“Full frame of movie audience wearing special 3D glasses to view film <em>Bwana Devil</em> which was shot with new “natural vision” 3 dimensional technology.” photo by J.R. Eyerman, Paramount Theater, Hollywood, California, November 26, 1952

LIFE: “Full frame of movie audience wearing special 3D glasses to view film Bwana Devil which was shot with new “natural vision” 3 dimensional technology.” photo by J.R. Eyerman, Paramount Theater, Hollywood, California, November 26, 1952. The same image is availbale at Getty Images.

[UPDATE―December 29, 2013] This post was updated on December 29, 2013: links were updated and a few images were added. Part of this material appears in an update to the Wikipedia article on The Society of the Spectacle made on October 6, 2013 (see “1983 edition”).

A detail of this photo was used for the cover design of the 1983 English edition of Guy Debord’s La Société du Spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle, tr. by Fredy Perlman and Jon Supak, Black & Red, [1970]1983; available online). The cropped selection used for the book was also flipped from left to right. One could argue that the fact the image was “inverted” makes it particularly appropriate for the content it is supposed to illustrate, whether it was intentional or not.

LEFT: J.R. Eyerman original photo from 1952 with indication of cropped section; LEFT Cover of the English edition of Society of Spectacle from 1983.
LEFT: J.R. Eyerman original photo from 1952 with indication of cropped section; LEFT Cover of the English edition of Society of Spectacle from 1983.

The photo was originally taken by LIFE photographer J.R. Eyerman (1906-1985) at “the premiere screening of film Bwana Devil, directed by Arch Oboler, the 1st full-length, color 3D (aka “Natural Vision”) motion picture”. It first appeared in the December 15, 1952 issue of LIFE magazine with the following commentary:

These megalopic creatures are the first paying audience for the latest cinematic novelty, Natural Vision. This process gets a three-dimensional effect by using two projectors with Polaroid filters and giving the spectators Polaroid spectacles to wear. The movie at the premiere, called Bwana Devil, did achieve some striking three-dimensional sequences. But members of the audience reported that the glasses were uncomfortable, the film itself — dealing with two scholarly looking lions who ate up quantities of humans in Africa — was dull, and it was generally agreed that the audience itself looked more startling than anything on the screen. (LIFE: “LIFE at the Movies: When 3D Was New” by Ben Cosgrove)

Eyerman’s photo was later used in 1984 on the cover of the brochure that accompanied an exhibition of photographs from LIFE magazine held at the International Center of Photography (New York) and entitled: The Second Decade, 1946-1955 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1984, the photo is also reproduced on page 1; used copies still available online).

Here’s what Thomas Y. Levin has to say about this photo in his essay “Dismantling the Spectacle: The cinema of Guy Debord”

This picture, taken by J.R. Eyerman, has since become a veritable cliché not only for the alienation of late consumer culture but also for the ten years following World War II: it appears, for example, on T-Shirts, bags, and buttons as well as on the cover of the brochure that accompanied an exhibition of photographs from LIFE magazine held at the International Center of Photography (New York) and entitled: The Second Decade, 1946-1955. Few realize, however, that this depiction of the latest stage in the drive towards cinematic verisimilitude exists in at least two versions: the one, employed for the cover of the Society of the Spectacle (Detroit, Black & Red, 1970, repr. 1977 and 1983), depicts its elegantly attired audience in a virtually trance-like state of absorption, their faces grim, their lips pursed, in the other shot of the same audience, however, the 3-D spectators are laughing, their expressions of hilarity conveying the pleasure of an uproarious, active spectatorship. (“Dismantling the spectacle. The Cinema of Guy Debord”, in On the passage of a few people through a rather brief moment in time. The Situationist International 1957-1972, MIT Press : Cambridge 1989, pp. 72-123; available online at the Media Art Net website.

J.R. Eyerman took more than one photo of the same audience: a selection of those is displayed below. An image of the English edition from 1973 is also provided: it shows that prior to 1983, another image illustrated the cover.

Caption from LIFE: 3-D Movie Viewers. Formally attired audience sporting 3-D (3D) glasses during opening night screening of movie "Bwana Devil," the 1st full length, color 3-D (aka "Natural Vision") motion picture, at Paramount Theater, Hollywood, CA. Photo by J.R. Eyerman, 1952
Caption from LIFE: 3-D Movie Viewers. Formally attired audience sporting 3-D (3D) glasses during opening night screening of movie “Bwana Devil,” the 1st full length, color 3-D (aka “Natural Vision”) motion picture, at Paramount Theater, Hollywood, CA. Photo by J.R. Eyerman, 1952
Caption from LIFE: Formally attired audience sporting 3-D glasses during opening night screening of film "Bwana Devil," the 1st full length, color 3-D (aka "Natural Vision") motion picture, at Paramount Theater, Hollywood, CA. Photo by J.R. Eyerman, 1952
Caption from LIFE: Formally attired audience sporting 3-D glasses during opening night screening of film “Bwana Devil,” the 1st full length, color 3-D (aka “Natural Vision”) motion picture, at Paramount Theater, Hollywood, CA. Photo by J.R. Eyerman, 1952
Caption from LIFE: Formally attired audience sporting 3-D (3D) glasses during opening night screening of film "Bwana Devil," the 1st full length color 3-D (aka "Natural Vision") motion picture, seated in balcony under projection rm., at Paramount Theater. Photo by J.R. Eyerman, 1952
Caption from LIFE: Formally attired audience sporting 3-D (3D) glasses during opening night screening of film “Bwana Devil,” the 1st full length color 3-D (aka “Natural Vision”) motion picture, seated in balcony under projection rm., at Paramount Theater. Photo by J.R. Eyerman, 1952
Cover for the the English edition of Guy Debord’s Society of Spectacle, Detroit: Balck & Red, Second Printing, [1970] 1973. Retrieved from eBay.
Cover for the the English edition of Guy Debord’s Society of Spectacle, Detroit: Balck & Red, Second Printing, [1970] 1973. Retrieved from eBay.

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