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.

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Jason Pichonsky, unless otherwise stated.

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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.


  1. 3-D filmmaker Arch Oboler also used the circus analogy, probably before Dan Symmes. "The trick, once seen, suffices for a year."

    - Mike Ballew

    1. I recall reading that Dan Symmes had know Mr. Oboler, early in his life. Very likely that he started using the analogy after hearing it from Obler. I'm a huge Arch Oboler fan, ironically more so for his Radio Drama work than his 3-D films, although I really admire his commitment to the technology.