NEW YORK POST
23 October 2013 by Tim Donnelly
Long before 3-D was forced into every movie from “Avatar” to “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” Victorian-era households had their own creepy 3-D fun.
No one knows that better than Brian May — yes, that Brian May, the founding member of Queen and all-around guitar god. May, who has earned a Ph.D. and written several books between gigs offering epic arena rock riffs, just released the tome “Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell.” It shows nearly 200 Victorian 3-D images depicting macabre scenes of skeletons, Satan and satirical snapshots of life in eternal damnation.
And it comes with a foldable stereoscope to allow readers to see the wild images May has collected in 3-D. (You won’t believe the skeletons’ blazing red eyes staring at you from the page.)
Stereoscopic images were a marvel of technology when they first debuted in 1860s Paris. The effect is simple but mesmerizing: Two photos of the same subject are taken from slightly different angles and placed side by side. When viewed through a stereoscope, the images blend, creating a 3-D effect.
For the Diableries, French artist Pierre Adolph Hennetier created sculpture tableaux portraying Satan and his captured souls in various states of revelry, torture or pageantry, and he photographed different sections for the stereo cards.
“The sculptures are so wonderful and the compositions are so adventurous,” May tells The Post. “I love the fact that, magically, they transform when you hold them up to the light.”
Calling them “high art,” Mays says, “I think they are absolutely saturated with, not only beauty and invention, but meaning as well.”
May, 66, has been fascinated with Diableries since he stumbled upon one while digging through piles of junk at the Portobello Road Market in West London in the late ’60s. He asked around, but nobody knew quite what the card filled with the devil and skeletons was. Eventually, he traveled to Paris to dig for more information.
“I was again fascinated. That fascination never left me,” he says. “I was really passionate about this. I was always looking for this stuff. It was a mission.”
May kept collecting them, eventually snaring the entire original series of more than 180 Diableries. He met other fans of the rare art form and they started compiling images for the hefty book, which was published by the London Stereoscopic Company on Oct. 19 and costs $42, he wrote with Denis Pellerin and Paula Fleming.
The guitarist says the imagery reflects the mood of France between 1860 and 1890, when the Diableries were created — the country was besot with oppression and heavily influenced by church teachings of the afterlife.
“That period in French history isn’t ever taught at the world at large, and it’s hardly ever taught in France either,” he says. “It was a dark time, a time of great censorship and great oppression.”
Almost all of the images, May says, have hidden satirical messages poking fun at the ruling class and the emperor’s family. One titled “The Lottery in Hell,” for instance, depicts skeletons holding up the winning numbers for Satan’s own lottery, a shot at the corrupt French lotteries of the era.
“It’s a real treasure trove of indicators as to what was going on at the time in people’s heads,” he says.
May is around New York City this week to promote the book, published by the London Stereoscopic Company, but he won’t be focused on it for too much longer: He and his bandmates are in talks about doing another Queen tour this year — playing what in the early days of rock ’n’ roll was derided as the devil’s music. The band’s last big show was at the closing of the London Olympics last year.
“As soon as you press that Queen button, life really does change,” May says. “You get sucked back into the vortex. Queen is all-consuming.”