Werner Herzog in 3D

Probably the next best thing to attending a lecture headed by Werner Herzog (or his Rogue Film School) is seeing a documentary of the eccentric filmmaker in 3D, where you can reach out and pat his crazy little head with affection for making a movie every three months (or thereabouts) on all kinds of unusual subjects.

The latest 3D news isn’t that Martin Scorsese will make Hugo Cabret in 3D (he will, this fall, and further details are at hitflix.com), but that Herzog will shoot a documentary on cave paintings in the format (as reported at Movieline.com).

What’s not amusing (and rather straightforward) is his decision to capture ancient paintings in a 3D process because light and exhalations from visitors over time will destroy the art that’s been tucked away in hidden caves for eons. If the Discovery Channel can shoot sharks in 3D, and Jimmy Cameron can film his beloved Titanic wreck in 3D, then there’s nothing outrageous about inaccessible cave paintings in the third dimension.

It’s Herzog, however, which means the results will be intriguing, his voice in the narration soothing, and the behind-the-scenes footage will capture the crazy man as he and two other production technicians wiggle their way into tiny caves. David Attenborough may be the King Host of nature documentaries, but Herzog is the K├Ânig of everything odd and unusual.

Speaking of 3D, with Clash of the Titans now out for a few weeks, a few articles have appeared with unsubtle warnings about the ill-affects of hasty conversion processes (see Gizmodo.com + Slate.com for separate articles). The collective fear is that poor conversions and weak films will kill the format as happened in the 80s, but in fairness, few of the 3D films of that era were any good.

Most were gimmicky horror, animated or sci-fi films, done cheaply, and with little purpose beyond shoving something in your face. The 50s had greater variety, from westerns to musicals, thrillers like the much vaunted (and deservedly so) House of Wax to alien attacks, but the format’s mothballing probably stemmed from the imperfect anaglyph process (goofy glasses, headaches for some), insufficiently widespread implementation and distribution of 3D films throughout the market. (The push was fast, but perfectly fine films like Kiss Me Kate were mostly shown flat as the format’s success waned).

Moreover, if given a choice in 1953, people seemed to prefer super wide films in Cinerama and CinemaScope than 1.33:1 films where you had to wear itchy cardboard glasses. So Herzog and Scorsese jumping into 3D is a good thing, because it means they’ll add more dramatic variety to 3D processes that may well have longevity, since digital systems are in play, and the first generation of 3D TV sets are supposed to handle Blu-ray and cable TV 3D offerings – a big difference from the fifties where TVs at best offered colour; and the eighties, where anaglyph 3D fodder was peddled out via the odd 3D TV broadcast (Hondo, Gorilla at Large, The Mad Magician), VHS tapes (The Mask), and VHD, the obsolete Japanese videodisc format that offered backwards compatible 3D films, using LCD shutter glasses for films like Jaws 3D, Amityville 3-D, and Dial M for Murder.

Hopefully 20 years from now someone isn’t citing in his/her blog the antique gear used in the format’s third wave (which now extends to, uh, 3D laptops?) as a fourth in underway. Maybe in 2030 we’ll actually be living Hitchcock’s 3D dreamland, sitting in a chair that’s in the room, tucked in the corner of a cave, or the back seat of a car being projected in a home-styled 3D room where satellite video and audio signals immerse the viewer in actual scenes.

And maybe, just maybe, the gear will have Herzog seated a few feet from you, schlucking a marillen schnapps as he recalls that 'insignificant' moment when he thought about killing Kinski.

Best use of 3D I can think of.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


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