Inferno (1953) on Blu + BSV 1172 Premieres at Eye Myth Cine-Gallery Film Festival

June 21, 2017 | By

‘3D is a fad? Then why are we dragging that two-headed camera all over the Mojave Desert?’

My review for Twilight Time’s 3D Blu-ray of Inferno (1953) was delayed a bit while I waited to get a replacement BR burner after my Asus decided it only likes DVDs and CDs, which is a shame, given its original purchase price. While I waited for the local shop to restock a unit a good $30 cheaper (but newer), a question formed, somewhat based on conversations with clients about 3D.

Hollywood spends billions on tent pole pictures which are either shot or post-rendered in 3D, presumably because the extra process allows for a higher ticket price and yields bonus cash for whatever blockbuster is released in multiple formats, sound systems, and ‘experiential’ setups – showmanship & dollar squeezing that harkens back to earlier technological leaps in cinema history.

For the record, I don’t know if the first sound films, then widescreen movies, then stereophonic sound releases, then 3D exhibition cost audiences a few extra nickels, but certainly Road Show engagements, like the one Quentin Tarantino replicated for his The Hateful Eight (2015) cost a premium for the experience of seeing a film in its widest possible format with massive surround sound, an Overture, Entr’Acte, and Exist music. Some of these regal engagements include or offered audiences the chance to buy souvenir books as well.

Point: nothing changes when you distill the wants of studios, exhibitors, and filmmakers.

Prior to home video, 3D was exclusive to cinemas, but 3D did make a creep into TV broadcasts and home video when the format’s second major surge appeared in the 1980s. House of Wax (1953) was reissued in theatres while Friday the 13th Part III (1982) provided new in-your-face assaults / insults, and you could see Gorilla at Large (1954) in 3D TV broadcasts, and buy The Mask (1961) via Elvira’s branded series on VHS. The VHD system in Japan also offered releases like Dial M for Murder (1954) which contained switchable flat and 3D versions on one disc.

Then the format faded out, and after a long gap, the crazy money earned by James Cameron’s 3D blockbuster Avatar (2009) made both studios and hardware manufacturers produce new 3D materials. You could see 3D in cinemas, buy them on disc and watch them on branded 3D TVs with proprietary systems developed by separate manufacturers.

As the format faded again (or rather, was called a useless fad by critics soured from bad 3D films yet again), 3D TVs became Smart TVs, with the 3D buried in the specs to avoid the now poisonous branding.

But 3D films are still being made for cinemas, released on Blu-ray in multi-disc sets, and classic & cult films from prior waves and odd blips in cinema history are being restored by organizations like the 3-D Film Archive and released on BR by assorted labels.

Meanwhile, 3D as a feature on mid-level Smart TVs started to vanish, and assorted editorials rather gleefully declared and re-declared 3D was wholly dead and buried, with Samsung, LG and Sony dropping the feature from 2016 and 207 models.

Clients with whom I blathered admitted they either bought their 3D TVs when new, or sought out outgoing models knowing the feature was being pushed out of the market again.

From a cursory glance at available gear, 3D A/V receivers, BR players, and some high end 4K sets still carry 3D, but if these remain highly niche products aimed at 4K connoisseurs and cineastes with what are ostensibly discontinued gear, why is Hollywood still bothering with 3D if its application is limited to fewer releases; major manufacturers have (for the time being) abandoned the feature; and setting up a home 3D system requires research, sleuthing, and some creative fiddling to enjoy a process that’s been declared dead?

The presumption is that with tent pole pictures, 3D’s extra box office bucks perhaps figure big when multiplied by millions of ticket buyers, and grosses are in the billions. Additionally, the cost of a Blu-ray release of a comic book or franchise hit is negligible because the manufacturing costs are spread out over a classic large volume run, and sold as a neatly packaged special limited edition, if not as a retailer exclusive.

But what about classic films?

Where the 3-D Film Archive restores rare classics aimed at a very niche collector, the studios themselves rarely undertake major restorations. Warner Bros.’ Dial M for Murder and House of Wax are iconic 3D classics, perpetual genre, critic, and fan favourites tied to icons Alfred Hitchcock and Vincent Price respectively, but Sony – who’s not poor – licensed a flat HD transfer of Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983) to budget label Mill Creek. No restoration, because it’s not a genre, format, or film history highpoint.

So if older films like September Storm (1960) – a movie that barely anyone had heard of – are restored and released by cinephile label KINO, who’s watching them in 3D, and how? And are there enough genre and format fans to keep the flow of restorations going, rescuing many of the rare entries of which maybe 1 or 2 prints exist, perhaps in highly precarious states?

I snap up 3D discs because like a Criterion edition, these may be the one time these movies are commercially available. Dial M for Murder, for example, is a U.S. import for us, because Warner Home Video chose to discontinue the domestic Canadian edition, hence a price point much higher than still-domestic House of Wax.

I also get the impression there is a slow-motion race that’s in progress, as restorationists are exploiting this rare window of opportunity in which they have hands-on access to prints & negatives long locked away, abandoned, or thought lost; and ensuring the films will forever exist in forms as close to their ideal state, ready for future generations and the next 3D wave for critics to poo-poo.

Owners of once-derided 3D cash-ins are perhaps saying ‘Sure, go ahead and restore A*P*E’ because it vivifies a dormant back catalogue title (and with A*P*E, reintroduces a grade of cinematic fromage to new generations hungry for a guy in monkey suit).

But getting back to the key question, who’s watching non-tent pole 3D films, and how?

My workaround is based on economics and functionality. Find a BR burner that recognizes 3D discs. Use Cyberlink Power DVD 15 to convert the 3D content into red-blue anaglyph format, and watch it on a straight monitor with a NVIDIA graphics card setting checked to Enable Stereoscopic 3D. And watch the movie with a pair of red-blue glasses from the old DVD release of Spy Kids 3D.

Seriously. And it works. It’s not ideal by any means, but it’s not a $500-$1000+ investment in discontinued or pricier new gear. That’s my How, but I wonder what other workarounds genre & format fans have glued together, given bonehead critics have declared the format dead on all fronts, and through that ignorance, put it peril our ability to drop less than $500 for a new setup.

Critics aren’t at fault – studios cashed in fast & furious, and with many owned by hardware companies, the gear was designed to be proprietary, and releases like Avatar tied to exclusive manufacturer deals for a foolish length of time – but it boggles the mind that a format with such an historic love-hate relationship among studios, producers, directors, exhibitors, and hardware manufacturers can’t just exist in peace. Free from outright abandonment, sand slithering in an hourglass, and the revolving opinion that physical media is already dead.

KINO, Flicker Alley, Scream Factory, MVD Visual, and Twilight Time say otherwise.

Which brings us to Twilight Time’s 3D BR release of Inferno (1953), a personal ‘desert noir’ favourite I caught years ago on pre-Fox affiliated WUTV Chanel 29 in Buffalo. The station’s transmitter was forever drifting out of order, but they aired many great studio classics, and this was the film that formally introduced me to actor Robert Ryan, and enhanced my love for desert-set suspense stories.  (Dramatize a suburban tale beside a backyard sandbox, and I might give it a go.)

Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies bible said it was originally in 3D, and I found a dub from a terrible 3D TV airing. Then Britain’s Panamint licensed a restored 3D HD transfer done around 2008, and I waited… and waited… and the film finally made its debut in North America via Twilight Time this past May, sporting an isolated stereo music track of Paul Sawtell’s otherwise unreleased score, as performed by Fox’s bass-kabooming studio orchestra.

I’ve added a few recommended review links at the tail-end because I had to verify a few facts of the film’s original stereo exhibition, and specific extras on the Panamint release, which I don’t have. Somewhere I have a dub of that 3D TV airing, and I’ll check that when it’s unearthed and verify if it was in true stereo, or classic rechanneled bullshit stereo.

Moving on.

 

 

Lastly (and perhaps this should’ve been plopped at the very top of this page), BSV 1172: Your Friendly Neighbourhood Video Store, my short experimental documentary on Toronto’s Bay Street Video, is getting its Canadian + Toronto Premiere this Friday June 23rd as part of the Eye Myth Cine-Gallery film festival.

I’ve been invited to provide an intro + participate in audience Q&A, and the festival runs June 23-24 at Double Double Land, 209 Augusta Avenue, in Kensington Market. Apparently it’s across the street from Carlos’ House of Spice, my chief shop for buying spices & dried herbs from around the world. Highly recommended for anyone bored of salt & pepper.

More to follow,

 

 

Mark R. Hasan, Editor
KQEK.com

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Category: EDITOR'S BLOG

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