NYC Chinatown in 1934: Stereoscopic 3D Photos plus Racism

Tru Vue published, and then quickly discontinued, numerous sets of 3D filmstrips in the 1930s. It’s a mystery why many of the rolls were discontinued – but this is not the case with the 1934 gem “New York’s Chinatown”. With bizarre street scenes, racism, seemingly random buildings, and very few photographs of some of the more important buildings (do a Google Image Search), this roll is pretty silly.

The opening frame with a… delightful… little ditty about Chinatown, as well as the single-frame start-of-roll designation.

Despite the series’ innate silliness, the stereoscopy is done quite well, and my working theory is that the photographer was focused more on pulling off technically proficient shots than on interesting subject matter. Regardless, this strip is a real rarity – I’ve seen it sell for almost $100 without the condition being described – so it’s unlikely even that most Tru Vue enthusiasts have found one. I’m certainly in no hurry to sell mine!

This set – with multiple merge points in almost every image, is ideal for neophyte free-viewers to practice on – the images are contrasty, and the multiple anchors at differing depths can help keep you in the game. So why not kick back, try to remember that this was 1934 and a little racism was just to be expected from a Rock Island, IL manufacturing company, and practice your free-viewing skills?

The Stereo Pairs

First off, isn’t Chinatown part of the city? Probably moreso than Staten Island? In any case, note that in this final slide, we need to rush away after “shadows creep into the streets” – clearly, we don’t want to be left alone with all these laundries after dark.

Interpreting the End of a Tru Vue Reel

A selection from the end of “New York’s Chinatown”.

I’ve included a five-frame selection from the end of this reel in order to demonstrate the anatomy of a Tru Vue filmstrip. If you already know all this, skip to the anaglyphs (these anaglyphs worked very nicely). Otherwise, the frames from left to right are:

  1. Frame indicating that this roll was printed from the first master created on 15 February 1934.
  2. Left-side frame of “Shadows creep into the streets – We hurry back to the city.”
  3. Right-side frame of “end credits” view. The left-side frame is not pictured, but would be to the left of the leftmost frame pictured here.
  4. Left-side frame of “Lights go on in the stores – It is late afternoon.”
  5. Right-side frame of “Shadows creep into the streets – We hurry back to the city.”

As the film advance lever is pulled on the Tru Vue stereoscope, it advances the view forward two notches – meaning with the 2-frame offset between the stereo pairs, the actual strip is held at optimal viewing distance, eliminating the need for any sort of optical correction in the cheap lenses.

But we all know that we should pull the film through carefully, and not use the lever, to cause as little damage as possibly to the 85+ year old filmstrip. Right?

Anaglyphs, slightly less racist for lack of captions

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