Tag Archives: September Storm (1960)

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3-D Film Archive’s Robert Furmanek Discusses ‘September Storm’ and ‘It Came from Outer Space’

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When I suggested doing an interview with Robert Furmanek of the 3-D Film Archive in conjunction with their Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the restoration of September Storm (1960), little did either of us realize that such promotion was virtually unnecessary. Despite the picture’s obscurity, the campaign is proving an overwhelming success, and may exceed its goal even as I write this:

World Cinema Paradise: September Storm is a real oddity in that the vogue for studio-produced 3-D features had completely dried up by 1955. How did it come to be made in 3-D?

Robert Furmanek:  There were some successful 3-D reissues in late 1957/1958 (Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came from Outer Space, plus House of Wax with Phantom of the Rue Morgue), and producer Edward L. Alperson felt there was still some interest in the process. Alperson had an interest in 3-D going back to 1952 with Bwana Devil. September Storm was produced independently and test screenings went very well so it was eventually picked up for release by Fox.

WCP: I imagine it must have been much more difficult shooting in dual anamorphic than spherical widescreen, or was it shot flat and converted to CinemaScope, via the SuperScope system (and like Super 35 in more recent years)?

Furmanek: It was shot full-aperture with the Natural Vision rig and the anamorphic negatives were extracted optically by special effects wizard Ray Mercer and Deluxe labs.

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WCP: What were some of the unique challenges for the filmmakers, and for you in restoring it? Could you theoretically, created alternate widescreen versions while you’re at it?

Furmanek: If the original open-matte camera negatives survived, we could create a widescreen version in various aspect ratios but the only existing 35mm left/right elements are the conformed anamorphic CinemaScope version.The usual color fading plus various levels of vinegar syndrome in different reels presented some major technical obstacles. But Archive Technical Director Greg Kintz doesn’t give up easily (check out Gog) and literally works miracles in creating a flawless 3-D master!

WCP: The color restoration on Gog truly is amazing. I’ve read that. at least 20-odd years ago, the only known 3-D elements were held by the Library of Congress. Is that were you’re sourcing your materials?

Furmanek:  No, the Library of Congress does not have 3-D elements. We acquired the 35mm anamorphic negatives from the copyright holder.

WCP: Was it stereophonic as well? Do those elements exist?

Furmanek: No, it was released mono optical only.

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WCP: How extensive was its 3-D theatrical release versus theaters showing it “flat?”

Furmanek: Most major cities played the 3-D version and it went flat for sub-run and smaller towns.

WCP: Was the film ever broadcast on commercial television, or syndicated in its 2-D version? I don’t ever recall seeing it anywhere.

Furmanek: It was syndicated for many years in a flat, murky 16mm pan and scan print. From the havoc that created on the compositions, you would never know they spent ten weeks filming on location in Majorca! It has not been seen anywhere in 3-D since 1960.

WCP: Did you acquire the rights from Fox, or are they held elsewhere?

Furmanek: Fox only distributed the film in 1960. The rights belonged to producer Alperson and have changed hands many, many times over the past five decades. We tracked down the current owner and they didn’t even know it was a 3-D film. Thankfully, they still had both left/right 35mm elements. It’s extremely fortunate that one side wasn’t junked over the past 50 years.

WCP: It seems like you have your work cut out for you in this sense: technically and historically: it’s a very significant film, yet it’s also a movie very few people today have seen or are even aware of. How do you sell a title like this, which requires such special handling?

Furmanek: Just like our 3-D Blu-ray release of Dragonfly Squadron, it will sell based on the pure rarity. Many people have expressed interest simply because they’ve never seen or even heard of the film.

WCP: Kickstarter seems ideally suited to projects like yours. How’s it going so far? Does that look like the future for the remaining classic 3-D titles still unreleased on 3-D Blu-ray?

Furmanek: Incredibly well. We’re halfway through the campaign and have raised 90% of our goal. That’s pretty remarkable considering just a few years ago, I couldn’t interest anyone in releasing our titles. You should see some of the rejection letters. My favorite is from Criterion where they casually dismissed 3-D Rarities as “not interesting.” Flicker Alley has done very well with the Blu-ray and that’s been our biggest seller!

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WCP: What can you tell us about It Came from Outer Space? This is a Universal Home Video release, or is it being sub-licensed? And what does this suggest for a possible release of Revenge of the Creature as well?

Furmanek: I’m not at liberty to discuss those details. We did get the go ahead last week to announce that it was coming soon and there’s a preview page on our website. It Came from Outer Space – 3dfilmarchive

WCP: Like a lot of people, I first saw It Came from Outer Space at a college campus screening in the 1970s, via a 16mm anaglyphic non-theatrical print. Needless to say, this is going to look a whole lot better than that….

Furmanek: That’s an understatement!

WCP: Over on the Classic Horror Film Board, you’ve discussed how impressive the film’s stereophonic sound presentation was back in 1953, and how great it’s going to sound on Blu-ray. Could you tell us a little bit about how that sound was originally presented, how it’s different from past television and home video versions, and what it will be like on Blu-ray?

Furmanek:  In theaters, it was played back in sync with the picture on a separate full-coat 35mm magnetic dubber. Previous home video releases have used a modified and very compromised two-channel mix that was created in the 1990s. This is the first time people will experience at home what audiences first heard in 1953 and it’s going to knock you out. It was only the sixth feature released in stereo (First Year of Stereophonic Motion Pictures – 3dfilmarchive) and the sound is very directional. The score is amazing in discrete three-channel and the explosions will shake your house!

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WCP: General audiences today would probably find It Came from Outer Space rather campy, but I regard it as one of the very best ‘50s sci-fi films, unlike anything that came before and after it. From the 3-D standpoint, which few have been able to see properly presented in more than 60 years, what’s particularly interesting and innovative about its staging?

Furmanek: Both Greg and I feel this is one of the strongest 3-D features with terrific performances and a top-notch script that holds up amazingly well today. Jack Arnold had a great eye for stereoscopic compositions and his use of layering is quite impressive.

WCP: Have the 3-D elements been kept in good condition? Are there any special challenges for you? And will you be adjusting misaligned shots on either of these titles?

Furmanek: This was Universal’s first 3-D production and they were rushing to try and beat House of Wax into theaters. They didn’t succeed, and there were quite a few editing mistakes in the film (with reversed images) that we have fixed. Also, the vertical alignment was all over the map from shot to shot and we’ve fixed those issues as well. You’ll be seeing the film looking better now than it did in 1953.

WCP: Of the remaining classic 3-D still unreleased on Blu-ray 3-D, what’s your Holy Grail? Which ones would you most like to see restored, and are the studios involved cooperating? I guess it would be fair to say Wade Williams (of Robot Monster and Cat-Women of the Moon) lies at one extreme; who’s been the most helpful?

Furmanek: Because of my 35-year friendship with Jerry Lewis, I would love to fully restore Money from Home. We came very close last year and even did a 15 minute 3-D demo which played to a very receptive audience at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Jerry was on board with the project but unfortunately, we encountered some extremely frustrating obstacles from one individual who had the power to kill it. But I don’t give up easily, so never say never! I can’t disclose specific titles at this time but I have to say that Richard Lorber, Frank Tarzi, Bret Wood and the entire team at Kino-Lorber have been fantastic in securing licenses for some amazing titles. Get ready for some reel stereoscopic gems coming to 3-D Blu-ray in the next few years!

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WCP: How can fans of classic 3-D best support your efforts? And would you care to hint at other titles we might see this year or during the first half of 2017?

Furmanek: We’re currently preparing two Silver Age titles for release, A*P*E (not to be confused with King Kong) and The Stewardesses. Honestly, the best way to get more vintage 3-D onto Blu-ray is to support the new releases. If a title doesn’t sell enough to at least break even, it will make it that much more difficult to pursue additional licenses. Even if it’s a movie you’ve never seen or a genre that doesn’t normally interest you, give it a shot. I believe that more often than not, you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. The Golden Age 3-D titles are far better than their reputation.

You can read more about September Storm and the campaign to save it HERE.

Mask Featured

Blu-ray 3-D Review: “The Mask” (1961)

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The Mask (1961), reportedly Canada’s first horror movie (and first 3-D feature, and first feature distributed by a major studio), is a real oddity, professionally-made and reasonably polished for a relatively low-budget movie, but otherwise quite different in look and tone from Hollywood product. Rather like the made-in-Pennsylvania The Blob (1958) and 4-D Man (1959), it’s ambitious and a bit more intelligent than most exploitation films of its era.

And it’s certainly different in one respect: nearly 15 minutes of its 83-minute running time are in 3-D. The 1952-1955 craze for 3-D was pretty much kaput by 1961; distributed by Warner Bros., it and the now totally obscure September Storm (1960), from 20th Century-Fox, were the only major 3-D features released between 1955 and 1966.

One of the nagging myths about classic 3-D movies, completely untrue, was those red-blue glasses moviegoers supposedly had to wear, and the inferior, headache-inducing image they created. In fact nearly all ‘50s 3-D movies employed “polarized” viewers resembling sunglasses. The Mask was a rare exception; originally, for its 3-D sequences, “Magic Mystic Masks,” i.e. red-blue anaglyphic lenses in cardboard frames, created the effect. Unlike nearly all ‘50s 3-D features, which required two separate but synchronized 35mm prints (one for the left eye, one for the right), The Mask could be exhibited in any theater as it used a single print, a major convenience.

Ingeniously though, the folks at 3-D Film Archive, which has done more for classic 3-D on video than all the major labels combined, have gone back to the original left and right 35mm elements to enable picture perfect Blu-ray 3-D. Instead of the slightly blurred red-blue image theatrical audiences saw back in 1961 (and on multiple reissues thereafter), viewers can now enjoy the film’s surreal 3-D scenes in razor sharp, perfectly aligned black-and-white 3-D.

Further, they’ve restored the rarely heard Electro-Magic (surround) sound, remixed for 5.1 surround,  enhancing the immersive experience even more.

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The plot of The Mask is almost incidental, but moderately effective on its own terms. A deeply troubled patient (Martin Lavut) of psychiatrist Dr. Allen Barnes (Paul Stevens) commits suicide, but not before mailing the skeptical shrink an ancient tribal mask at the root of the patient’s psychosis. Inexorably compelled to “put the mask on NOW” (so booms Barnes’s unrecognizable off-screen voice, cueing moviegoers to do likewise), Barnes experiences wildly surreal, proto-psychedelic visions. These 3-D “dream sequences” were supervised by Slavoljub “Slavko” Vorkapić, a Serbian experimental filmmaker who in Hollywood created dynamic montage sequences, usually without credit, for such films as San Francisco (1936), The Good Earth (1937), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Meet John Doe (1941) while directing short films of his own. The sequences, while tame by today’s standards, would be extraordinarily silly were they not also so hypnotically effective.

The director of credit was Montréal-born Julian Roffman, who had a minor career as a producer-director. Several of his later films in that former capacity, The Pyx (1973) and The Glove (1979), are available on DVD. Those movies are unusual, too, but generally unmemorable. Beetle browed character actor Stevens is the only actor in the cast viewers are likely to recognize. Prolific but mainly on television, Stevens did have memorable roles in a handful of other pictures, notably Exodus (1960), Patton (1970), and the mostly poor Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973). He died in 1986.

The Mask was picked up by Warner Bros. soon after its Canadian premiere and did well enough that New Line Cinema reissued it several times beginning in 1970, sometimes under the title Eyes of Hell. Because it had been intended from the start to be exhibited in anaglyphic format, it didn’t look too terrible when it was broadcast on commercial television in the early 1980s, during the second big wave of 3-D productions and reissues. A subsequent VHS (and, I think, laserdisc) release of The Mask also looked about as good as 3-D could get in those formats. Certainly it was infinitely superior to atrocious 3-D VHS versions of Creature from the Black Lagoon and most other releases of the period.

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Nonetheless, the 3-D Film Archive’s 3-D Blu-ray, distributed by Kino, is a revelation. It quite literally far surpasses even the film’s original 1961 bookings by way of its 3-D Blu-ray conversion and looks and sounds great throughout. Though only about one-fifth of the film is in 3-D, the entire show (in 1.66:1 widescreen) has been encoded that way, allowing the viewer to switch back-and-forth between the 2-D “plot” scenes without glasses and the dream sequences with 3-D viewers –  without the fuss of needing to constantly adjust one’s monitor.

As an option, the 3-D sequences are also presented in their original anaglyphic format (red-blue 3-D glasses not included), supplemented by useful anaglyphic calibration guide.

Also included is an excellent audio commentary with film historian Jason Pichonsky; “Julian Roffman: The Man Behind the Mask,” a very fine 20-minute featurette; four trailers and TV spots; and, best of all, several illustrative (if 2-D) short films by Vorkapić. As a bonus there’s a seven-minute short film by James Hall and Jason Jameson, also in Blu-ray 3-D, One Night in Hell (2014), presented with Dolby ATMOS audio and featuring music by Brian May. Aesthetically it doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the presentation, but on its own terms it’s a really fantastic little short.

Once again Bob Furmanek and Greg Kintz (among others associated with 3-D Film Archive) have hit it out of the park. Though not a great film by any means, The Mask offers many startlingly good 3-D effects and it’s a rather fascinating, unique film in several respects. Keep ‘em coming, guys!