet to come:
Until there is some artistic level of choice of stories in the studios, we may have the same reaction to the present 3-D excitement that we had back in the “Bwana Devil” days. The audience will become surfeited with gore, with bad stories. The only hope for 3-D is that someone will come along with taste and understanding, and do a good story without regard for the extremes of 3-D, using it in terms of the story itself.
All of which sounds like a drumroll for James Cameron. The greatest compliment that one can pay to “Avatar,” apart from the small matter of two and a half billion dollars and counting, is that almost none of the arguments that have stormed around the movie since its release, in December, have centered on its extra dimension. “The technology should wave its own wand and make itself disappear,” Cameron said in advance, and, as he predicted, the visual depth of the film has become a given. People have plunged into “Avatar” like vacationers lining up for the high board of a pool, and when they emerge nearly three hours later, removing their glasses and rubbing the bridge of their noses, the question that they want to thrash out is whether the pool was a swamp of liberal eco-mush or a trough of hot-blooded American rampage. The one thing they agree on is that 3-D was its most fitting form—and, by implication, that there is no way back. 3-D is good to go. From here on, “the mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture. The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out at us as if they would scratch our eyes out.” Those are not the words of Oboler, though, or of the triumphant Cameron. They were written in The Atlantic Monthly, in June, 1859, by Oliver Wendell Holmes.
from the issuecartoon banke-mail this.How did Holmes, of all people, find time for another dimension? Somehow, while in his post as professor of anatomy and physiology at Harvard Medical School, and notwithstanding his poems, the essays that he contributed to The Atlantic Monthly, the novel that he published in the same journal, and his membership—along with Emerson, Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell—in the Saturday Club, he also delved into the field of stereopsis. This is the process by which our binocular vision yields a sensation of depth, with each eye giving a slightly different account of the same object; “by means of these two different views, the mind, as it were, feels round it and gets an idea of its solidity,” Holmes wrote. He was hardly the first to notice this; the physician Galen had pointed it out some seventeen hundred years earlier, and it has been a continuing cause for regret, among medical historians, that Galen did not live to see his theories come to fruition in “Jaws 3-D” or “Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn.” But Holmes was the first to lyricize the lure of stereopsis, and to grapple imaginatively with its dramatic potential:
I scale the huge mountain-crystal that calls itself the Pyramid of Cheops. I pace the length of the three Titanic stones of the wall of Baalbec,—mightiest masses of quarried rock that man has lifted into the air; and then I dive into some mass of foliage with my microscope, and trace the veinings of a leaf so delicately wrought in the painting not made with hands, that I can almost see its down and the green aphis that sucks its juices. I look into the eyes of the caged tiger, and on the scaly train of the crocodile, stretched on the sands of the river that has mirrored a hundred dynasties.
We are a breath away from the forests of “Avatar.” Look at the verbs that Holmes deploys—scale, pace, dive—and the gusto with which he zooms from the hulking shapes of a landscape to the thirst of a single insect. All that he is actually discussing is the pleasure of leafing through a collection of stereo photographs (paired views of the same scene, which a stereoscope resolved into a single, 3-D image), yet you can feel him egging the technology on to keep pace with human attention. That is why, finding a few minutes to spare, around 1860, he designed his own stereoscope—an elegant viewing tool, carved in wood with glass lenses, which could be held in the hand for the convenient scrutiny of the dual images. He was not the inventor of the stereoscope; that honor belongs to Charles Wheatstone, a British scientist who had built a more cumbersome device twenty years earlier. But Holmes’s lighter version sold en masse, and, in an even more fervid article from 1861, he guided stereoscopists on a grand verbal tour of the world, and promised them a trance—“a dream-like exaltation of the faculties, a kind of clairvoyance, in which we seem to leave the body behind us and sail away into one strange scene after another.” Vision, from now on, would be visionary; and you sense that impatient souls like Holmes, who had a thousand-strong collection of stereo photographs, were willing the cinema into being.
To trace the progress of stereo viewing, in the wake of this early enthusiasm, is to embark upon a comedy of bright ideas, brand names, dashed hopes, and quackery. Ray Zone, who is nothing if not exhaustive in his “Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of the 3-D Film, 1838-1952,” brings us news of the Cosmorama, the Motoscope, the Thaumatrope, the Phenakistoscope, the stereophoroskop, the Kinimoscope, the photobioscope, the Praxinoscope, the Heliocinegraphe, the Zoopraxiscope (not to be confused with the Zoopraxinoscope, otherwise known as the Zoogyroscope), the Kinetoscope, the Mutoscope, the anaglyph, the polarizer, the Alethoscope, and the Vitagraph, which at least had the advantage of being pronounceable. The most significant of these was Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope, which ran a strip of film through a system of rollers, and the patent for which, issued in 1893, mentioned “means for moving said film or surface rapidly forward at a regulated speed.” The result would have been a kind of hasty peepshow—pictures in motion rather than a motion picture—and, in any case, as Zone points out, no functioning Kinetoscope was ever constructed.
What matters here, amid the melee, is that the dream of 3-D predated the arrival of the movies; and what saddens proponents of 3-D is that not until recently has it caught up. Worse still, some of the earliest films partook, consciously or otherwise, of visual sleights and habits to which a public fed on years of stereoscopy was already accustomed: yet another instance, if any were needed, of an art form consuming its forebears without so much as a thank you. Thus, in “The Great Train Robbery,” a smash of 1903, the final image of the film—after the thieves have been tracked down and shot in the woods—shows one of them, alive and unharmed, raising his pistol and firing directly at the camera. Whether audiences flinched from this, as legend suggests, we cannot be sure; but to shatter the fourth wall in so blatant a fashion, so early in the history of the medium, was not just astounding. It was also a 3-D moment in all but name, with the viewer’s brain instantly gauging the distance and the velocity of the bullet’s path. From there to our privileged position atop the thrumming arrow in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991), or to any of the slugs that barrel toward us in the “Matrix” trilogy, is no more than a hop. These are not 3-D movies, yet the ghost of 3-D hangs over them and haunts their spatial desires.
The slaking of such desires reached a feverish peak in the early nineteen-twenties. Was it pure coincidence that, even as poets and novelists sought to splinter and elasticate our common experience, so the newest permutation of popular culture likewise played merry—and profitable—havoc with traditional narratives? If you were of catholic tastes, you could spend 1922 inching through “Ulysses” and “The Waste Land” and then relax, in December, at the Selwyn Theatre in New York, where a round viewing machine with a revolving shutter stood on a snakelike metal neck in front of your seat. This was Teleview, which brought you a 3-D bundle of slides, travelogues, and something called shadowgraphs; two years later, 3-D won its first wide commercial release in the form of a portmanteau of short novelty films known as Plastigrams. The dogged R. M. Hayes, in his book “3-D Movies,” reprints a great poster for Plastigrams, with its barked instructions: “You Will Thrill!—Scream at this Wonder Novelty. Special Glasses Absolutely Essential. Provided Free of Charge. Get Yours at the Door.”
The kicker, though, lies at the foot of the poster. For thirty-five cents, you got a double bill: squeezed below Plastigrams was a small announcement for the second half of the program, D. W. Griffith’s “Way Down East.” And so the scene was set. 3-D had the bells and whistles, but maybe that was all it had; it was a Wonder Novelty, but a novelty nonetheless. Meanwhile, real movies, less showy but more substantial, could get on with business as usual. And that is where the matter rested. In 1936, for instance, audiences for M-G-M’s “A Tale of Two Cities” were treated, beforehand, to a short 3-D film called “Audioscopiks,” for which the company made three million pairs of red-and-green lorgnette spectacles. You held them up to your eyes to watch a guy pitch a baseball (“Don’t Forget to Duck!” the tagline ran), then lowered them for the Dickens, which remained a tale of two dimensions. Not until the end of last year were the two halves of that entertainment fused into one, as Robert Zemeckis’s “A Christmas Carol” saw Jim Carrey, in the role of Scrooge, rocket past us into the night sky clutching a chimney pot. This was not because the same thing occurs in the original story but because 3-D loves a human projectile even more than it does a baseball. That’s the rule: wonders must never cease.
To survey the filmography of 3-D, from the days of “Bwana Devil” to a movie like “Jaws 3-D,” which, in 1983, earned eighty-eight million dollars worldwide, is to trespass upon a mythical land that is both laughed at and lost. It’s like hearing from survivors of Atlantis that the place was a bit of a dump. And yet the myth is untouchable, because we cannot return to inspect it for ourselves. Were I to nourish a fixation with the films of 1954, I could easily buy a DVD of “Rear Window” or “On the Waterfront,” but I can no more grasp what it was truly like to put on my 3-D spectacles and watch “The French Line,” with Jane Russell, than I can spirit myself back among the congregation of St. Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, two hundred and twenty years earlier, to hear a Bach cantata. There was a chance to see “The French Line” four years ago, when it screened as part of a magnificent-sounding roster of films at the World 3-D Film Expo II, at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, alongside such gems as “Those Redheads from Seattle” (1953) and “Taza, Son of Cochise” (1954). If you missed the show, however, all that remains of “The French Line” is the poster, with its portrait of Russell, arching her back in a bustier, and supported by the delicate slogan “J.R. in 3D: It’ll Knock Both Your Eyes Out!” There’s no proof that Howard Hughes wrote that line, but it has his paw marks all over it.
“Taza, Son of Cochise” is a special case, because it starred Rock Hudson and was directed by Douglas Sirk. Those for whom 3-D is, by definition, doomed to frippery tend to claim that no one of any distinction or sensibility would touch the stuff; yet a trawl through the record reveals any number of first-rate stars and directors who reached into the third dimension. There was “Dial M for Murder,” which Hitchcock shot in 3-D, although he was annoyed by the bulk of the camera. There was Curtis Bernhardt’s “Miss Sadie Thompson,” with Rita Hayworth, which proffered, among other delights, “special clip-ons for those who already wear glasses.” John Farrow directed John Wayne in “Hondo,” and Rudolph Maté, who, as a cinematographer, had shot masterpieces such as “The Passion of Joan of Arc” and “Gilda,” directed Robert Mitchum and Jack Palance in “Second Chance.” You could watch the Three Stooges, perhaps confusingly, in 3-D, in “Pardon My Backfire,” and you could watch Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in 3-D in “Money from Home.” I still wonder how the première went. Martin, living as he did in a bifurcated fuzz, was presumably the only man in history who could watch a 3-D movie without needing the special glasses.
Yet, to be brutal, one has to ask: how many of these movies have endured, in any format, in the course of the fourth dimension? We still cling to “Dial M for Murder,” but mainly for Grace Kelly, and for Hitchcock’s masterly handling of her trial scene. To be fair, “Kiss Me Kate,” the M-G-M musical with Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel, was a 3-D hit, though mainly for the Cole Porter songs, like “Always True to You in My Fashion” and “Too Darn Hot,” which existed long before the movie did and will resound after it has crumbled into dust. “Taza, Son of Cochise” now feels like a hiatus in Sirk’s career between “All I Desire” and “Magnificent Obsession.” 3-D, he said, “was just an experiment,” and one is tugged toward the mean suspicion that, though often a boost to a film’s immediate prospects, it soon became something that we could take or leave. Worse still, it may have hardened into a hindrance. When David Thomson, in “The New Biographical Dictionary of Film,” describes “Inferno,” a Robert Ryan picture of 1953, as “a modest venture, handicapped by 3D,” is he revealing an unjust prejudice, or a bitter truth of the time?
Certainly, Oliver Wendell Holmes could not have conceived of a more ironic fate for his beloved stereoscopy; namely, that the very quest for depth should dwindle into a grim guarantee of superficiality. Was it the blandishment of the quick shock which insured that, for seventy years or more, almost every adventure in 3-D would wind up as little more than an extended Plastigram? As late as last year, in “My Bloody Valentine,” a naked blonde hurled a pistol across a parking lot at a no-good truck driver’s head—or, apparently, through the screen and straight at our heads, for the sake of a passing “Ooh,” with no thought as to the rupture of dramatic flow. That is why so many 3-D films have taken refuge at the cheesier end of the market, in horror and pornography, where the slash of a knife or the swell of a bosom can allow the technique to strut its stuff. This is fatal for the maturing of any medium, as the fundamental need to tell a story, or to conjure a subtlety of mood, is trounced and swept aside by the sudden opportunity to show off. I clearly recall sitting through “Amityville 3-D” and “Friday the 13th, Part III” and feeling the last traces of genuine atmosphere drain away, to be replaced by a litany of giggles. As for “Jaws 3-D,” I was mildly surprised that the offending shark should feel so much less frightening than it had in Spielberg’s original, given that we were now being introduced, as it were, on a snout-to-snout basis.
The comedy of such encounters became inescapable, nowhere more so than when fish were replaced by the even wetter business of sex. Laughter is never far from the conjoining of bodies onscreen; it is, in its way, a hangover of our Puritan pudeur, but, with the approach of 3-D, it drowned out any hope of a softer cry. The heart, along with every other organ, sinks as one follows R. M. Hayes in his steady, alphabetical assessment of the boom in 3-D erotica. How relieved are you that you didn’t bruise your libido with a trip to “Scoring” or “Campus Panty Raids” or “The Starlets”? The last of these arrived in 1976, in QuadraVision, of which Hayes remarks, with some severity, “The fourth dimension was supposed to be the explicitness of the hardcore sex scenes.” The level of realism delivered by “Secrets of Ecstasy ’72,” according to one advertisement, meant that “you can almost feel the pulsing warmth,” but the faint regret in that “almost” is fleshed out by an interview that Ray Zone conducted with Arnold Herr, who shot 3-D porno films, mostly in the nineteen-seventies, for a company called Deep Vision. His memories of “The Playmates” are fondly exact: “She’s grinding and moaning. The camera moves up to her right breast. Then you see this enormous tongue from the lower part of the frame move up and start to lick her breast.” The tongue in question, it transpires, came from a cow, though any fears that the rest of the cow was still attached to it are quickly laid to rest: “We had it on a broom handle and we had something under it to animate it. We also spritzed it to make it look moist.”
Clearly, something had to give. This on-the-hoof inventiveness, though enterprising enough, offered almost nothing to serious filmmakers, and still less to cattle breeders. If 3-D was to stay alive, it had to break new ground. By good fortune, the ground ahead was digital.
We should not be taken aback by the pace with which digital production has invaded our moviegoing and colonized our eyes. Nonetheless, it is still bracing to take one’s seat for Tim Burton’s new “Alice in Wonderland” and realize how snugly the whole experience has accommodated itself to the shape of modern film. For a start, there are the glasses. Most early viewers knew only the anaglyph—a red lens over one eye, a blue or green one over the other, complementing the dual projection of the film itself. The nineteen-thirties saw increased competition from polarizing glasses, each lens of which blocked out part of the light from the screen. These two technologies have duked it out ever since. Anaglyph, which was ideal for black-and-white, and seemed bound for the scrap heap, has enjoyed an odd resurgence among computer users, for 3-D games. But moviegoers no longer want to be fobbed off with a piece of torn-out cardboard and plastic, which begs to be bent and scratched; they want to look like downhill skiers, their wraparound mirrored lenses flashing on the slopes. Polarization, therefore—preferably circular rather than linear, which means that you can tilt your head without getting a bad case of color-bleed—has carried the day.
Then, there are the coming attractions. When I saw “Alice,” all of them were in 3-D; a child being taken to the cinema for the first time would presume that no other options were available. People sighed with comfortable anticipation at the imminence of “Toy Story 3,” and rustled with bewilderment at “Tron Legacy,” which is apparently designed to trap us like rabbits inside a digital world. Indeed, until Alice made her entrance, in the main feature, no real people had passed before our gaze. “Curiouser and curiouser,” she said, having stepped through the tiny door into Wonderland, yet what followed grew less and less curious, as we realized how tightly Burton had stuck to the blueprint of twenty-first-century extravaganza. Lewis Carroll’s tale is as brisk and bright as the Victorian child at its heart, more anecdotal than plotted, and Burton, spotting this, overcompensates by trading the domestic for the apocalyptic. Humans galumphing bareback on outsized beasts, and blasted war zones, where ignorant armies clash by night: we could be back in Narnia, or in the set pieces of “The Golden Compass”—leagues away from the spiky language games that enliven Carroll’s pages. The most troubling aspect is that, while 3-D lends an undoubted texture to these duels and pursuits, it also makes them strangely obvious; we now demand nothing less than constant, localized amazement, and we therefore get nothing more. No one should play down the hard, ingenious labor that such a project entails, yet something about it, as Alice sprang through the darkened air and slew the Jabberwocky, felt too easy.
There is also the “Avatar” problem. “Alice in Wonderland” was shot in two dimensions and then converted, during postproduction, into three, and, to a theatre full of pedants—which is what we have become—there are holes to pick in the screen. The flora through which our heroine passes is every bit as luxuriant as we expected, but not once do we sense ourselves yearning to catch and stroke it as we did those glowing woodland floaters—half jellyfish, half thistledown—that bloomed from the digital mulch of “Avatar.” The bar, in short, is being raised at a vertiginous rate, and today’s 3-D viewers deride the effects that felt so special in “The Polar Express,” all of six years ago. Those smooth, not quite real faces in which the director, Robert Zemeckis, likes to deal (and continues to deal, to judge by “A Christmas Carol”) now verge on the embarrassing, such is our craving for an alternative world in which we can place our trust. Before our eyes, the idea of 3-D vision has gone from hobby to heavy industry, from a treat to an essential, and from a creed to a need. For devotees, it had to happen:
For today’s 3D, riding on all-digital production pipelines, the benefits extend far beyond principal photography into postproduction and distribution. Considering that 1950’s 3D is said to have been crippled by image-quality issues that couldn’t be tackled in the analog age, this distinction is crucial. Basically, a digital 3D movie should not give you a headache.
That is Bernard Mendiburu, writing in “3D Movie Making: Stereoscopic Digital Cinema from Script to Screen” (2009). As a technical manual, it bristles with good advice, but, as a book of prophecy, it will scare the pixellated daylights out of anyone over forty. Once the newfangled 3-D is up and running, Mendiburu proposes,
it will be unavoidable and ubiquitous, to the point that the very mention of “3D” will disappear from posters. At some point in the near future, you will go to see a “flattie” for nostalgia’s sake, just as you sometimes watch black-and-white movies on TV today.
I hate to break it to Mendiburu, but there are film lovers who still go to the cinema to watch flatties that are not merely in black-and-white but are sometimes silent, too. And we do so not out of nostalgia but precisely because those films are anything but period pieces. Not long ago, I saw a new print of “Gun Crazy,” Joseph H. Lewis’s bad-couple thriller of 1950, and it felt considerably more dangerous and less dated than most of the new releases. Not that such danger will deter the acolytes of 3-D, who, far from scorning our preferences, will kindly offer to help. According to recent reports, Reliance Big Entertainment, the Mumbai-based company that last year invested three hundred and twenty-five million dollars in DreamWorks Studios, has entered into partnership with In-Three, a California firm that converts 2-D movies to 3-D. And not just new 2-D, but old 2-D as well. If all goes according to plan, “Twelve Angry Men” could be coming back. And they’ll be angrier than ever.
There is more in this announcement to startle the movie nut than in any rumor of “Avatar 2: Blue Crush.” Faced with the thought of a 3-D “Casablanca,” one is torn between outrage at such blind desecration and a sneaking wish to know—well, what the hell would it look like? The mind runs riot, in search of screenings past. Imagine the older couple dancing, with slow grace, in “The Magnificent Ambersons,” with the younger pair behind them, watching in admiration from the stairs; imagine the gentle ascent of the camera, at the end of “Ugetsu Monogatari,” as the child lays an offering on his mother’s grave, and we gaze beyond him to the workers, with griefs and rituals of their own, toiling in the distant fields; imagine the arrival of the train at the start of “Once Upon a Time in the West,” with those seamed, all-knowing faces so close to us and the railroad stretching so far; imagine the flirtatious darting between trees, in “Smiles of a Summer Night,” as the maid half seeks to flee the randy groom in the background, both of them blessed and maddened by the midnight sun. All these scenes depend on figures held in separate planes, and on the unspoken feelings that brim in the spaces between them; would it weaken or intensify those feelings if the spaces were given solid form? Try asking Patrick von Sychowski, the chief operating officer at Reliance MediaWorks, quoted in the London Times: “You can’t just press a button and have a computer do it. You have to take artistic decisions, such as what’s going to appear in the foreground.” Ah.
It is no slur on the skills of Reliance and In-Three to suggest that, statistically, they are unlikely to have a Welles, a Mizoguchi, a Leone, and a Bergman all sharing the same water cooler in Mumbai. Maybe the past should be left in peace. On the other hand, a name as distinguished as any of those was behind the most messianic tribute ever paid to 3-D. Sergei Eisenstein, in his last article, published in 1949, wrote that “mankind has for centuries been moving towards stereoscopic cinema.” Hostility to such progress told of a reactionary stubbornness: “Does not the musty conservatism with which news of work on the stereoscopic front is met in the West sound absurd and, in its way, insulting to the eternally developing tendencies of a genuinely vital art?” Even if you’re not convinced that “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” did that much to overthrow, or even lightly radicalize, a snoozing bourgeoisie, you have to be stirred by Eisenstein’s call to arms, not least when he summons, as a witness, a passage from his own film “Ivan the Terrible, Part I”:
The most memorable montage piece in this scene shows the boundless snow-covered space in the background of the composition, the general view of the Moscow peasants’ procession moving across it, and, in the foreground, the greatly enlarged profile of the Czar’s head bowing to them.
There’s just one hitch. The scene works fine as it is. Watch it again and—even in miniature, on YouTube—you absolutely get the point, as the formal disposition of figures in the frame yokes together the ruler and the ruled. It may, like “The Great Train Robbery,” owe something to 3-D, but the posthumous application of 3-D would not sharpen—and might even vulgarize—its moral thrust. Is that not, after all, how we have learned to read a painting since the time of Giotto? We know that perspective is a trick, and that a flat surface stands for a denser and more far-reaching world, but it is an illusion of which art—in drawing and painting, in still photography, and in two-dimensional films—has availed itself with unstinting intelligence, relying on our instinct to decipher the code. What 3-D movies say to us is: You have been fooled. You were duped, all this time, into thinking that a window was a world. Only now will you get the real thing.
But that, too, is a lie. “We seem to leave the body behind us,” Holmes said of the stereoscope, but we never really leave. We don’t even leave our seat, and soon we won’t leave our couch, since the signs are that 3-D will not just conquer the movie theatres but edge with greater assurance into our homes. True, these are early days; I watched a DVD of “My Bloody Valentine,” which came with a pair of crummy anaglyph glasses, and it was like having my eyeballs rinsed in lemon-lime Gatorade. Word is, though, that Blu-ray disks offer a better service by far, and who’s to say, in any case, that feature films will be the major draw? An outfit called 3ality Digital has produced a three-dimensional broadcast for the N.F.L., and before long it won’t be just the halftime commercials during the Super Bowl which require us to don our glasses. It will be the game. We will rise magically above the end zone, at the climactic play, and watch the football rifle toward our eyes. And if we feel like grieving at the end, and need to stream some 3-D porn to cheer ourselves up, it will not be because our team lost; it will be because the vision is over for the night. Those members of the “Avatar” audience who said that they felt blue, in every sense, as the movie ebbed away were the most accurate critics of all. 3-D will ravish our senses and take us on rides that no drug could match, but my guess is that, like so many blessings, it won’t make us happy. It will make us want more. »
1 – Photographie de Miles Aldridge (qui, s’inspirant pas mal des travaux de David Lachapelle, oeuvre assez souvent pour les grands magazines de mode américains.
Puis, les affiches de :
2 – Taza, son of Cochise, de D. Sirk (1954)
3 – Dial M for Murder, de A. Hitchcock (1954)
4 – Avatar, de J. Cameron (2009)
5 – Alice in Wonderland, de T. Burton (2010)
6 – Tron Legacy, de J. Kosinski (2010)
7 – Sucker Punch, de Z. Snyder (2011)
8 – Green Lantern, de M. Campbell (2011)
9 – Un arrêt sur image dans Resident Evil 5, premier jeu à être proposé en 3D, dans sa version PC, pour les rares joueurs disposant d’une carte graphique, d’un écran, d’une paire de lunettes et d’yeux 3D-ready.