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September 19, 2017

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Forgotten Soviet Union's 3D films dusted off

MOSCOW -- As 3D cinema enjoys a revival with Hollywood blockbusters, an unexpected retrospective in Moscow reveals the Soviet Union began entertaining its citizens with homegrown 3D films as early as the 1940s.

The films may lack the exotic plots of Hollywood 3D films such as James Cameron's 2009 "Avatar" and Ridley Scott's current release "Prometheus" but are of astonishing technical quality and sophistication.

In a color film called "In the Avenues of the Park," a young woman in a print dress stretches her hand holding a rose towards the viewer, while young men in baggy trousers stroll and schoolboys in caps run about.

The crystal-clear film shows Moscow's Gorky Park in 1952, a year before Stalin died, yet the 3D technology similar to that now filling multiplexes makes it feel eerily current.

"3D before our era," Kommersant headlined a story on the films, which were shown in a special program at the Moscow International Film Festival.

The program of films have been restored and digitized by two enthusiasts, Nikolai Mayorov and Nikolai Kotovsky.

"We have all got used to hearing various legends that 3D cinema came to us from the United States," Mayorov told an audience at the festival. "In fact, it came there from Russia."

Surprisingly, the first showing of a 3D film in Russia was in 1911, several years before the first one in the United States.

The first commercial Soviet 3D film was "Concert" or "Land of Youth," first shown in 1941, a few months before the Soviet Union joined World War II.

A tour de force showing off scenes from ocean waves to a ball in around 40 minutes, it was designed for viewing without glasses.

Viewers watched the film through a wire grid that meant the left and right eye saw two different images at the same time, creating an illusion of depth. The system called stereo cinema was created by a Soviet inventor called Semyon Ivanov.

The "Concert" film was mainly black-and-white but had sections where it burst into colour — a technique also used in Hollywood for 1939 hit "The Wizard of Oz" — causing a sensation at the time.

Among the sections shown at the festival are scenes of storks in a pond and a cockatoo swinging on a ring, set to trilling music — somewhat short on thrills but showing off the technical possibilities of 3D.

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