Programmer Dennis Bartok talks LA’s World 3-D Film Expo
Historically speaking, horror films and the third dimension have complemented each other akin to the way popcorn has complemented the theatrical experience. During the golden age of horror, 3D was used to scare audiences young and old by bringing their fears off the screen, eliciting a reaction that incorporates beyond strictly the sense of sight, thanks to the magic of optical illusion.
And yet, besides a brief return to prominence in the mid-80s, 3D returned to obscurity before technological advances merged the genre and the gimmick once more in the new millennium with MY BLOODY VALENTINE and CORALINE. However, those old 3D films have not been forgotten, and thanks to sponsor RealD, the Third Annual World 3-D Film Expo comes to the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, California from Friday, September 6th to Next Sunday, September 15th!
Among the films that the Expo is bringing back in glorious 3D include HONDO, HOUSE OF WAX, THE MAZE, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, JAWS 3-D, ROBINSON CRUSOE, DIAL M FOR MURDER, DANGEROUS MISSION, PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, amongst many, many more. And lest you think the Expo is satisfied with merely screening those films, they’ve also aligned an impressive assembly of special guests, including Piper Laurie, Julie Adams, Lea Thompson, Bess Armstrong, Walter Mirisch, Barbara Rush, Kathleen Hughes and Louis Gossett Jr. Yet beyond these names and titles, producer/programmer Dennis Bartok emphasizes that there’s a much more significant reason to attend this year’s festival.
“I think what inspired this year’s Expo was how quickly things are changing from film to digital. We’re still screening 75 percent of the films in the Expo in the classic dual-35mm interlocked projector format, but we keep warning people, ‘this will probably be the last time you will see these movies this way,’ and we’re not kidding,” offers Bartok. “If anyone attempts a 3D festival like this in the future, it would have to be mostly, if not all digital. That’s fine for the classic A-titles like HOUSE OF WAX, DIAL M FOR MURDER and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, which are available in 3D DCPs. But what about B-titles like ROBOT MONSTER, GORILLA AT LARGE, PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE and THE MAZE? Who knows when or even if the studios will ever get around to making 3D DCPs of these, so if people want to see them, they really need to come to the Expo.”
Indeed, Bartok believes the live experience that the Expo offers is one-of-a-kind, and the communal adoration for this particular era of 3D is infectious, to say the least. “I’m a huge horror and sci-fi fan, and vintage 3D works really well with films like CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, HOUSE OF WAX and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, as anyone who’s seen these movies in 3D with an audience can tell you. Hell, it even works great with ROBOT MONSTER, which has surprisingly good 3D effects for such a low-budget movie,” suggests Bartok. “A lot of these films play fine in 2D, as you can still watch Jack Arnold’s CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON flat and enjoy it, but seeing it in 3D is a bit like turning it up to 11. You’re literally getting that extra dimension, that extra bit of gonzo magic. That’s why a 3D festival like this is almost a combo of a film retrospective and a live concert experience, because you literally have to go to the theatre to experience these movies properly.”
Indeed, the live aspect of the films give fans of these films a nostalgic trip to the past, while the uninitiated will experience these films the way they were meant to be seen. However, the live aspect also allows for a little improvisation, and perhaps a bit on in-theater fun to further make the World 3-D Film Expo a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“At one of the previous Expos, [producer/programmer] Jeff Joseph showed a Western where in one scene, someone shoots an arrow at the camera. He had a plant in the audience who, at the exact moment, jabbed an arrow under his arm and stood up groaning,” adds Bartok. “I wish I’d been there for that. This year’s Expo is so technically complicated, and we have so many guests coming, that we’re not planning any William Castle-type gags. In fact, it’s kind of a shame Castle never directed a 3D movie himself.”
So now that you know what to expect from the Expo, what shouldn’t the most ardent and obscure 3D cinephile hold their breath for?
“We wanted to concentrate mostly on films from the early 1950s, and sometimes even earlier. The oldest short we’re featuring in the 3D Rarities Program on Saturday, September 14 is from the 1920s, and we have multiple films from the 1930s and 1940s,” states Bartok. “JAWS 3-D is the most recent movie we’re showing, and it’s just a huge crowd-pleaser. People were begging to show it at the 2003 and 2006 Expos, but it wasn’t available at that point. I thought about including FRIDAY THE 13th PART III, but sadly there are no good prints around right now, and no 3D DCP.”
“One title I tried very hard to get is an early-1950s Italian film called TOTÒ IN 3D, which is a 3D parody of THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH,” continues Bartok. “It was restored and screened in Italian at the Rome Film Festival several years ago, and we harassed and pleaded with the rights owner to let us screen it, but he basically said, ‘It’s an old movie, nobody cares about it.’ So that’s one that got away. The sci-fi film GOG and the truly insane CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON are also both unavailable in 3D, which is a real shame; there are no existing 3D prints that can be run, and while negative elements probably exist, it just costs too much for the distributor to strike a new 3D print or scan the right-eye/left-eye elements to make a 3D DCP.”
Nevertheless, no matter what titles may or may not be on display, nor the screen legends that may attend this genre-friendly event, Bartok admits there’s only one thing he aims to achieve with the World 3-D Film Expo this year. “For me, the most important thing is that audience come and enjoy the hell out of themselves. I don’t really judge movies if they’re old or new, I just think, ‘Is this exciting, is this worth seeing?’” insists Bartok. “But from a film history perspective, we’re showing all sorts of unbelievably rare material: the European 3-D Cinema 1935-1953 show is filled with insanely obscure material from Germany, France, Hungary, Russia. Stuff you literally will never see again. We’re showing a 1947 Russian adaptation of ROBINSON CRUSOE on Sunday, September 8, which is the very first 3D movie ever made in Russia, and, we think, the earliest surviving 3D feature made anywhere in the world, as there was an earlier feature made in the 1920s which is now lost.”
For tickets, a full schedule of events and more information to the World 3-D Film Expo, visit the official site.