Stereoscopic Media


This article was updated on 30 Nov 2011, and is filed under Research Provocations.

Miriam Ross Research Provocation: Where is the Screen?

Stereoscopic cinema and new media ask us to consider the screen; not just the screen in the movie-theatre auditorium but also the hard-bodied screens of the computer monitor, television set and hand-held devices that all produce 3D images. Most importantly, they ask us to consider whether that screen is there at all.  The screen may continue to exist but once the glasses are on (we are not yet at a systematic lens free process) a combination of negative and positive parallax explodes any singular plane of action based on the flat screen. Stereoscopy’s multiple optical illusions suggest that certain objects are within a hair’s breadth of our fingertips or that we are situated in a 3D landscape that stretches back to infinity. Swift editing means that we move between various positions and depth fields in short spaces of time. In each case, there is no longer a viewing body opposite the screen but a shared screen space in which action is tantalisingly close but never fully touchable. One of the problems in fully understanding how we are constituted in this space is that the primacy of the screen or the sense of an originary plane of action is rarely left behind in discussion of 3D. Although directors such as James Cameron prefer to focus on the creation of depth planes extending away from viewers (normally in positive parallax) we are conditioned to remember the spectacular moments when objects come towards us (in negative parallax).  As the poster for House of Wax (1953) advertises, action “comes off the screen right at you.” Insightful and rigorous scholarship in this field has thus far presented similar terminology such as ‘off-the-screen-effects/shots’ (Hayes, 1989), objects that ‘thrust their way off the screen’ (Johnston, 2008) and ‘pop out of the screen’ (Paul, 1993), all of which suggests the screen remains. This aspect is well known to stereographers who calculate and configure their cinematography on the basis of a screen plane (Devernay and Beardsley, 2010; Lipton, 1982). Nonetheless, where does this leave the immersive viewing experience in which the fourth wall is supposedly dismantled and the screen eliminated (Mizzuta Lippit, 1999)? Are viewers conditioned to believe that even when object appear in the auditorium, there is a prior place where objects in these films reside? Is there still an imagined screen which objects are on, in front of or behind? A related consideration is that of the screen’s frame. Ray Zone suggests stereoscopic cinema removes the viewer’s awareness of the motion picture frame (2007:3) yet Lenny Lipton believes we are still aware of images surrounded by a black rectangle. How does our acknowledgment or disavowal of the frame have an effect on our perception of the screen? In order to fully get to the heart of these matters, do we not need to rethink and reconsider our language for describing the spatial configurations of stereoscopic moving-images? Should we place our emphasis on the way objects are placed in relation to the screen or in relation to an audience? Would a phenomenological discussion that takes into account the embodied position of the viewer in these configurations help? With each of these questions, I propose further analysis of the way in which stereoscopic visuality functions in 3D cinema.



Devernay, Frédéric and Paul Beardsley (2010) ‘Stereoscopic Cinema’ in Rémi Ronfard and Gabriel Taubin (eds) Image and Geometry Processing for 3-D Cinematography, London: Springer, pp.11-52

Hayes, R. M. (1989) 3-D Movies: A History and Filmography of Stereoscopic Cinema, London: St James Press

Johnston, Keith (2008) ‘”Three Times as Thrilling!”: The Lost History of 3-D Trailer Production, 1953-54’, Journal of Popular Film and Television, 36:3, pp. 150 – 160.

Lipton, Lenny (1982) Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold

Mizuta Lippit, Akira (1999) ‘Three Phantasies of Cinema-Reproduction, Mimesis, Annihilation’ in Paragraph 22:3, pp.213-227

Paul, William (2004) ‘Breaking the Fourth Wall: ‘Belascoism’, Modernism and a 3-D Kiss Me Kate’ in Film History, 16, pp.229-242

Zone, Ray (2007) Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, Lexington: University Press of Kentucky


Miriam Ross is Lecturer in Film at Victoria University of Wellington


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