May 10, 2017

Cornell Cinema to Debut 3-D Projection System Friday

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Cornell Cinema inaugurates a new 3-D projection system Friday night with the post-apocalyptic film Mad Max: Fury Road. 

In 2016, Cornell Cinema received a capital equipment grant from the New York State Council on the Arts offering the campus theatre half of the installation cost for a 3-D system.  A crowdfunding campaign launched in November matched the funds — remarkably quickly — and the Friday night show will be its first run.

For many people, myself included, 3-D film still feels new.  Cornell Cinema hopes to share the medium’s weighted cinematic history. The first 3-D exhibition dates back to 1915 and, since that time, the stereoscopic method attracts Hollywood, independent, documentary, foreign and experimental film productions.

Cornell Cinema dedicates itself to a holistic view of cinematic entertainment, and its lack of 3-D offerings represented a void in the theater’s mission.  The upgrade will, according to a Cornell Cinema press release, “close the gap in their exhibition capabilities and enable them to fully accommodate its mission to offer selections from the full spectrum of film and electronic media.”  With the way art-house, foreign films and cinematic restorations have been moving in the last several years, Cornell Cinema’s Manager, Douglas McLaren, says that “3-D film was something that we needed to include in our programming.”

Until recently, filming, producing and screening 3-D films was expensive and difficult.  Cornell Cinema watched and engaged with this developmental history firsthand. Since its founding in 1970, Cornell Cinema showed most films on reel-to-reel 35 mm projectors.  Reel-to-reel, despite its seemingly antique form, allowed for some very limited exploration into the third dimension.  For the first time in 1998, and a second time in 2004, Cornell Cinema invested in special lenses, rented a silver screen to put in front of the regular one and bought disposable glasses to offer Cornell students a rare, but viable, 3-D experience.  Each effort added up to a total of nine sold-out shows.

3-D film engages patrons.  It offers something more real than regular film, yet it provides an escape from an individual reality.  McLaren contends that “3-D cinema, when well executed, creates an immersive you-are-there experience.”  The 3-D technique, more so than any other style, gives viewers the power to forget where they actually are and engage with the “you-are-there.”

3-D cinema encapsulates the tension between the traditionalist’s affection for reel-to-reel film as opposed to new digital technology.  The reel-to-reel format ruled Hollywood cinema entirely until the early 2000s.  In 2005, many theatres shut off the lights on 35 mm projectors and bought into drip feed digital formats.  In 2013, Cornell Cinema, too, added digital projection to its theatre menu.

Digital film allows for easy screening in the 3-D.  It makes film feel touchable and so it makes it more real. Old time moviemakers and Luddites disagree. Steven McQueen, an Academy Award winning director, argues, “There’s something romantic about [reel-to-reel] film…some sort of magic — it’s almost like it breathes. Film feels much more…I don’t know.  Maybe ‘human’?”  3-D film presents a problem for loyalists like McQueen.  The medium relies upon the digital format for simplicity’s sake — to avoid that silver screen and special lenses. It offers something more corporeal through a notably less tactile process. Reel-to-reel film “breathes” from up inside the projection room, but 3-D digital allows viewers to see and, very nearly, feel breath on screen.  Subjectively, 3-D digital creates something more real than reel-to-reel. The tactility of the process falls away, replaced by an on screen sense of touch.

The 3-D medium intertwines itself in cinematic history and, in doing so, embodies Cornell Cinema’s mission. Investigations into the third-dimension exaggerate film’s general technological progression. 3-D roots itself in traditional reel-to-reel and expands through digital bits and bytes. From paper glasses to the IMAX Ray-Ban style recyclables, 3-D’s development follows a defined trajectory over the course of many years.

Cornell Cinema dedicates itself to offering a wholesome cinematic education.  If one form of filmic media engages with the z-axis, so too must the campus theatre.  The new Dolby technology, installed in Willard Straight Theatre, widens the institute’s scope — virtually and historically.  According to McLaren, “The Dolby 3-D system is a more robust system than what one typically finds at a multiplex. Because of its design, the image is brighter and the sight lines are much better. You can sit off-center from the image and still get a very good 3-D effect, which is not the case for other systems.”

May 12th marks a new dimension in Cornell Cinema’s development.  Mad Max: Fury Road — a post-apocalyptic film chosen by theatre patrons in an online poll — inaugurates a 3-D system that will expand its view from the futuristic to the antique.  Looking forward, this next fall will bring a 3-D cinema film series to the theatre featuring rare early 20th century shorts, classics from the ’50s, art house documentaries, and recent Hollywood hits.  The new Dolby system will bolster the Cornell Cinema’s primary mission — first to educate and second to entertain — with an ever-wider range of films and tactility.
Julia Curley is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].