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Sabrina (1954) Fullscreen or Widescreen?


cmovieviewer
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Last night TCM was showing the Audrey Hepburn film Sabrina (1954), and I noticed that the aspect ratio used for this presentation was essentially the full 16x9 HD format.  I may be wrong, but by my recollection TCM has previously shown Sabrina in the regular ‘fullscreen’ (nearly 4x3) format aspect ratio.  Per my own modest records, I don’t think TCM has shown Sabrina since 2016, so last night might have been the first time the widescreen format was used on the channel.  This got me to wondering how Sabrina was presented originally and what would be the “best” format to watch.

After some research, it appears that Sabrina was one of the first Paramount films to be shown in theaters with a widescreen format, with the changeover happening while Sabrina was being filmed.  I’ve also read that director Billy Wilder and cinematographer Charles Lang used an “open matte” process for filming, which was directly converted into the 4x3 fullscreen format we have watched in prior years.

As an example, here is a scene taken from a DVD:

KrbNfjQ.jpg

And the corresponding scene from last night:

f05shEB.jpg

To me it looks like the widescreen format is largely achieved by lopping off the top and bottom of the frame.  And my own humble opinion is that the composition shown in the 4x3 format is more visually appealing and has all the extra detail in the shot that has been removed from the widescreen format.

Of course, the example I show is somewhat misleading because on a TV set the 4x3 fullscreen image will have black bars on the left and right sides of an HD TV.  But even though Billy Wilder likely intended the widescreen format to be used for presenting the film, I have to say that I actually prefer the fullscreen format.  What do you think?

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I hadnt noticed the difference, but I thought the choice of the film to highlight Edith Head was ridiculous. She stole the Oscar that year. She designed the casual Sabrina outfits, but the reason the film won was for the 3 big gowns designed by Givenchy for which she took the credit!

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20 hours ago, cmovieviewer said:

[snip]

And my own humble opinion is that the composition shown in the 4x3 format is more visually appealing and has all the extra detail in the shot that has been removed from the widescreen format.

Of course, the example I show is somewhat misleading because on a TV set the 4x3 fullscreen image will have black bars on the left and right sides of an HD TV.  But even though Billy Wilder likely intended the widescreen format to be used for presenting the film, I have to say that I actually prefer the fullscreen format.  What do you think?

Are you by any chance watching this on a 4:3 TV set? 

I would agree that a 4:3 TV set displays 4:3 content better than it does 16:9 content.  A 4:3 TV is essentially "zooming out" the image in order to accomodate a 16:9 image, so of course it will render less detail.

An HD screen shouldn't have as big of a difference between the two, as it will essentially be filling most of the screen (not zooming out, or zooming out less), unless the content is at some very wide aspect ratio like 2.40:1 or 2.55:1.  Even then a 16:9 HD TV would be an improvement over a 4:3 TV.

P.S. I just checked the aspect ratio for Sabrina.  It is 1.75:1, which is about as perfect a match as you will get for a 16:9 TV (1.78:1).  So it should fill the screen perfectly.  That is without some absurd amount of letterboxing, windowboxing, or whatever else.  So you shouldn't be seeing less detail, if it is close to the TV's native aspect ratio and it fills the screen.

On another tangent, where applicable, I have found the HD feed to usually about equivalent to a high-quality store-bought DVD.  The SD feed is derivative of that, never at the same picture quality.  Seen through a 4:3 SD TV though, one may not be able to discern a difference.

Just my own experiences, I didn't catch this airing.

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PPS Just had a closer look at your pictures.  I must admit I didn't notice the difference before, I was looking for differences in detail.  Now I see what you are talking about.  The widescreen image is cut off on the top and bottom, relative to the fullscreen DVD.  In that case I'd rather have the image from the DVD.  That's probably even from the same exact content, just "framed" for widescreen.

Everything I said above still applies to this and in general, just not to their "framing".

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For what it's worth, I believe Anatomy of a Murder was released in both widescreen and 4:3 formats.  (And I suppose there are other such movies from that transition time as well, although Anatomy, from 1959, is kind of late in the transition.) 

Several years ago, I noticed that TCM was showing a widescreen version of Anatomy.  I compared a particular shot from TCM's version to my old DVD, which was in 4:3, and found that, like Sabrina's two versions, the widescreen version had been created by lopping off the top and bottom of the 4:3 frame.  (Criterion's excellent newer disc of Anatomy uses the widescreen version.)

If I remember correctly, I found some documentation online that Anatomy was released in two versions -- probably like other movies of the time -- so that it could be shown in theaters with and without wide screens.

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To be fair, I made an approximation of what the fullscreen image looks like on my TV at the same size as the widescreen picture above.

l2oZGEX.jpg

So to watch the fullscreen version you have to be willing to accept the black bars on the sides.

I think for other movies the widescreen version can have additional parts of the image that are not present in the fullscreen version, so there wouldn’t be the same case for picking the 4x3 image over the 16x9 image.

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42 minutes ago, cmovieviewer said:

To be fair, I made an approximation of what the fullscreen image looks like on my TV at the same size as the widescreen picture above.

l2oZGEX.jpg

So to watch the fullscreen version you have to be willing to accept the black bars on the sides.

I think for other movies the widescreen version can have additional parts of the image that are not present in the fullscreen version, so there wouldn’t be the same case for picking the 4x3 image over the 16x9 image.

Exactly.  I watch so many other movies that have the complete 4:3 content in the middle of a 16:9 screen.  What makes this movie any different.

It just sounds like this was filmed before they switched over to using actual widescreen camera film.

Still I don't see the point in them releasing two different versions for projection from the same master, creating more SKUs for themselves, when all they had to do was call for the theater to make these adjustments on the projector, but maybe even that wouldn't have been possible on the most common projector equipment at that time.  So maybe it was a short-term workaround.

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