The Godfather

August 26, 2010

Winter 1970: An expansive, charming, portly, and jovial Francis Coppola and sidekicks sat behind me in the North of Market screening room at American Zoetrope, San Francisco. Francis was talking excitedly, leaping upward to cast shadows on the screen, while my Peoples’ Park film, Let a Thousand Parks Bloom, was projected much too large and much too close for its little 16mm frame.  But  it’s Hollywood by the Bay, so go with the flow. Francis pointed out parts of the film that might be of interest to Zoetrope because he was planning to produce a film about the painful aftermath of People’s Park.  In particular, during a military/police action in downtown Berkeley (Headline: Pigs Hate Park), several hundred people were arrested, taken to Santa Rita Prison, made to lie in the sun for a day, and roughed up by the sheriff’s deputies. The people who’d been arrested had been ordinary citizens for the most part; a postman delivering the mail, people out shopping, and others going about their business, and mixed in with the common folk were commie hippie scum.  Read the rest of this entry »


August 25, 2010

The first money my new company StereoGraphics made in 1981 was from my consulting fees working on a 3-D movie called Rottweiler: Dogs from Hell.  Chris Condon, the president of StereoVision International (which was a Burbank-based supplier of stereoscopic optics for the motion picture film industry), and StereoGraphics formed a venture called Future Dimensions, in which I would help market his line of lenses and provide consulting expertise.  Read the rest of this entry »

Growing up with the Movies

August 19, 2010

My father worked at a mail order novelty company. Customers could by things like artificial doggy doo, soap that would turn your hands and face black, X-ray glasses, cheap magic tricks, and custom imprinted pencils.  My father operated the pencil machine that stamped words on wood, like Club Apache.  When I was in the second grade he brought home a 16mm projector from the mail order company that was a small toy of a machine that used an ordinary light bulb.  It projected a dim image on the wall and my recollection is that it had no shutter so there was a lot of travel ghost — but it didn’t matter.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Dreams of Childhood

August 15, 2010

I saw the first CinemaScope movie The Robe, which was billed as “3-D without glasses” at the Loew’s Pitkin.  It was three-dimensional in the sense that it had the usual monocular depth cues, but it wasn’t stereoscopic.  At that time the public, the press, and the marketing people used the term “3-D” to denote stereoscopic movies.  CinemaScope had a wider picture that could involve peripheral vision and for sure required a different kind of composition.  It was a simplified version of Cinerama which required three projectors which were out of the question for normal cinemas.  I was dumbstruck by the panorama and splendor of  The Robe; I loved seeing Richard Burton and Jean Simmons striding off through the clouds to the Christian heaven created by Jewish business men.  I haven’t seen the movie in years, but I know it has a plodding pace and shots whose long duration is exacerbated by their proscenium arch composition.  At that time the industry believed that rapid cutting or close ups in the Scope format just could not work and would be disorienting.  It’s the kind of caution advocated today for 3-D cinematography and post.  Long or medium shots and little or no panning were the order of the day, but forward camera motion was acceptable since it mimicked the roller coaster section of This is of Cinerama. Read the rest of this entry »


August 13, 2010

But mostly it was cowboy movies at the People’s Cinema – Ken Maynard and the like – and some bizarre characters:  Toothless loveable geezer stooge Fuzzy Knight sitting around the campfire, and some cowboy who had a dummy – a cowboy ventriloquist (talk about an oddity, yet there it was), and  Gene Autry or Roy Rogers breaking into song.  I was a Roy Rogers kid at first but broke ranks. But I became converted to Gene Autry with his Radio Ranch serials, which were a combination of science fiction and the Wild West, like the TV series Wild Wild West or Firefly. The Gene Autry serials concerned the goings on in the underground city of Murania, and Gene and his radio cast would ride across the range after Muranians who wore helmets that looked like paint pails.  A giant trapdoor opened in the side of a mountain and in ran the riders, and Gene figured out how to get in there and then bravely descended in an elevator thousands of feet to the underground city.  It was there that Gene had many adventures confronting the Queen of Murania, and other people who wore leftover costumes from Biblical epics.  How wild it was, what a strange and weird time I had at the movies, and how much I loved it – and still do.  Best of all was the episode when Gene was brought back from the dead only to be speaking in reverse, a side effect that cured itself in time. A small price to pay for being reborn. Read the rest of this entry »


August 11, 2010

The first clear recollection I have of going to the movies was with my mother going to the Ambassador Theatre on Saratoga Avenue in Brooklyn.  I was three or four years old when I went to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Read the rest of this entry »

The Decline of the Stereoscopic Cinema

August 9, 2010

The Decline of the Stereoscopic Cinema

My concern in these columns has been the stereoscopic cinema, and secondarily stereoscopic television.  (By “television,” I mean that device that sits in your home that plays Internet protocol TV, cable channels with video on demand, discs, and home movies and —oh yes! terrestrial broadcasting.)  I’m looking at the August 4th Display Daily, which is sent to professionals in the display industry.  It’s published by Insight Media, and this latest column called “Pushing Back Toward the Ditch” was written by the boss of Insight Media, Chris Chinnock, a paragon of conventional wisdom.  In the past month there has been a significant pushback in the press with regard to the stereoscopic medium, and I have to hand it to Chris for summarizing the current print media climate and for bringing me out of hibernation, since this is the first blog (gotta love a word that rhymes with smog and hog) I’ve written in a month.  Read the rest of this entry »


June 19, 2010

The popular myth of the coming of the sound cinema is that The Jazz Singer was the decisive film.  It may have been an important moment, but if you read The Speed of Sound by Scott Eyman you will see that the story is more nuanced.  Today we have a candidate for the 3-D Jazz SingerAvatar.  Read the rest of this entry »


June 19, 2010

In 1980 or thereabouts, a change occurred to computer graphics technology.  It was an important one for me personally and for my company StereoGraphics because it allowed us to create stereoscopic displays based on raster graphics so useful for industry and science. Prior to that time high-end applications for computers outputted images that looked like wire frames or line drawings.  These were variously known as calligraphic, stroke or vector displays.  I remember playing an arcade game in 1981.  It was called “Tank Command,” and cast and crew on the set of Rottweiler Dogs of Hell at EO Studios in Shelby South Carolina got quite involved with it.  Between takes we played “Tank Command,” with its eerie green lines against a stygian background.  The farther away the object was, the dimmer were the lines – that was how depth was conveyed – that and perspective and relative size.   These displays had an electron beam that was steered to write lines on the inside of a green phosphored cathode ray tube and it built up an image that perceptually added up to one that didn’t flicker and appeared to be integral even though portions of it were written at different times.   Read the rest of this entry »


May 12, 2010

The future of the motion picture industry will be determined by the popularity of stereoscopic films.  This monstrous Caliban, ridiculed for decades, has been rehabilitated and taken to the bosom of the industry for the best of reasons; in the last few years a giant share of profit from motion pictures released in theaters has come from 3-D movies.  Although revenue is rising attendance is flat, and the additional revenue is attributable to stereoscopic movies.  This is good news for the studios, because DVD sales are plummeting and this makes up for that loss of revenue.  And it may well be that sales of 3-D Blu-ray disks are going to be a source of additional revenue.  So hooray for 3-D. Read the rest of this entry »