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Dial 3 for 3-D

From January 17 through February 5, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents “Dial 3 for 3D!!!,” a series of five films sampling the sporadic history of stereoscopic systems in the cinema.

Experiments with 3-D cinema date back to the 1890s, but the first significant commercial use of the process occurred in the early 1950s, when 3-D, along with stereophonic sound and the widescreen processes Cinerama and Cinemascope, was among the technological enhancements introduced by the film industry in an attempt to win back its dwindling audience.

Using two strips of film, the 3-D systems of the 1950s were cumbersome in comparison to later systems. Fifties 3-D was used most often in genres such as science fiction, horror, and thriller that emphasized visceral sensation and spectacle. Technical difficulties and competition from the more flexible Cinemascope process led to the flame-out of 3-D movies by 1955.

Improved single-strip systems spurred periodic revivals of 3-D, with a pronounced boomlet in the early 1980s. However, 3-D was not able to entrench itself in the mainstream until the advent of digital systems in the 2000s, with the mega-blockbuster success of AVATAR in 2009-2010 sealing the deal. More recently, there has been a marked decline in the grosses of 3-D films, and the process has become a bone of contention among filmgoers and film critics (including the late Roger Ebert, who in 2010 wrote an article entitled “Why I Hate 3-D Movies”).

Whether or not one would prefer 3-D to go away, the fact remains that, almost from the very start, the process (much like sound and widescreen) has been used intelligently and expressively by skilled directors, from Alfred Hitchcock and Jack Arnold in 1950s to James Cameron and Martin Scorsese in more recent times. It has even become a feasible tool for art-house filmmakers such as Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, and Jean-Luc Godard (all of whom have 3-D films playing at the Film Center in January).

Special thanks to James Bond of Full Aperture Systems.

— Martin Rubin
As part of our 3-D festivities this month, don’t miss our three-week run of Godard’s GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE 3D and our screenings of Wenders’s PINA in the “Instant Histories” series.

Also, 3-D archivist Bob Furmanek will be here on January 30 and 31 to introduce his newly restored version of THE BUBBLE and to present a selection of rare 3-D shorts (shown with GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE).




1966, Arch Oboler, USA, 91 min.


  • Fri, Jan 30th 6:00pm
  • Sat, Jan 31st 6:30pm
  • Thu, Feb 5th 6:00pm