Iconic 3D movie audience photo taken 60 years ago this week

LIFE 3 D 1952

NewImage Sixty years ago this week, JR Eyerman snapped the iconic photo above during the Hollywood premiere of Bwana Devil, the first full-length 3D movie. "A LION in your lap! A LOVER in your arms!" This is the caption that accompanied the photo in LIFE:

These megalopic creatures are the first paying audience for the latest cinematic novelty, Natural Vision. This process gets a three-dimensional effect by using two projectors with Polaroid filters and giving the spectators Polaroid spectacles to wear. The movie at the premiere, called Bwana Devil, did achieve some striking three-dimensional sequences. But members of the audience reported that the glasses were uncomfortable, the film itself — dealing with two scholarly looking lions who ate up quantities of humans in Africa — was dull, and it was generally agreed that the audience itself looked more startling than anything on the screen.

"LIFE at the Movies: When 3-D Was New"

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  1. “But members of the audience reported that the glasses were uncomfortable, the film itself — dealing with two scholarly looking lions who ate up quantities of humans in Africa — was dull, and it was generally agreed that the audience itself looked more startling than anything on the screen.”

    Oh, I had completely forgotten there were lions in Avatar. Also, time surely flies! I would have sworn Avatar was only a few years old.

  2. This can’t be a movie theatre.  I mean, look at everyone, they’re so well dressed.  Not one pair of sweatpants.  And I don’t think I can see a single person yammering away at his buddy.  Nobody’s yelling at the screen or standing up or crawling over everyone in their row to go to the bathroom.  Everyone’s just sitting there eyes forward watching a movie.  This has to be fake!

      1. If you owned a jacket and tie, you wouldn’t have gone out without it. Girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school until ~1968.

    1. Look at everyone, they’re so well dressed.

      And for what?  For Gorilla At Large.
      I know they’re watching Bwana Devil, but I couldn’t resist pointing out the trend which got set in stone: 3D as a delivery mechanism for el cheapo quasi-horror flicks.

    2. True story: During the first few minutes of Pulp Fiction a woman behind me started saying, in a normal speaking tone, “I’ve seen this before. I’ve seen it on TV!” The man next to her chuckled loudly and said, even more loudly, “You’re dumb! This ain’t ever been on TV!” While Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta were discussing Quarter Pounders in Paris this couple continued debating whether what was happening onscreen had ever been on TV until I turned around and started at them and they both shut up.

      It wasn’t exactly MST3K, but their commentary did, for me, add something to the cinematic experience.

    3. I remember back in the ’80s getting dressed up to go to the movies in nice-but-still-casual clothes.  Since this was taken in the ’60s, the men are wearing suits.  By extrapolation, we can surmise that men’s wear for moviegoing in the ’40s was strictly black tie (note the young guy in the foreground, building up his retro cred) and in the ’20s it would be white tie only.

      Any further back, and you’d have to wear a sword.

      1. Back in the 80s going on a date usually meant dinner and a movie, and I don’t know what these newfangled kids are wearing nowadays at the mall Outback before hitting the 20-small-screens multiplex, but sure, before gangsta and Aeropostale tshirt fashions, we wore fugly and usually synthetic 80s sweaters on a date.

  3. And 3D is still a gimmick 60 years later. I haven’t seen a single film that was improved by it IMHO. Can’t wait for it to go the way of Smellovision.

    1.  Me too… unfortunately, it keeps having renaissances.  It was big in the 50s/60s, I remember it was a big deal when they showed a 3D movie on TV when I was kid in the early 80s, and then now every damn kids film has to be in 3d… Other than Coraline, we saw all kids movies in 2d.

    2. News Of Tomorrow, with The Amazing Criswell! Curiously, it seems that it’s “Smellevision”.

      Notice the other bit of news: Quintuplets give birth to quintuplets.

    3. I don’t think it has to be a gimmick but unfortunately that’s how it gets used most of the time. I’d like to see someone try to make a 3D movie where the 3D effects are actually essential to the story. If it can’t be done, then that’s the proof that it is just a gimmick.

        1. The Wizard of Oz. My family had a black and white TV for a long time, and I had seen Wizard several times. Then the first time I saw it after we got a color TV, and Dorothy opens the door into Munchkinland with all the eye-searing colors, I nearly shit myself.

  4. “Do you ever look at crowds in old movies and wonder if they’re dead yet?  I can’t help it” – George Carlin

  5. One thing that surprises me is that no one has ever tried making movies in 1D. To my mind, if it can’t be shown in a one-dimensional line, it isn’t worth seeing.

    1. Derek Jarman’s Blue comes close: a film that is a continuous blue. http://uk.imdb.com/title/tt0106438/ “Against a plain, unchanging blue screen, a densely interwoven soundtrack of voices, sound effects and music attempt to convey a portrait of Derek Jarman’s experiences with AIDS, both literally and allegorically, together with an exploration of the meanings associated with the colour blue.”

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