Coming of age in 3D: Pina

Making Pina

Making Pina

Last week, I saw Wim Wenders’ Pina: Dance, Dance, Otherwise We Are Lost at the TIFF Bell Lighthbox in Toronto. In addition to my old love for the work of Pina Bausch, my curiosity was trigged by Wenders’ use of 3D. So, finally, some random thoughts in this regard:

Thus far, it’s been cool to be ironic and sceptical about 3D, which is understandable given the bad luck of 3D as a format. From its “golden era” in the 1950s to its return within recent years, it’s been just that – “things jumping at you,” as my childhood friend described it to me some 25 years ago. And yet, I have been waiting for new work that would surprise us by complicating the idea of film and film experience – by/with/in 3D. Is it even possible?

1. Perhaps, 3D can be seen as today’s “cinema of attractions,” which was defined by Tom Gunning as what “displaces its [own] visibility, willing to rupture a self enclosed fictional world for a chance to solicit the attention of the spectator” (230), evoking the viewer’s fascination with the image as such. In this sense, 3D makes film spectacle-oriented, heavily investing in showing.

2Many of 3D films are transferred to this format only in post-production and that’s what causes the “lost in translation” effect. Wenders works with 3D conceptually: Pina is choreographed and filmed with the consideration of 3D.

3. Curiously, Wenders himself attributes the success of the film, among other things, to the format. He even vows to never again make another 2D film. Meanwhile, Christopher Nolan, who still has doubts about 3D (and fears the forthcoming pressure from the studios), reminds us that 3D is, in fact, one of general properties of film:

The truth is, I think it’s a misnomer to call it 3-D versus 2-D. The whole point of cinematic imagery is it’s three-dimensional. … You know, 95% of our depth cues come from occlusion, resolution, color and so forth, so the idea of calling a 2-D movie a ’2-D movie’ is a little misleading.

Of course, Pina is not the first dance documentary made in this format. Giselle (Gergiev, 2010), released a bit earlier, is a 3D version of the Mariinsky’s ballet. Apparently, in this film, the 3D format not only is not as affective as in Pina, without the support of camerawork and lighting, it is a failure.

Unlike Giselle, Wenders’ work surprises us with his rather complex cinematography, sophisticated camera movement, panning and tracking, crane shots, lighting, focus and depth of field – all this works for the specifics of the dimensionality of a cinematic object: i.e. 3D is known for being demanding when it comes to light (which makes shooting indoors very complicated). Watch these videos to compare the difference of (cinematic) spaces of Giselle and Pina. Wenders does not offers viewers a “real life experience,” as unfortunately, 3D often advertised. He offers them an unseen reality produced by complex cinematography and work with light.

4. Fascination with 3D has a long story that runs through both histories of still and moving image, if, of course, they are two different histories. The stereoscopic image was introduced by Charles Wheatstone in 1838, which is only 12 years later than the first permanent photograph and one year earlier than a daguerreotype. The 3D image was put in motion with the invention of anaglyph films in 1915. Later came a beam-splitter. Yet, it has always been considered cheap or silly. Simply amusing. In Pina, it seems to have found justification and dignity. From now, it can start ageing…

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Gunning, Tom. “The Cinema of Attraction: Early Film, Its Spectator, and the Avant-Garde.” Film and Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Robert Stam & Toby Miller. Blackwell, 2000. 229-235.

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