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"It's often 'oh those goofy glasses' syndrome that we get," says Daniel Symmes, whose Dimension 3 Company is the world's largest manufacturer of 3-D glasses. "The bottom line though, is the public lines up to see 3-D whenever it's done. It's always a successful phenomenon."

3-D movies came about somewhat accidentally in the 19th century. English physicist Charles Wheatstone understood that the right eye and the left eye view the world from slightly different angles. In1838 he introduced the first stereoscopic viewer, which worked with mirrors and drawn pictures.

3-D is shot with two cameras, and two projectors present the finished product. This process mimics the eyes' perception. When viewed through 3-D glasses, the filters in the red and blue lenses decode the image so the left eye only sees what the left camera saw and the right eye sees only what the right camera saw. The brain combines the images creating depth and space.

But who cares? It's just plain cool.

The first 3-D presentation was three shorts at the Astor Theatre in New York City on June 10, 1915. There was a short on rural scenes in America, a dramatic short called Jim The Penmen,and a travelogue of Niagara Falls.

Flash forward to the 1950s: 3-D takes off.

"That was the golden age of 3-D," says Symmes. The era kicked off November 1952 with Bwana Devil, a low budget movie starring Robert Stack about lions attacking railroad workers.

The phenomenon extended into the mainstream, with major studios releasing alternate 3-D versions of popular releases like Kiss Me Kate and Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder. The most popular film re-made in 3-D --- perhaps the greatest 3-D film ever --- was Warner Brothers' House Of Wax (1953)starring Vincent Price.

During this boom, over 5,000 theatres nationwide were equipped to show 3-D movies.

Unfortunately, 3-D mania was short-lived. Besides the headaches involved in production and the headaches from incorrect projection, 3-D films weren't always the best movies.

Jeff Joseph, whose SabuCat Productions owns the world's largest collection of movie trailers and stock footage, disagrees. "They're talked about that way but they're really not," he says. "If you look at the list of movies that were shot in 3-D, they're no better or worse than any other movies. Sure, there's Robot Monster, but there's also Dial M For Murder and House Of Wax."

But 3-D remains underground --- often lumped in with the B.

"I call it marginalized," says Symmes, "because the purse-string holders don't really understand it."

When Symmes showed a test version of a House Of Wax DVD in 3-D, studio honchos declined, indicating a desire for glasses-less technology.

"It's not 3-D then," says Symmes. "Wearing the glasses is part of what makes 3-D fun."

"Hollywood tends to ignore its history," says Joseph. "Other than a few titles, there are no prints available. The negatives have been damaged or lost. I don't see a real resurgence happening until someone comes up with a good way to present 3-D that doesn't require theatres to do something out of the ordinary."

Symmes considers the irony.

"It's silly that we sit in theatres watching a flat movie representing the reality we otherwise deal with."

It'll be 2-D one better when the Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman House, 900 East Avenue, presents a 3-D festival: on Wednesday, December 29, House Of Wax at 5:30 p.m. and Inferno at 8 p.m.; on Thursday, December 30, a family-friendly 3-D Shorts Festival at 5:30 p.m. and Gorilla At Large at 8 p.m.; and on Friday, December 31, a repeat of the 3-D Shorts Festival at 5:30 p.m. and Dial M For Murder at 8 p.m. Tix: $6, $5 for students. Movie info line: 271-4090

--- Frank De Blase

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