Definition:

depthsploitation
[depth-sploi-tey-shuhn]

As pertaining to motion pictures, describes any film that exploits, in its marketing or promotion, the use of stereoscopic (3-dimensional) filmmaking techniques.

This blog is my notepad as I research a nonfiction book spotlighting 3-D genre films of the last century. While the book will focus primarily on films from the 60's, 70's and 80's this blog has no restrictions.

All articles on this blog are copyright 2010-13 of its author,
Jason Pichonsky, unless otherwise stated.

Images are used for information purposes and remain the rights of their respective owners.


Based on a layout by: 16thday

MONTH OF THE MASK SPILLS INTO DECEMBER


Well sort of.

This month's issue of Rue Morgue Magazine way over on pg 47 has a feature on The Mask, written by yours truly. It includes a few choice quotes from the film's late director, Julian Roffman's son.

I have to admit I dig the cover. It is an awesome fusion of the poster art for Mario Bava's anthology film Black Sabbath, replacing Boris Karloff's image with Tony Iommi's, lead singer for the original metal band Black Sabbath. Where do you think they got their name from?


It's on the stands now and available at Yudu.com and the Apple App Store, if you want to check it out.


WIM & PINA: a review

As I've noted before PINA, Wim Wenders' newest film, played at The Toronto International Film Festival this September and I couldn't be there. I did have the fortune of seeing a few scenes projected in 3-D and hearing Wenders discuss the film and the 3-D process at the Toronto International Stereoscopic 3D Conference in June.I couldn't be there but that doesn't mean I couldn't get a review. Many thanks to Trevor Ball a long time TIFF attendee and my guest blogger:

Wim Wenders encountered the choreography of Pina Bausch in mid-1980s, and immediately knew he wanted to work with her. She took some time to warm to the idea, but before long the two were discussing a collaboration. Wenders's problem, though, was that he couldn't figure out how to make a film of her Tanztheater Wuppertal company's dancing; he said there seemed to be an "invisible wall" keeping a satisfactory film from being made. The two would cross paths repeatedly over the decades, with her asking him how it was coming, and him answering that he hadn't figured out how yet, until the exchange became so routine that they just exchanged gestures to convey the status quo.

That finally changed in 2007, when Wenders saw U2 3D, the 3D presentation of the band's Vertigo tour. He called up Bausch and told her he had finally figured out how to make the movie. Unfortunately, due in part to the lengthy lead time required to coordinate schedules and mount the four specific programmes they wanted to film, it would still be years before they would be ready to shoot, and in the interim, Bausch died of cancer before shooting could begin. Wenders expected that this meant the project was off, but thankfully the dancers in the company encouraged him to still make it.


The film is therefore structured around individual dancers and their reminiscences of Bausch, with no narration or dialogue aside from the dancers themselves. Wenders presents portraits of individual dancers coupled with signature or favourite solos or duets of theirs, set in the environs of the city of Wuppertal (including its unusual suspended train line) which provide some striking and whimsical juxtapositions. Cut together with the four live dance presentations and old footage of Bausch herself, the overall effect is a tribute to Bausch, but also an intimate experience of the dance itself, and an insight into the company and how it functioned.

Wenders does get playful with the film at times, such as inlaying footage of part of one live dance inside a scale model two dancers are looking at, while recalling how Bausch conceived of the choreography for the piece. For the most part though, he tries to be faithful to the dance, out of reverence for Bausch, who he was always conscious of not wanting to disappoint. The 3D seems only to be used to give a more true-to-life and intimate experience of the dance, with very few gimmicky shots (the scale model shot being the only such exception I can recall). The effect of the 3D is subtle but successful in conveying a more authentic theatre-like experience.

Ultimately the (albeit understandably) melancholic tone undermines and distracts from the impressive and imaginative choreography that should be the focus, and in particular I found the old footage of Bausch somewhat jarring, while adding very little value. However, overall the film serves as a fantastic introduction to modern dance and an entertaining and inspiring experience in its own right. I would recommend it for anyone with the slightest interest in dance or performance art, or really even for anyone who can keep an open mind to such artforms.

Incidentally, Tanztheater Wuppertal will be performing at the NAC in Ottawa in late November, in case you would like to see them in person. Wenders also announced at the screening that Pina has been selected as the German entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film, and it has recently been short-listed for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. I'll go on record as predicting it won't win either award, but it does deserve that degree of consideration.

Dimensions of The Mask

This is where previous posts on this blog and the world of The Mask conjoin in an analytical look into the use 3-D in cinema. I am of the belief that stereoscopic cinema (3-D) is like a circus coming to town. It’s a novelty. If the circus is always in town the excitement it generates goes away. So I’m always looking to find films that utilize 3-D, not just as an ad-on but as something integral to their being.

Today Hollywood treats 3-D (as they have in the previous 3-D eras of the 50‘s and 80‘s) as a value added effect. In an attempt to combat illegal downloading and VOD (in the 50’s it was television and by the 80’s home video and cable were the threat), Hollywood is hoping that digital 3-D will bring people back to the theatre and their old model of doing business will continue as it did before. But things change, as they did in the previous eras.

It’s the art-house masters that are turning to 3-D as an artistic extension of their work. It’s not an accident that these once great film makers have almost abandoned narrative film for documentary. Directors like Warner Herzog and Wim Wenders have used 3-D to simulate the real world in place of the reel world. In The Cave of Forgotten Dreams Hetzog used the stereoscopic technique to add volume to the curvature of the rocks on which the oldest know human artwork exists. Wenders, in turn in Pina, uses 3-D to simulate the experience of Pina Bausch’s unique dance choreography in a way that no other form of visual documentation can.

But these cinema artists are turning to 3-D to simulate reality while director Julian Roffman does something quite different in The Mask. Sure, his movie uses 3-D as a gimmick to get audiences out to the theatre, but within the context of the film the 3-D serves a different purpose. The effect is not used to represent reality but to represent the subconscious, the protagonist’s, Dr.Barnes, darkest nightmares. Roffman understood that 3-D is an illusion, that while it cannot truly represent reality, it can pull the viewer into something immersive that both represents reality but is very much removed from the real world. Much like dreams and hallucinations, the fodder of the 3-D sequences used in The Mask.

I’m just scratching the surface here. But these thoughts do lead me to the hope that this 3-D era continues so that artists and filmmakers can begin to explore the artistic potential of stereo cinema and that it can evolve. The previous eras have been to short for real exploration of 3-D’s potential to be realized beyond the “circus effect”.

NOTES: I’d like to credit Dan Symmes for the circus analogy. He was the first I’d heard to use it and it rings true to me.

EYES OF HELL- POST MORTUM

I arrived at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Wednesday to quite the spectacle. Floodlights, news vans, red carpet and people lined up around the block. Could The Mask really be gathering this attention. It's certainly a significant Canadian film and this print hasn't screened for twenty years, but I wasn't expecting this.

Well it turns out all this hubbabaloo was for a Bollywood Toronto premiere of RA.ONE, just in time for Diwali no less.

The Mask screening was a much more intimate affair, screening in a small theatre on the fourth floor to over a hundred people. It was great to see Julian Roffman's son Peter and his family in the audience, as well as the die hard Can-horror fans.
A few of the faithful.
As for my personal reaction to the screening, it was a bit disappointing. Don't get me wrong, it was great to see this classic on a theatre screen, with an audience. The quality of the cinematography and the detail missing from the home video versions out there was certainly apparent, but there were no revelations. No missing Jim Moran footage introduced the film and the anaglyph 3-D sequences were identical to the video counterparts (a number of us had "mystic magic viewers" and they didn't work nearly as well as the 3-D glasses handed out upon entrance).

The print did display the re-release title, The Eyes of Hell, so perhaps when a print of the original 1961 version of The Mask surfaces to the public, the Jim Moran opening will be there.

Still it was a monumental moment for the film, marking its 50th Anniversary and I have to admit it pleased me to no end.

How cool is this?

Psychology & The Mask

We have another guest blogger on the site today. James Burrell is a Toronto-based writer who has written about Canadian genre cinema for such publications and online sites as Rue Morgue and Canuxploitation! He is currently working on a book detailing the history of Canadian horror films. Thanks for contributing James.

When The Mask was released in October of 1961, few moviegoers could have anticipated the nightmarish and surreal netherworld they'd be plunged into by obeying a command within the film to “Put the mask on now! Put the mask on now!” With the use of red and green anaglyph placard “magic mystic mask”, audiences were treated to several 3-D sequences that combined Dalí-esque imagery like bizarre figures and landscapes with funhouse-styled gag effects of floating eyeballs, giant snakes and fireballs hurtling off the screen at them in the third-dimension. Both weird and inventive, The Mask was quite unlike anything audiences had seen up to that point.

Naturally marketed as a gimmicky exploitation horror flick, The Mask wasn't expected to deliver anything to cinema-goers beyond the promised phantasmagorical visuals and 3-D effects. However, along with the bizarre imagery, the film managed to go a bit further than other B-movies of the era by providing some interesting social commentary. Exploring such issues as addiction and mental illness, the film was both an allegorical look at the dangers of drug use as well as a thinly-veiled criticism of the psychiatric industry.

Like Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Mask also deals with the duality of human nature, and the terrible consequences that can result when man's repressed side is unleashed. The trigger is of course, the titular object, an ancient Aztec ceremonial mask that alters the behaviour of anyone who wears it. A none-too-subtle allegory for drug use, specifically that of LSD, the hallucinogenic reaction that psychiatrist Dr. Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) has each time he puts on the mask could be considered akin to a “bad trip.” Transported into a surrealistic environment populated with shrouded figures with flayed skin, a skull-faced being who shoots fireballs from its hands and a mysterious young woman who bears a resemblance to his fiancee Pam Albright (Claudette Nevins) and is slated to become a human sacrifice, Barnes' visions are deeply paranoid and anxiety-ridden.

Eventually, he is transformed from a respected, buttoned-down professional into a sweaty, wide-eyed psychotic whose violent impulses include trying to kill his secretary, Miss Goodrich (Anne Collings).

Offering up a pretty blatant anti-drug message, the film's producer/director, a veteran National Film Board (NFB) documentary filmmaker, Julian Roffman may have been inspired by the real-life use of LSD and other psychotropic drugs on patients by the medical establishment of the day. From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, LSD was sometimes prescribed to patients by their psychiatrists; as part of a psychotherapeutic regimen, it was believed the drug assisted individuals in unblocking repressed memories, which could then be confronted and presumably treated.

Dr. Ewen Cameron
More nefarious in nature though were a series of mind-control experiments beginning in the late-1950s that were funded by the CIA but undertaken at Montreal's Allan Memorial Institute. Dubbed “Project MKULTRA”, the studies were conducted on dozens of unwitting subjects by Dr. Ewen Cameron. The Scottish born-American psychiatrist believed that by administering numerous drugs like LSD and electroshock therapy, individuals could be reprogrammed and any existing mental illness could be cured through the erasure of their memories. As Cameron's experiments were not well-publicised at the time, it's difficult to say whether Roffman would have had much, if any knowledge of them at all while masking The Mask, but it is nevertheless interesting to note how drugs like LSD were employed by medical professionals for purportedly atruistic intentions.

In addition to being Canada's first full-length horror production, The Mask was the country's first (and still only one of two) 3-D films and the first Canadian effort to be released by a major American studio (in this case, Warner Bros.). A box-office success, the film would continue to find success when it was re-released in 1971 under the new title Eyes of Hell and would even find itself (courtesy of a then-new company called New Line Cinema) distributed to college campuses across the U.S., where audiences were no doubt more than cognizant of the film's many drugs references.

James Burrell

Electroacoustic Dreams

We've got a guest blogger here at depthsploitation.  Paul Corupe operates the website canuxploitation and is a fellow fan of the film. He has written a number of articles about The Mask and is something of an expert on the film. I'm very honored to welcome him as a contributor to this blog.


In the history of Canadian film--especially Canadian genre film--Julian Roffman's surreal spook show THE MASK holds a vitally important and esteemed place. Aimed squarely at the American market, THE MASK was the first of its kind in many ways--it became the first Canadian film to be distributed by a major Hollywood studio, the first 3-D film made here and, arguably, Canada's first feature horror film. But what doesn't get mentioned often is the film's entirely unique score, a sometimes chilling mix of straight orchestration and "musique concrète" by prolific composer Louis Applebaum and American-born electronic music pioneer Myron Schaeffer.

Louis Applebaum in 1945
The staff composer at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), Applebaum may not be as recognizable today as he once was, but he remains one of the true legends of Canadian music. Applebaum produced some 250 scores for the NFB between 1942 and 1960 before he left to compose pieces for the Stratford Festival and, later, work on arts advocacy boards. An extremely versatile composer, Applebaum was comfortable with a range of styles, from full symphonic works to choral pieces and even modern classical and jazz, and even garnered an Academy Award nomination for his music for THE STORY OF G.I. JOE (1945). Collaborating with Schaeffer, a serious avant-garde musician who had recently become the director of the University of Toronto's newly established Electronic Music Studio, the pair created one of the eeriest scores of any Canadian horror film--a swirling, sometimes violent collage of electronically manipulated sounds that draws the terror out of THE MASK's insistently hallucinogenic imagery.


Applebaum almost certainly met Roffman at the NFB, where the young director cut his filmmaking teeth shooting military training documentaries. Roffman subsequently left the NFB in the late 1950s to pursue independent feature production, with the hope that he could make a film that would be picked up by a major U.S. studio--a goal that many felt would help kick start the national film industry. For his debut feature, 1959's THE BLOODY BROOD, Roffman decided to bring in Applebaum to write the wild, bongo-laced jazz score that plays as degenerate beatniks get their kicks as they kill an innocent delivery boy. But when Hollywood didn't come calling, Roffman started an even more commercial feature to be shot using the 3-D process--THE MASK. Applebaum, who had just left the NFB himself, was on board again and likely convinced Roffman and producer Nat Taylor to give Schaeffer a chance. At the time, Schaeffer had just helped develop the Hamograph, a new electronic music "instrument" that, along with some additional equipment, pulled sounds from up to 12 tape loop inputs and then allowed the composer to shift tone and pitch and add echo.
The Hamograph
As with Roffman's direction, Applebaum and Schaeffer take significantly different approaches to depicting the "real" world and the mask's inner world of the psyche. In the scenes set in psychiatrist Dr. Barnes' office, Applebaum's small but capable orchestra provides the incidental music, often employing a minimalist approach as solo woodwinds brass and thundering drums taking turns pulling out of the pack to weave creepy solo themes that sometimes build to intense brass stings. Electronic touches are often added in these moments too, especially when the mask is mentioned or is actually present in the scene. There's an otherworldly flavour that keeps resurfacing--for example, a tape delay effect is often added to the drums, creating a distinct rumbling that certainly underscores the artifact's bizarre powers and hints at the musical cues to come.

When Dr. Barnes dons on the mask and the film switches to its 3-D renderings of his subconscious, the accompanying soundtrack turns sharply into musique concrète--a post-World War II music movement in which electronically manipulated sounds are pieced together and generally presented as an abstract, sonic montage. Advertised as "Electro Magic Sound" in the film's publicity materials, we can assume these sequences are at least partially Schaeffer's performance at his Hamograph--it's impossible to tell exactly where Applebaum's work ends and Schaeffer's begins, as Schaeffer apparently suffered a heart attack and had to leave the film, leaving Applebaum to quickly fill in with his rudimentary understanding of the Hamograph. Once the fog parts and Barnes fully enters the mask's dream world, a bed of stormy, echoing percussion erupts on top of which layers of mechanical roars, grating screeches, human screams and electronic whirs are added, creating a dissonant and even unnerving collection of artfully overlapped sounds. It's the perfectly compliment to the 3-D visuals of the mask's nightmare world, as Barnes witnesses a strange ritual sacrifice, floating coffins and surreal serpent attacks. Even though it may not sound like any nightmare you've ever had, it still provokes the same panic-fueled emotions that can accompany bad dreams, making it far more effective than a traditional score might have been.

The decision to use the Hamograph for these scenes was a daring one--this multi-layered attack of electronic noise was virtually unheard of in commercial films at the time, even in sometimes boundary-pushing genre works. Compared to the soundtracks of other 1960s horror efforts, such the moody orchestral leanings of Les Baxter's work on THE PIT AND THE PENDELUM and Bernard Herrmann's homicidal strings in PSYCHO, THE MASK's atmospheric audio patterns are much closer to serious avant-garde electronic music of the period or even Louis and Bebe Barron's pulsating score for the sci-fi classic FORBIDDEN PLANET, which had premiered just five years earlier. And while the Barrons' "electronic tonalities" were shiver-inducing in some of the film's scarier scenes involving similar "monsters from the Id," they don't approach the brute force of spiraling madness that Applebaum and Schaeffer capture here.
Myron Schaeffer
Burdened with heart troubles in the last years of his life, Schaeffer passed away in 1965 without achieving much notability beyond academic circles, although Folkways Records did release some of his recordings and it's said that the Moog synthesizer was inspired by the Hamograph. Instead it was Applebaum who carried the mantle for electronic music throughout the rest of his career, later conducting fellow Canadian composer Eldon Rathburn's abstract pieces for the NFB's Labyrinthe pavilion at Expo 1967. Applebaum was awarded the Order of Canada in 1976 and was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada in 1995, just five years before his death. And while their work for THE MASK remains a minor footnote on Applebaum and Schaeffer's impressive resumes, 50 years later their music for this psychological horror classic remains one of the most effective of any Canadian horror film, using what was then considered cutting edge technology to create a true symphony of our deepest psychological fears.

Paul Corupe

If you'd like to acquaint yourself with the score, why not track back to this post.

THE MASK OF THE SMOKING MIRROR

The original Mask prop.
The first time a fan of The Mask discovers the prop mask used in the film they are in for a shock. While the film is in Black and White, the mask can only be described as made in Technicolor. Brilliant green and blue mosaics cover the skull shaped design and I’ve been told that its teeth are real human teeth.

The design of the mask used in the film was based on an actual South American mask. Julian Roffman explained the inspiration behind the design;

“In South America and in Africa, the witch doctors rub peyote inside the mask and the heat from their face releases the drug. They go into a tantrum, they have their own visions. So we knew the mask could do this. I researched masks and I found a South American Indian Mask that the tribes had used.”
Hamilton, Filmfax #25 p.87

Perhaps the mask Roffman had used was this one (pictured below) from the British Museum, a mosaic tiled mask from Mexico. “The skull of the Smoking Mirror” is a mosaic mask created to represent the Aztec deity Tezcatlipoca, whose name translates into English as “the Smoking Mirror”.

The Mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca

The mask uses a human skull as its base, with the back cut away and lined with leather so it can be worn. The leather also creates a hinge for the jawbone.

The alternating bands of the mosaic are made of blue turquoise and black while the eyes are made of orbs of iron pyrite, encircled by a ring of white conch shell.

This mask dates back to the 15th-16th century AD.

THE CUT SCENES

There seems to be a number of scenes cut from both the shooting script and the storyboards of The Mask. However most of these scenes were likely never shot.

In the script (which contains the 2-D sequences) the cut scenes are crossed off, indicating that the decision to cut them was made in either production or on the shooting day.

The exorcised shots in the storyboard (the blueprint used to shot the 3-D sequences) contained giant rats and a horse. If these sequences were shot it highly unlikely that Julian Roffman would not have used them. Again it can down to a question of cost cutting and staying on budget.

The following opens the second 3-D nightmare. Panels 7 and 8 do not appear in the film.




This section, featuring a horse and rider, seems to come at the end of the last 3-D sequence.


ROFFMAN REACTS

The cameras were set to roll on The Mask by March of 1961. Julian Roffman, having rejected Len Lye’s storyboards, now was forced to take full ownership of the mask's dream world. Lye’s storyboards are dated January 1961, meaning Roffman had less than three months to storyboard and prepare these 3-D dream sequences.

Turning to a psychiatrist recommended to him by the National Institute of Health in Canada for help, Roffman was able to devise the dream sequence scenarios.
He then enlisted associate art director Hugo Wuetrich to draft the storyboards, under his watchful eye of course.

Key personal --Herman Townsley (effects artist), James Gordon(post visual effects)and Herb Albert (cameraman)-- also contributed to the design of the 3-D sequences at this point.

What follows are a few of these storyboards comparing them to frames from the film.





BARNES LOSES HIS HEAD

This is the final panel from the Len Lye "Buzzsaw" storyboard sequence. The circular saw gets away from Dr. Barnes, flies through the air and severs his head. Lye drew it with the saw blade over the text description on the panel indicating how much consideration he made for the 3-D image when drawing these storyboards.

This is a 3-D interpretation so get out the anaglyph glasses and put the red lens over your right eye.

LEN LYE

After Slavko Vorkapich’s designs for the 3-D sequences in The Mask proved to be to expensive, its director, Roffman, found himself without a plan. He turned to his friend, avant-guarde filmmaker and artist Len Lye, to create the storyboards.

Len Lye was an New Zealand born artist who began his film making career in animation. Very much a contemporary of the NFB’s Norman McLaren, Lye began experimenting with camera-less animation before McLaren in 1935, a technique in which the animator drew directly onto the 35mm film strip.








Later in life Lye began creating kinetic sculptures, works of art which featured movement.

The Lye storyboards are extravagant works of art, drafted in coloured pencil, in which the 3-D compositions are always present in the artwork.






Again Roffman discarded the designs, because the cost was deemed to be too high. But there may have been another reason as well as indicated by Lye's work on a sequence entitled “The Buzzsaw”. Here Lye indicates that the sequence is designed in the manner of Tod Slaughter, a British horror star of the 30's and 40's. He played no less than Sweeney Todd in The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936). Slaughter played his character larger than life, only once removed from the mustache twisting vaudevillian villains. Perhaps Roffman rejected these sequences fearing their camp nature would set the wrong tone for the 3-D sequences, preferring something less theatrical and more psychological.

SLAVKO VORKAPICH

To conceive the nightmare 3-D sequences in The Mask, director Julian Roffman turned to the Serbian born artist Slavko Vorkapich. A master of montage and double exposure Vorkapich, now semi-retired, was put in charge of designing and story-boarding these 3-D sequences for The Mask. After experimenting in the 20's with film as a pure visual medium in shorts like The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra ('28), Vorkapich began creating elaborate montage sequences in the 30's and 40's for many Hollywood films like Mr.Smith Goes To Washington ('39) and Meet John Doe ('41), often having complete control over the sequences.

For The Mask the Vorkapich 3-D sequences featured hordes of frogs, mice and iguanas, in addition to tanks of black ink! Roffman was worried. It was going to cost a fortune and the budget couldn't stand it. The sequences were dropped, however the contract with Vorkapich was set in stone. Vorkapich had to receive credit for the hallucinogenic imagery in the 3-D sequences of the film. And he did. Roffman, confused, questioned Vorkapich. Why did he want to retain credit for work that wasn't his and could potentially come out poorly. Vorkapich replied "You are a driven man. I trust you."

At least some of Slavko Vorkapich's mark was left on the film, and that's the imagery in this poster of the film. The ghost like image of the woman featured is no where to be found in The Mask, but it is prevalent in this clip of Vorkapich's work from a film called The Furies.

The Furies (1934)



The Life and Death of a 9413: a Hollywood Extra (1937)

A THANKSGIVING DAY TURKEY


“As a magician I too wear a mask. A mask of illusion or the ability to make illusions seem to be reality. But then what is reality, or super reality. What surprises await you in the 3rd Dimension…”       

Harry Blackwell Jr.
Mystic Magic (1982)


Twelve years after the release of The Mask, Julian Roffman revisited both the film and the 3-D process. This time the production was called Mystic Magic and featured the magician Harry Blackwell Jr. and his wife Gay. Mystic Magic is little more the original film converted to a 3D Video Process (simply a red/blue anaglyphic conversion to videotape) that added a set of four interstitial segments; each devoting as much time instructing viewers on the set up their colour televisions for an optimal 3-D viewing as it did to the comic quips and magic of Blackwell. The mysterious hooded figures from The Mask’s dream sequences are present, as is much of the dry ice fog, but unfortunately these newly shot sequences lack the dream logic of the films original sequences and are pretty standard television “variety show” fare for the early eighties.
A 3-D setup test for audiences at home.

3-D Magic?
Mystic Magic, an embarrassing example of Julian Roffman’s directorial abilities, was likely made more for the money than the love. With the directing assignment, Roffman also sold the rights for The Mask to a Los Angeles company 3D Video Corporation operated by Dan Symmes. 3D Video Corporation had developed a method of displaying 3D on television via a full colour anaglyph conversion. Most of the fondly remembered TV broadcasts of 3D in the 80’s had been done by 3D Video Corporation. Earlier 50’s 3-D films like Gorilla at Large and Hondo --seen in the fifties in full colour dual projection—received the anaglyph television treatment in the early eighties. The system worked, but just barely. To many variables came between the master tape and what the viewers saw at home, and the results were often poor. These television versions have contributed to the erroneous belief that retro 3-D films were screened with red and blue glasses and that the current standard of 3-D is an entirely new system of showing 3-D. (In fact, the only thing new is digital film-making the theory and practice for making 3-D images haven’t changed they‘ve just been adapted to this new technology.)
It is also highly likely that this conversion of The Mask, stripped of the Mystic Magic segments, is the source of all the video versions that have been available to this day.

But seeing is believing… so I present a sample.



3D Video Corporation quickly went bankrupt as the eighties wave of 3-D came to a close but the damage had been done. When film’s like Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1995) where released they chose to incorporate anaglyph 3-D. Now just to defend Dan Symmes (a very passionate 3-D professional and historian); while his company 3D Video Corporation’s television anaglyphs have hurt 3-D’s perception in the public’s mind, he has also done much to defend its reputation, including helping to create The 3-D Film Preservation Fund and presenting two 3-D World Expos (in 2005 and 2007) which screened just about every film made in the 50’s in glorious dual projection.

THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK

One of the most amazing things about researching for depthsploitation is discovering the filmmakers who are driven to make these 3-D exploitation films. Some of them become obsessed with the process and are forever changed by stereoscopic cinema (Comin' at Ya!'s producer and star Tony Anthony who has just premiered a re-imagined version of the film). While others merely utilize the 3-D effects to exploit the gimmick. However, The Mask's director Julian Roffman falls somewhere in between these two extremes. His inaugural 3-D effort The Mask was in part forced upon him by his producing partner Nat Taylor, but it’s unlikely that he was dissatisfied with the final result. Years later while working for Ivan Tors in Miami (directing uncredited television episodes of Flipper) Roffman had written a script entitled, Davey and the Man from Zar, with plans to shoot it in 3-D. Tors had himself had produced the 1954 3-D film GOG. He'd later get a chance to return to the third dimension when 3D Video Corporation packaged the film with a newly shot wrap 3-D interstitial footage featuring the magic of Harry Blackstone Jr. in 1983 for television and home video. Though far from a return to form for Roffman he again took the director reins of this 3-D material.
Julian Roffman is a Canadian film-maker that has never truly been given his due. In my many years both in the industry and as an armchair Canadian cinema historian Roffman never infiltrated my radar, that is until I got bitten by the 3-D bug. I won't be giving him his due here, there just isn't the space, but I would like to highlight some of the history of the man who is now best known by this quirky little 3-D / horror hybrid of a movie.

Although he was born and raised, for the better part of his youth, in Montreal, it was in New York that Julian Roffman first began his film career. Joining the Film and Photo League, Roffman began producing and directing while film was still a burgeoning art form. His first effort would be a theatrical documentary Getting Your Money's Worth, which exposed the over pricing of eggs and would become a series of films. That film series landed him a gig directing for The March of Time. By 1941 he was asked by John Grierson to return to Canada to join a new organization, The National Film Board of Canada. Once back in Canada, he joined the war effort directing a number of Canadian propaganda films.

Throughout the 50's Roffman directed for U.S. television. One of the programs was Inner Sanctum (a TV version of a highly popular radio series). But by 1958 Julian Roffman had his sights set on feature film and it was that year that TV's Columbo Peter Falk would get his start in the Roffman produced and directed juvenile delinquent film The Bloody Brood.

Roffman (centre) directs The Bloody Brood.

I'll let Julian Roffman fill in you in on some achievements with the following letter;

The Mask would be Roffman’s last feature as a director, but he would go on to produce a number of films and although he strived for art-house acceptance, many of these films continued to be in the exploitation genre.

VIEW THE MASK

If you can't wait to see the film here are the dream sequences, courtesy of Youtube.

Out of the context of the 2D narrative of the film these sequences will make little sense. Granted, due to their dream logic structure they make little narrative sense within the whole of the film. They are however very enticing.

You'll want to get out a pair of red and blue anaglyph glasses and put the red lens on your left eye.







And that's all I can find on Youtube, so you'll have to seek out a copy of the film for yourself if you want to see the last segment.

THE TWO WORLDS OF THE MASK


As films discussed on this blog go, THE MASK is a perfect “depthsploitation film”; that is a blend of 3-D and exploitation. Not only did the film's producer Nat Taylor and its director Julian Roffman include 3-D elements in order to exploit them in the film's marketing, they incorporated both the 3-D and the limitations of distributing 3D in the early sixties perfectly into the story-line and the theatrical experience.

The previous decade had seen the rise and quick demise of a “golden age” of 3-D and by the 1960's the idea of making a 3-D film seemed like pure lunacy. Theatre owners had already begun to remove their dual projector systems and take down their silver screens. There was nowhere to distribute a 3-D film, and besides the public was done with them. Yet THE MASK opened to wide release through Warner Brothers in November of 1961 as a perfect 3-D gimmick film in an era that had turned its back on 3-D distribution.

THE MASK exploits its dimensional elements, by careful design and audience participation. It limits the use of 3-D, saving it for only 3 short sequences. The 3-D glasses are an integral part of the storyline, requiring the full participation of the audience. Dubbed the “mystic mask” audience members are required to don the viewers at the same time as the film's protagonist, Dr. Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) puts on the ancient tribal mask further connecting them to him. Even the use of anaglyphic 3-D projection system adds to the experience of the film. Although the need to use a red and green anaglyph was by necessity since the 3-D of the 50's although superior was limited by 1961 --anaglyph projection requires no special equipment simply the 3-D glasses. The hallucinogenic imagery of the surreal 3-D sequences is only heightened by watching them through coloured lenses and we in the audience truly experience this nightmare through Dr. Barnes' eyes.

As a film, THE MASK is as schizophrenic as its protagonist, Dr. Allen Barnes. The feel and look of the B&W narrative scenes conflict with the dream structure and surreal imagery of the 3-D sequences, yet this only enhances the otherworldliness of Dr. Barnes' nightmare. While these two elements are about as different from each other as they can be, making it understandable that one could believe the film to be the work of two distinctly different directors, there is, in fact, only one driving creative force at work and that is director Julian Roffman.

However the idea to combine 3-D with a traditional horror narrative was not Roffman's. It can be credited to a pair of New York advertising men, Frank Taubes and Sandy Haber. They had brought the idea to Nat Taylor (a Canadian distributor turned producer) who had previous teamed with Roffman on THE BLOODY BROOD. And although Taubes and Harber received screen credit as writers on the film, their contribution to the film ended with that idea. The main narrative, Dr. Barne's experimentation with the mask, was written by Joe and Vicky Morhain, but the 3-D hallucinations were carefully imagined and crafted by Roffman.

The juxtaposition of the two worlds explored in THE MASK, one of the real and the other “beyond the subconscious” elevates the film from a minor shocker to something very special. It is the film's duality --of both its lead character and its visual aesthetic-- that gives it the power to transfix its audience fifty years after its initial run.

SELLING REFRIDGERATORS TO THE INUIT

Today, a rare glimpse of the theatrical trailer for the original release of THE MASK.

I'm calling this one rare because the last time I went looking on youtube I couldn't find it. I had seen it months ago courtesy of an online stock footage company and was trying to get their permission to post it for this month. Turns out I can just turn to youtube.



The most interesting thing about this trailer is the inclusion of Hollywood publicity man and hoax perpetrator, Jim Moran. He made his living publicizing events and films in the most outrageous fashions, including spending 10 days searching for a needle in a haystack, parading a bull through a New York City China Shop and, for General Electric, trying to sell a fridge to an Alaskan Eskimo. All the while he was front and centre as the man perpetrating these stunts.

Moran searches for a needle in a haystack.
In the THE MASK, Moran, "a connoisseur of all things weird", professes to be a famed a mask collector now in possession of the ancient tribal mask seen in the film. I'd often read about his appearance in both the trailer and the prologue to the film, but until I saw the trailer I'd questioned whether this material was actually filmed. The trailer proves it. I've seen the script for his prologue to the film and can only assume it was shot on the same day as his trailer appearance. I'm hoping the Lightbox screening on the 26th will offer proof of his guest appearance in the film.

SEE THE MASK

For those who haven't seen the film, but want to, there are a few sources of the film.

Currently the film is available through the label Cheezy Flicks on DVD. Here's a trailer cut for the film by Cheezy Flicks.



There's some question as to the legitimacy of this release since Cheezy Flicks usually releases public domain films. The image quality is only slightly higher than previous VHS releases, and these all seem to share the same television print source video.

The first home video release came in 1989 from Rhino Video on VHS and Laserdisc and was later re-released with an Elvira opening (presented in 3-D). As I've mentioned above these releases all seem to share the same video master that was shown on television throughout the eighties.

If you want to see an actual theatrical print version of the film, you're in luck. On October the 26th, just a day shy of 50 years since its first public screening, the TIFF Bell Lightbox will be pulling out a rare and battered print from the its Film Reference Library Archives in Toronto and 8:30.

It will be presented as part of UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage (and not in celebration of the film's birthday). This is a very rare screening intended to highlight on the film's cultural importance and its need for a restoration.


THE EYES OF HELL

For those of you out there, uninitiated with The Mask, where better to start than with a trailer.

This trailer was created for the re-release version of The Mask, under the title The Eyes of Hell. It was released by Warners first in 1967 then again in the 1971.

PUT THE MASK ON NOW!


The Mask turns 50 this month and to mark the occasion here at the depthsploitation blog we're dedicating the entire month of October to the film. A fitting month since Canadian-made / American-distributed film premiered in New York on the 27th of October in 1961 just before Halloween.

The Mask has the auspicious distinction of being the first authentic horror film to come out of Canada. It's also the first Canadian feature film to utilize 3-D technology (advertised as Depth Dimension) and the first Canadian film to receive wide distribution in the U.S. (thanks to Warner Brothers).

For those of you unfamiliar with the film, lets get a few things clear. This Mask does not star either Cher or Eric Roberts, although deformity does creep into its dream imagery, and there are no wild Tex Avery / Jim Carrey moments, although that 80's version does share a number of similarities. No this is The Mask a Canadian exploitation flick, directed by the late Julian Roffman. At the centre of the film is an ancient tribal mask which legend claims to draw out the latent evil in its wearer and amplify it. When psychiatrist Dr. Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) receives the mask in the mail from a recently deceased former patient, Raiden, (driven to suicide by the power of the mask), he does what any professional would, he puts the mask on. Dr. Barnes begins to have visions of another world, “beyond the subconscious”, and soon murderous tendencies begin to take hold as he becomes increasingly addicted to the mask's beckoning.

It's the dream-like hallucination sequences that have sustained The Mask's cult following since its release. These sequences are presented in 3-D, while the bulk of the narrative of the film is presented in 2-D black and white. Each time Dr. Barnes dares to enter this alternate world, the voice of Raiden beckons to both Barnes and the audience to “put the mask on, now”, a novel 3-D gimmick that would be repeated in numerous anaglyph films to follow. (The Flesh and Blood Show (1972), Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)  and Spy Kids 3-D (2003),  to name a few.)

So join us as at depthsploitation this month as we mark the 50th anniversary of Julian Roffman's The Mask. We've got some guest writers lined up and a few rare treats for fans of the film.

Paul Stevens gets Claudette Nevins to try on The Mask.

   

Re-inventing the past

I've been following the reinvention of a little 80's 3-D film called Comin' at Ya! for a few years now. It's a little Spaghetti Western that is widely acknowledged as leading the revival of 3-D in the 1980's. I've been planning to get a feature of it up. Looks like I should get to it soon.

After a successful screening at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, Comin' at Ya! had its North American premiere this weekend at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. Ain't It Cool posted an interview with Tony Anthony and I'm re-posting it hear. The producer and star of Comin' at Ya!, Anthony dropped out of the public eye shortly after his follow up 3-D film Treasure of the Four Crowns came out at the tail of the 80's 3-D wave, so it is an extreme pleasure to see his face again after all these years. I hope this reinvention gets a healthy North American release because I'm dying to see it on a big screen. Anthony and his new partner Tom Stern have spent almost as much money restoring this release of Comin' at Ya! as Anthony and the film's Italian director Ferdinando Baldi spent shooting it in Spain in the late seventies, devoting much of that to the Noir 3D effects (essentially a Black and White image with rotoscoped objects in full colour). Noir 3D is directly inspired by the Sin City aesthetic.  Anthony and Stern are going after the youth market with all this glitzy packaging and I personally they feel they could have left well enough alone. I would love to see it as it was originally made with the pristine projection of modern day digital 3D cinema.

As for the film itself. It's not one of Anthony's best, Comin' at Ya!'s plot being a lesser reworking of an earlier Anthony western Blindman, but Anthony knows this. It is a movie that is all about its 3-D, a spectacle event film and was never meant to be more. That is the reason Comin' at Ya! has never been released in a 2D flat version.

PINA at TIFF

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is in full swing and like last year the festival is presenting a new 3-D feature, the third in three years.

In 2009 TIFF presented Joe Dante's family horror film The Hole. It the first 3-D film ever to play the festival. At its premiere screening the fire alarm went off and audiences missed the last 20 minutes (myself among them). It did take quite a bit of effort to clear the theatre as many audience members continued to watch the film as they were ushered out of the auditorium.

Last year TIFF screened Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary and meditation on the oldest cave known to feature drawings and artwork on its walls. Again a screening mishap occurred as the newly inaugurated Bell Lightbox suffered a power failure mid screening and the theatre went black. The staff quickly fixed the problem and the audience was able to enjoy the entire film.

This year another German cinema master, Wim Wenders, is screening his flirtation with 3-D technology, a documentary/performance dance film entitled Pina, featuring the choreography of the late Pina Bausch. I'm unaware of any mishaps yet. The film opened on the 8th of September and will screen again on the 17th.

Wenders was in Toronto in mid June of this year, the keynote at the Toronto International Stereoscopic 3D Convention, to discuss the production of the film at length and show a few featured clips. The 3-D was spectacular, and like Herzog, Wenders managed to utilize the technology not simply as an exploitive gimmick but to further explore the film's subject, dance. By capturing Bausch's choreography in three dimensions, Wenders is better able to recreate a live performance venue and emulate the immediacy of the art form. A key discussion point during the TIS3DC came directly from Wenders talk and his belief that the stereoscopic 3D camera captured a sense of the “embodiment” of his subjects, the dancers in his film. This discovery came to Wenders late in the shooting of Pina during the filming of his “portraits” material (individual shots of the dancers looking directly into camera, which in the film are accompanied by voice-over interviews). Wenders asked the dancer on camera to turn to look into the lens as if it were their best friend. During the shooting Wenders would look down at his hand-held 3-D monitor and was struck by a sense of holding the individual in his hand. It was this sense of the 3-D image capturing the essence of a person (perhaps an element of their soul) that created a magical moment for Wenders, one that had not occurred before in the shooting of Pina.

Unfortunately I'm not in Toronto this year to see the film in its entirety, but I have a writer in the wings who has promised me a review and I plan to be posting that as soon as I can. However if anyone out there has seen the film I'd love to hear your impressions of it. Please leave a comment.

Final Destination 3-D Blu-ray review

My review of The Final Destination on 3D Blu-ray is now up on the Rue morgue site. Read it here: THE FINAL DESTINATION

And if you're in Toronto this week-end check out the Festival of Fear horror convention part of Fan Expo. More info is available of the Rue Morgue site.
Festival Of Fear

Eyeware

Well, it was due to happen sometime. Just as I was in the process of reviewing a couple of Blu-ray 3D disc for The Three Dimensions of Terror over at the Rue Morgue website, my Sony 3-D eyeware died. So after eight months of somewhat light 3DTV viewing they are due for new batteries. Almost makes me wish I’d gotten a Panasonic system with rechargeable glasses.

The happy coincidence is that the Sony glasses happen to use the same CR2032 batteries that are used in my 10-year-old standard definition shutterglasses, and half as many too. My old pair uses two and the Sony's run on only one. I happen to have a few spares, so I’m up and running again. Look for reviews of The Final Destination and Priest soon.

New vs old.


Toronto International Stereoscopic 3D Conference Part 2 in 3-D

After a long break in my blogging it is time for me to complete my report on the Toronto International Stereoscopic 3D Conference. I won’t make any claims as to its success, that’s a judgment best saved for its organizers. I will say that it played out much as I’d expected; with attendance dwindling as the conference moved from the 3-D star power of Wim Wenders and practical industry sessions to more scientific, academic and artistic presentations. Personally, I found the entire conference very enlightening and highly enjoyable. After all, what’s not to love about a room full of 3-D fans especially when you’re one yourself?

Peter Anderson ACE (photo credit Justin Edward Lake)
Stereographer pioneer and guru Peter Anderson’s Masterclass on Sunday night (June 12th) was as much a visual trip through his 3-D photo scrapbook as it was a Stereoscopic primer (and it certainly provided some wonderful basics). Although the nostalgic slideshow offered Mr. Anderson a chance to brag it also provided 3-D enthusiasts a chance to see equipment and gear that few been able to.  We were also treated to some incredible clips for his work including (Weird) Al’s Brain in 3D (2008) and David Arquette’s The Butler’s in Love (2009). Kudos to Peter for hanging around Toronto until Monday night and adding extra insight into other speaker’s sessions via his questions and comment. (Including being able to comment on U23D with it’s director Catherine Owens in the room).

Monday's discussion focused primarily on the history of 3-D cinema, with it's beginnings in the stereoscope (the Victorian equivalent of the viewmaster) to the inclusion of 3-D images on the zoetrope, placing the origin of stereoscopic cinema at the very birthplace of moving pictures. The speakers then covered the history of 3-D film in often tangential topics such as Hitler's use of 3-D motion picture cameras at the 1936 Summer Olympics, it's use in the General Motors booth at the 1939 New York World's Fair, and Canada's earliest contributions via the National Film Board and animator Norman McLaren's short films that screened during the 1951’s Festival of Britain. While interesting presentations, the historical section of the Conference, aside from the most casual mention, mostly omitted discussions of any features produced in 3-D between 1950-2000. There was no discussion of Arch Obler, Tony Anthony, Julian Roffman or any of the pioneers who came before this present era of digital 3-D. Only Alan Silliphant (director of 1969's The Stewardesses) got a mention from Stereo 3D Unlimited’s Tim Dashwood, naming him as a mentor and that was on Tuesday’s Independent 3-D Film Discussion’s panel. 



Regrettably I had to skip the Resident Evil screening and post mortem as well as the last day’s screening of Hubble 3D (and IMAX 3D pioneer Graeme Ferguson’s keynote).

What I did manage to get to that day involved a lively discussion of stereoscopic moving images as art. Although the last day featured the smallest attendance I believe that much of what was explored in these final sessions remains key to elevating stereoscopic cinema from a mere theme park attraction. Cinema itself, being a mere century old, has had its grammar and language explored by the artists creating movies and scholars for much of its life, yet 3-D cinema is rarely been explored outside of conventional cinematic notions. The 3-D film is still waiting for an Orson Wells (or perhaps Wenders) to elevate the technology and tell a story that the audience couldn’t imagine without the 3-D process being involved.

The discussion will continue here and I'm sure I will be referring back to the 2011 Toronto International Stereoscopic 3D Conference throughout the next year.

Hanging Out at the Toronto International Stereoscopic 3D Conference


This was intended to be posted yesterday, but do to complications it wasn't. Here it is now:

I’ve been granted the privilege to attend the Toronto International Stereoscopic 3D Convention. Happening this week, the gathering is a stellar display of the current state of the 3D with a definite Canadian bent. So far the conference has been very densely packed with presenters and information, so this is my first chance to share my thoughts on things so far. It’s late so I’ll try to keep things brief.

A definite draw to the conference was the opening night speaker, Wim Wenders, a filmmaker whose work has left a lasting impression on me. Wenders is a filmmaker who is not afraid to explore new technical innovations. His 1999 film Buena Vista Social Club utilized digital video for a theatrical production before it became commonplace. Now he has directed the 3-D film, Pina, highlighting the dance theatre of German choreographer Pina Bausch. Taking the podium Wenders described the deeply personally project both emotionally and technically. Though it had been discussed as collaboration with Bausch for years, Wenders was reluctant to make the film until 2008 when he saw U2 3D at Cannes. It was in that moment that he realized that 3D could break the wall that he perceived between dance and film. When Bausch passed away late in pre-production Wenders needed to be persuaded by both Bausch’s son and her dance troupe to continue on with the film lest Busch’s choreography would be lost to time. The clips that were shown revealed a use of 3D that is both technically sound and artistically unique. It will take artists like Wenders to explore what 3D can become.

That was yesterday. Today was a full twelve hours of the current state of things 3D. Very briefly my highlights:

Peter Anderson, a stereographer who’s worked on numerous attraction films (T2-3D, Magic Journeys, The Muppets 4D, U2 3D) presented a simple yet effective course on Stereoscopy 101, utilizing a set of chopsticks. It’s a presentation that anyone new to the understanding of 3D should see.

A great number of footage was screened, but of particular interest to me were clips of the Russian Stereo 70mm 3D system presented by Aleksander Melkumov. The system has been around since at least the mid seventies so it is of historical interest to me. We got to see a bit of footage converted to digital projection originally shot on 65mm film and new tests of this historic 3D lens system shot on a digital camera.

Real D Chief Scientific Officer Matt Cowan gave a highly scientific demonstration of how the eyes and brain perceive colour in reduced light settings, a problem for audiences and presenters alike. His mini keynote explains some real world experiences I’ve had setting up both my 3DTV and my older based CRT field sequential system at home.


There's been so much more but I'll have to save that for later.


International Stereoscopic 3D Conference in Canada

For a country who's major public broadcaster the CBC premiered 3-D for the first time in its history just last year (and in anaglyph no less), a 3-D meeting of the minds would seem unimpressive. But this is also a country who created IMAX a name almost synonymous with 3-D and who's earliest flirtations with the medium go back to the 1951 with Norman McLaren's animated shorts Now is the Time (To Put on Your Glasses) and Around is Around, a full year before Bwana Devil premiered in Hollywood and started the first major 3-D boom.

So, in only a few short days Canada will be hosting its first 3-D conference.


The Toronto International Stereoscopic 3D Conference is set to run from June 11 to the 14th in Toronto. Organized by 3D FLIC (the 3D Film Innovation Consortium) and researchers from York University the event is bringing together filmmakers and stereoscopic researchers from around the world.

Some highlights?

The event kicks of Saturday night with a keynote address by world renowned German director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire). His latest film Pina which incorporates dance pieces composed by Pina Bausch and photographed by a 3D camera.
production still from Pina
And on Monday the conference will host a screening of Resident Evil: Afterlife featuring Q & A with the film’s producer and its post-production team.

All the details can be found at their website: