Last month, we took a look at VistaScreen Series C.56 “Dudley Zoo”. It provided us with some fun images of various zoo animals, amidst the backdrop of a ruined Royalist castle. Thus we had some nice images, and some interesting history to explore. Earlier this month, we took a look at Series H.228 “The Blue Grotto Temple & Aquarium”. Some decent 3D photos paired with an absolutely fascinating history. And while I might be biased here, the Bertram Mills trilogy has a wonderful mix of images, history, and behind-the-scenes documentation. Just last week, we saw Series C.48 “London Airport” – mediocre images, but an excellent documentary quality. None of that today. Because today, we look at VistaScreen Series 49 “Dogs”, an incredibly popular mid-period set. And boy is it awful.
The Straight Poop on Series 49 “Dogs”
How I know that “Dogs” was popular
So with so little information out there on VistaScreen, how could I possibly know that Series 49 “Dogs” was so popular? Well, by the same measure that I judge the popularity of most VistaScreen sets. I compare the number of sets I’ve seen available on various auction sites over the years to the approximate period during which those sets were in production. “Dogs” is easily within the top 5 sets by commonality. It’s almost as common as “Animals 1”. But while “Animals 1” was one of the first 20 sets VistaScreen debuted at their launch, and appeared on every list thereafter, Series 49 “Dogs” is a mid-period set. It debuted around the same time as the Heathrow set – and started appearing on supply lists at exactly the same time. Thus, this set clearly enjoyed immense popularity.
What is VistaScreen Series 49 “Dogs”?
Assuming you haven’t been smoking whatever photographer Stanley Long had in his pipe on the day he took these*, you’ll have guessed by now that the subject of VistaScreen Series 49 “Dogs” is… dogs. Specifically, dogs at an anonymous dog show. There’s no context here, thus there’s no way to guess where these were taken. It certainly doesn’t appear to have been a Best in Show quality arena show. Nor is it as entertaining as any given minute of the aforementioned Christopher Guest film. In point of fact, while a few of these stereoviews are passable, they’re mostly rubbish. Almost as if Stanley Long was ordered to create this series, and set about doing it as half-assedly as humanly possible. Probably after smoking something, and probably not something legal.
So why was this series popular?
This is a rhetorical question. Without qualification. Animals certainly appeal to children – but by the time “Dogs” made its debut, about 10 much better animal series already existed. Nor does it appear on the supply lists as a “Junior Interest” series, alongside Series 46 “The Circus” and the incredibly popular Series 25 “Locomotives”. Weetabix later released their own color lithographic dog cards, and children adored them. But the marketing materials do not list these as being for juniors – nor do they come in a red box. Rather, the series appears under “General Interest”. But it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, generally interesting. So as they say, I’ll show – and then tell. Instead of using the new gallery format, let’s have a brief word on each of these gems:
You might be thinking to yourself “Well, this is pretty bad, but it could be worse. Yeah, the rear dog detracts from the image, and the feet are distracting. But this isn’t so bad.” I’d respond by saying “you ain’t seen nothing yet”.
“Hey”, you’re probably thinking, “what is this guy on about? This is a pretty good stereoview, despite what is clearly blur from a water droplet on the right lens. Maybe this guy knows sod all about VistaScreen and he’s having us on. How dare he belittle Stanley Long’s obvious talent!” And at this point, since I can read your thoughts, I’ll flash a wicked grin, and then… WHAM! I’ll slap the following card into the viewer and force you to look:
I had a teacher at the horrible all-boys’ Jesuit school that I briefly attended named Father Stump. Father Stump hated it when we’d use the phrase “[noun] sucks” – he thought that it was crude and didn’t really express anything. Sorry Father – but this stereoview sucks. It has zero redeeming qualities. Not only are the two Dalmatians camouflaged against each other, but there’s a random amputated leg in the top-right, while the rear dog has had its face chopped off. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of space at bottom of frame to have waited 30 seconds, actually put in effort, and taken a decently composed shot of these dogs. My pre-teen nephew could do better than this. Blindfolded. It’s like Stanley Long is giving the two-finger salute to anybody who bought Series 49 “Dogs”. They even botched the title here – it should be “Dalmatians”.
Granted, it’s not as bad as the Dalmatians, but once again Stanley can’t even bother to hold his camera straight so as not to get a crooked shot. And the right-hand dog is chopped off at the tail, while there is plenty of open grass to the left.
Instead of having a guess at your thoughts on this one, I’m going to have a guess at the sheepdog’s thoughts. “Oh no! Stanley Long is about to take a terrible, straight-on photo of me when he could take a majestic three-quarters-turn! I’m going to avert my gaze and close my eyes, and maybe he’ll go away!”
Based on the caption and an initial look, I thought I was looking at an elderly two-headed dog, bizarrely hyper-stereo in the right hand corner of the frame. There’s part of me that still thinks that this is the case. But no, there are two poorly-photographed dogs in frame. And was VistaScreen incapable of pluralizing captions?
Perhaps VistaScreen should have released Series 49 “Dogs Blending Together” instead? We’re on card 7 of 10, and the only stereoview which has not had overlapping dogs… is the one that pictures a single dog. Did Long have somewhere to be? At least the caption is properly pluralized here.
This horrible stereoview was the evidence I needed to prove that these came from a dog show, which I had suspected from the variety of purebreds in the first seven. But once again, this is inept composition at best. By the time this was released, there were at least 100 sets in production – many of them very good. Not this view. With the 10 seconds it would have taken to take one step backwards, Stanley could have avoided the amputation of the Collie’s leg and the top of the man’s dome. But 10 seconds is apparently too much to ask for, at least for Series 49 “Dogs”.
Another view, another decapitation. ONE. STEP. BACKWARDS. STANLEY.
And we end on a high note! This is the best view in the lot. It is also likely from a different series on a different day. Note the lack of expanses of grass, and the ornate scenery. So if you like poodles enough to endure Camouflaged Dalmations, decapitated humans, and camera-shy sheepdogs, head on over to eBay, where there were two sets of Series 49 “Dogs” on sale as of the posting time of this article. I guess if you’re a poodle person, you gotta do what you gotta do!
So why post this nonsense?
1) To once again ask, why was this set so popular?
This time, it’s not rhetorical. I can’t see any reason for this to exist, let alone to be among the most heavily produced series released by VistaScreen. It lacks aesthetic value. It’s not entertaining in the least. We learn nothing whatsoever from these views. In terms of history, there is none – just a bunch of long-deceased canines. In terms of context, ditto. All we know is that there was a dog show with some expensive-looking dogs at it. We don’t know where, we don’t know when – this isn’t the sort of thing we can research. Maybe 1950s Brits were just easily amused? But even this doesn’t track. Every other VistaScreen series I’ve encountered has been more amusing than Series 49 “Dogs”. It’s just that awful. So I want to solicit your thoughts – leave a comment below, or, if you lack an account, contact me!
2) To form a rebuttal…
Yep, I scanned (10 minutes), processed (10 minutes), and anaglyphed (10 minutes) VistaScreen Series 49 “Dogs”. Then I spent an hour writing a post about it. An hour and a half of effort. Just to settle a bet. You see, this blog has spawned a number of long-running correspondences. And one of my long-time readers pointed out something brought up in last week’s Series C.48 “London Airport” post. And basically dared me to tender a response. This is said response.
A.F. pointed out that, while I found many flaws in the series on Heathrow Airport, I had justified – indeed, glorified – the existence of the views because of the historical context they provide. But when I posted Series C.73 “Chi-Chi the Giant Panda”, I basically just took the piss. Even the title asks the basic question: “Why does this even exist?” She answered the question quite cogently, and I will summarize her answer here concisely. If “London Airport” deserves attention despite its lack of a visually exciting or imagination-provoking stereography, then “Chi-Chi” deserves it just because it possesses those two things – to the right viewer.
What A.F. stumbled upon is my intrinsic bias towards interesting and historic subjects, even at the expense of fun. Men picking lice in the trenches, or body parts scattered across No Man’s Land – these interest me, because the Great War interests me. A single, presumably long-deceased panda from ZSL London Zoo is about as useless a subject as is possible – to me. But to a child, a panda enthusiast, or whatever, this would be a key set to have.
3) …to settle a bet.
My virtual friend had suitably proved her point. Upon reflection, she was too right. If I jumped on a £9 Series 25 “Locomotives” when I first discovered VistaScreen, then my own interest influenced my purchasing decision. Those regularly sell for £4-5. But when I admitted that I’d been wrong about “Chi-Chi”, A.F. claimed that by extension, any VistaScreen series must have merit to the right audience. I took this as a bet, or a dare. And then I remembered this series.
I submit that VistaScreen Series 49 “Dogs” is proof that some series – no matter how popular – are just intrinsically crap. Or at the very least, this one is. Even “Chi-Chi” has a majority of acceptable images, even if not to my taste. But these are not aesthetically pleasing. They have no historical intrigue. No documentary value. Even if you love dogs, I find it hard to believe that you’d find these interesting. The later cheap color dog lithographs from Weetabix were better than these, or at least more entertaining. Children collected them.
So while I can’t deny that a lot of people bought this set, I can’t help but imagine that most of them were disappointed when it arrived. Your turn, A.F. – just make an account under a fake name and post in the comments, or I’ll add an addendum when you acknowledge that I won the bet. And to the rest of you – I hope you have had some fun with the scrappy canines and my running commentary.
AMAZING VistaScreen Series 49 “Dogs” Anaglyphs
* There is no evidence that Stanley Long smoked anything, legal or otherwise, out of a pipe. But it’s fun to imagine, especially when looking at the stereoviews in VistaScreen Series 49 “Dogs”. Actually, they’d likely be much improved by the ingestion of any of a number of substances certainly not legal in 1950s England.