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.

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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.

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