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A Threat To Movie Legacies As Serious As Pan-And-Scan


dialoguy
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Pan and Scan was introduced because widescreen (letterbox) movies did not fit into the more or less square frame of tv sets, which themselves had been designed to hold an image like most movies of the era, about 1.33:1. (4:3) As tv screens became larger it became practicable to show widescreen formats within that square set, and this was called "letterboxing" and it developed a great many supporters among the knowledgeable or discriminating. It has been strongly supported by the TCM community.

 

New televisions are almost entirely widescreen these days, and most broadcasts, whether cable or otherwise, offer an HD version that fits the now standard 16:9 format . So now we have a new problem which is that films that properly fit a 4:3 format are clipped top and bottom to fit the new 16:9 format!

 

A primary example of this is Bonnie and Clyde which was released in a classically "square" format in 1967 but which now is described almost universally as having been a letterbox movie (on the TCM Website as well), but that is not so! An early DVD release was a two-sided affair, with the 1.33 on one side and the 1.85 on the other. The square pic had the traditional disclaimer -- cropped to suit the tv -- but that was inappropriate; the disclaimer should have been on the letterbox version. The latest "Anniversary" release includes only the letterbox version, cut off above and below.

 

And of course this leads to an amazing confusion, where Netflix users turn off the movie when they see the disclaimer and demand the letterbox version -- they won't be fooled! But they are being fooled.

 

I imagine Bonnie and Clyde is not an isolated instance. Packagers want to fill the new wide screen because viewers like to see it filled. Please, make this a real concern in the TCM community. This is just as serious a violation of the filmmaker's intent as pan-and-scan.

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Of course, it's possible that Bonnie and Clyde was filmed open-matte, with the 1.85:1 theatrical radio in mind. The studios pretty much abandoned the old Academy Ratio after 1953, although some movies have continued to be filmed with an open matte, but with the intention that they be projected 1.85:1 in theaters.

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Whoa! I was almost nineteen when I saw Bonnie and Clyde in August, 1967. Like many of my generation, I was stunned by the film. I was just going into NYU's film school and it was one of the most talked-about films of the day. EVERYONE recognized it as a major change in the direction of American film. I saw the film many, many, many times... I am not telling you something I've deduced or gathered, I am telling you what is the case: Bonnie and Clyde was never a widescreen film, period. There was a light matte that was sometimes used and sometimes not, that served the purpose of very slightly taking off the top and bottom, that served, for instance, to hide Faye Dunaway's underwear in the opening scene, but it was nothing that would take away from the essential squareness of the image.

 

Here, try this simple test. Watch the credits, which are very simple, alternating names with photos "from the period," each one matted with a white border and very precisely placed. There are some pictures that sit in "portrait" mode (emphasizing the vertical) and others that are "landscape" oriented. These latter look equally fine in the widescreen and fullscreen formats, But the "portrait" images, centered on the screen, are cut off -- the white matte at the edges -- top and bottom with the letterboxing. Look at it! Rather than formally centered in the center of square black screen, it is truncated, chopped -- mutilated, by the letterboxing. Do you really imagine this was the graphic plan? That the film was shot to include the fully matted photo, but with the intention of cutting it off?

 

Of course not. Instead of trying to explain away what's being said here, the point is to become AWARE, and press the issue.

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Actually, this is not always quite true. I do agree that if someone were to just take a pan and scan image and crop it to make a letterbox, that person should be shot (and there have been instances of it).

 

However, I myself discovered that what used to be on VHS and DVD as 4x3 size and letterbox, where it looked like the letterbox version was just a cropped version, turned out to be the 4x3 was some kind of special print that showed more on top and bottom than theatrically released. A case in point is another WB film, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. There is a scene where Pee-Wee is pulling out a chain from the side compartment of his bike, and the gag is supposed to be that it keeps coming and coming and coming, far beyond what could fit in the compartment. The way it was released theatrically, it cuts the image off near the bottom of the compartment, so we don't see everything. However, that scene on the 4x3 home video version showed more top and bottom and we could Pee-Wee pulling the chain from the compartment, which was coming from the ground and up through the compartment which obviously had no bottom.

 

I recall writing to WB way back then about something similar with All the President's Men and they wrote back that the 4x3 prints were showing more than theatrically shown.

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Re: hamradio's post, 11:58...

Just as no amount of clicking and adjusting can make a pan and scan Ben-Hur reveal its widescreen self, just so can you not, no matter how you adjust the aspect ratio, discover the top and bottom of a fullscreen image that's been hacked into widescreen. The point is: there is a loss, and it is the loss of the director's original intention.

 

Edited by: dialoguy on May 21, 2010 1:08 PM

 

Edited by: dialoguy on May 21, 2010 1:40 PM

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Re: filmlover's post, 12:01...

I'm not sure what you're saying is "not always quite true." Yes, there is often a "safety" area within the 35mm frame wherein can often be found hanging microphones and the like, and so there is a matte that should be placed in the projector that trims off just that area. It does not make the picture widescreen. And, yes, a faithful transfer of such a film would do well to matte the safety area just as was done in theatrical projection. However, none of that is really relevant to the question here at hand, that a classic film, blessed by the Library of Congress, has been distorted and damaged by a careless attempt to make it "fit" the modern tv screen

 

Edited by: dialoguy on May 21, 2010 1:09 PM

 

Edited by: dialoguy on May 21, 2010 1:42 PM

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Well, let me ask where you got the information that it was more square shaped in 1967? Yes, I read your posts below, but do you have some source like the Academy or the AFI to say it was not 1.85:1? Some actual records that we can verify? I saw the film when it first came out but I don't recall the exact frame size.

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Re: filmlover's post, 2:03...

Okay, that's something of a fair question. Where I got the information was in watching the movie so many times, when it first came out and subsequently over the 40+ years since. When it first came out I was a film student at NYU and thought it was one of the most important films of American cinema; I saw it certainly 20 times [!] in that first year, at many theaters, sometimes sitting with notebook in hand, taking notes on the editing and the shooting. I interviewed the late Dede Allen in 1968 about her editing work, and later worked with her assistant, Jerry Greenberg, and so on.

 

None of this can provide a link or a bibliographical reference. It's a shockingly old man's (61!) memory; is it unreliable? I've spent 30+ years handling film in editing rooms, and I'm very comfortable with the 35mm frame, and know how mattes work in a projector. This is my business, and this film has a special place in my view of the craft and art.

 

I remember well going to different theaters and wondering at the beginning whether the matte would be in place to cover Bonnie's underwear, and sometimes it was not. But the difference between one and the other was not the difference between 1.33 and 1.85. I remember well conversations with a projectionist friend who talked about that matte and also (frowning) his cranking up the sound at the movie's climax.

 

It's frustrating that even on this site the aspect ratio is said to be 1.85. Even intimidating. But I have a clear memory, and (if you look at my 11:54 post -- ET) the very clear evidence of the cropped photos in the opening title sequence... I am looking around for clearer evidence -- something that would be irrefutable, but meanwhile I am confident enough to take this stand, because it seems to me quite important, no different at all from the pan-and-scan issue, but perhaps harder to certify...

 

Thanks for asking.

 

Edited by: dialoguy on May 21, 2010 2:27 PM

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A couple of years ago I noticed a TCM print of ?The Man Between? (1953) in which the tops of heads and bottoms of chins in close-ups were cut off in the wide-screen print. Being a film and video cameraman, that told me that the film had been shot in the Academy ?square? ratio and later cropped top and bottom for an artificial ?wide-screen? release print.

 

I found a copy of the original square Academy format on YouTube.

 

Months later, TCM aired a different print, in which the right and left sides of the wide-screen version had been cropped off, giving us an artificial ?Academy ratio? that was actually cropped on all four sides (top, bottom, right, left), since this print had been made NOT from the original camera negative, but from a wide-screen cropped version, and now the ears, as well as the tops of heads and bottom of chins were cut off.

 

So, there are now three versions of that film available: 1) the original Academy ?square? print, 2) the top and bottom cropped ?wide-screen? print, and 3) the top and bottom and both sides-cropped artificial ?Academy? square format.

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We also saw an odd version of ?Li'l Abner? (1959). If I remember correctly, it was a letterbox version of the movie, but made as an anamorphic optical print from the original spherical ?square? Academy camera negative, which caused the original square format to be stretched outward toward the right and left sides. This had the effect of making everyone in the film look short and fat, and at the top edge of the screen some of the studio lights could be seen in the frame.

 

Apparently this film was shot on regular film with regular wide-angle lenses, and was intended to be matted down for the wide-screen effect, with the top and bottom cut off. But someone had made a print assuming it was a ?squeezed? anamorphic negative, so they ?unsqueezed? it to stretch it out to letterbox. But it was NOT a squeezed anamorphic negative, it was a standard Academy square negative shot with wide-angle lenses, intended to be matted down for printing and projection.

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It seems awfully unlikely to me that theaters in 1967 would be willing to show a film in Academy ratio, or in fact even be able to do so properly. The Academy ratio-shaped screens and the projection lenses of the proper focal length to fill them would have been long gone. Lenses that filled the wide screens would have an unmatted image spilling over the top and bottom. The only other option would be to have a lens that projected a smaller image, but it would be just that, a small image centered on the wide screen, which would not go over with audiences by then accustomed to, and expecting, a screen-filling image. Given that, it's hard to believe that a filmmaker would deliberately frame a film for a screen format it wouldn't be exhibited in.

 

One definitive piece of evidence would be to locate a period theatrical print and see where the reel-change marks were. In the Academy ratio days they were in the upper right corner. Matted widescreen films had them about a third of the way down the right edge. That's what gives away the incorrect A.R. of "There's Always Tomorrow," a 1956 film in the recent Barbara Stanwyck DVD collection.

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OK Everyone,

 

I'm not the geek that would allow me to comment on the situation from a personal position but I know how to use this website.

 

Accoding to the AFI Notes for the film, *Bonnie And Clyde* was released in 1967 in a format designated 1.85:1. Hopefully some of you can make sense of that number. I can't.

 

Also, go to the TCMDatabase page for *Bonnie And Clyde* and see for yourself what the film will look like on a standard TV set and a flat-panel television. TCM has thoughtfully provided visual aids.

 

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title.jsp?stid=24779&category=Theatrical%20Aspect%20Ratio'>http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title.jsp?stid=24779&category=Theatrical%20Aspect%20Ratio

 

(If the above link doesn't work, use this general link and choose "Theatrical Aspect Ratio" from the menu on the left-hand side. http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title.jsp?stid=24779 )

 

Kyle In Hollywood

 

 

ps - On July 23rd, TCM will show *Bonnie And Clyde* once again so one can make a more informed judgement on whether the film is legitimately a "widescreen" film.

 

Edited by: hlywdkjk on May 21, 2010 6:48 PM

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> {quote:title=tterrace wrote:}{quote}

> It seems awfully unlikely to me that theaters in 1967 would be willing to show a film in Academy ratio, or in fact even be able to do so properly. The Academy ratio-shaped screens and the projection lenses of the proper focal length to fill them would have been long gone. Lenses that filled the wide screens would have an unmatted image spilling over the top and bottom. The only other option would be to have a lens that projected a smaller image, but it would be just that, a small image centered on the wide screen, which would not go over with audiences by then accustomed to, and expecting, a screen-filling image. Given that, it's hard to believe that a filmmaker would deliberately frame a film for a screen format it wouldn't be exhibited in....

 

 

Wow. This is almost scary. The vision that's laid out in these notes suggest that film education today is seriously awry. It is not the case that the introduction in the 'fifties of widescreen formats (VistaVision, CinemaScope, Cinerama and so on...) led quite quickly to the total elimination of the standard format. I'm picturing the Coronet Theater of that era, an East Side theater in New York, on an unusual block of theaters, that included as well the Baronet, Cinema I and Cinema II. They all had essentially the same screen concept which was wide, yes, but they had little black runners that ran down the wall when a standard format was required, as it often was. Yes, the wide screen was a popular format, but directors and producers made decisions about these things, and in their bag of tricks was, oh look, the 1.33 format.

 

The Ziegfield Theater, I seem to recall, showed with good results Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon in exactly this format, in 1975. How did they do it? And let me ask you this: How would a theater show Barry Lyndon re-released today? Do you really think they'd be stumped by the challenge? How do you imagine all those foreign films that were so very often in standard format get shown; and how are they shown today, in theaters like the Film Forum in New York... and how does the TCM Film Festival possibly show old films from the glory days?

 

What are you talking about? It's annoying, but I suppose it flows from a horrible ignorance. We've devoted too much time to talking about the old 'twenties movie palaces, and forgotten to describe at all the movie-going experiences of a more recent distant past... You are so wrong in your image of that time... So wrong about the films of that era... How very sad, and very odd.

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>>Lenses that filled the wide screens would have an unmatted image spilling over the top and bottom. The only other option would be to have a lens that projected a smaller image, but it would be just that, a small image centered on the wide screen, which would not go over with audiences by then accustomed to, and expecting, a screen-filling image.

 

The theaters that I attended in the NYC area had curtains that "masked" the screen in a manner appropriate for the particular presentation. Once in a while someone would screw up and we would get a widescreen film drifting over onto the curtains which should have been opened up. But the roar of a loud Brooklyn audience was hard to ignore and it never lasted more than a minute or two.

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> {quote:title=dialoguy wrote:}{quote}

> Bonnie and Clyde was never a widescreen film, period. There was a light matte that was sometimes used and sometimes not, that served the purpose of very slightly taking off the top and bottom, that served, for instance, to hide Faye Dunaway's underwear in the opening scene, but it was nothing that would take away from the essential squareness of the image.

 

I think it depends on what you mean by "widescreen'. If you mean anamorphic widescreen, I absolutely agree with you. But if you mean it to include 1.85:1, then I wouldn't be so sure. It's possible the director shot open matte, but intended it to be shown at 1.85:1 in theaters - and that some projectionists accidentally showed the entire, unmatted image. I've seen this happen in revival houses recently.

 

I'll take a look at the opening credits next time it's on, but right now I'm still not convinced that the movie might not have been filmed with an open matte but intended to be shown masked to 1.85:1.

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Jack Theakston and Bob Furmanek are two widely-recognized, authoritative film historians and researchers who frequently post on a number of popular film-oriented forums. They not only do primary research on film photography and exhibition but are also film archivists and restorers. Google either of their names plus the term "aspect ratio" and you'll find many of their writings on the subject. Both have demonstrated that not only had all the studios mandated widescreen photography for all their productions starting in 1953, but that by the end of 1954 95% of the nation's theaters had completed the conversion to widescreen exhibition. I'll just cite one representative quote from Theakston made in 2008 on Dave Kehr's blog:

 

"And speaking of 1954, it?s interesting to note that by January of 1954, according to trade magazines at the time, 54% of the nations theaters had already or were planning to go wide-screen. The number was almost 95% by the end of the year, with the remaining 5% being theaters running 16mm and foreign features.

 

Was it possible that these theaters could run multiple ratios? Yes, all it meant was raising in the masking and curtains and changing the lenses. But by the late ?50s, with all US studios shooting for wide-screen, there was no use for a 1.37 lens other than re-issues, and many theaters didn?t carry them. If you were in a rutt, you could use the prime lens on your ?scope lens, but that is a difficult thing to do."

 

Do that Google search and you'll find plenty of other posts by both that go into greater detail.

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> {quote:title=tterrace wrote:}{quote}

> Jack Theakston and Bob Furmanek are two widely-recognized, authoritative film historians and researchers who frequently post on a number of popular film-oriented forums. They not only do primary research on film photography and exhibition but are also film archivists and restorers.

>

I know both of those guys, and yes, they know their stuff!

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> {quote:title=tterrace wrote:}{quote}

> Jack Theakston and Bob Furmanek are two widely-recognized, authoritative film historians... have demonstrated that not only had all the studios mandated widescreen photography for all their productions starting in 1953, but that by the end of 1954 95% of the nation's theaters had completed the conversion to widescreen exhibition. ....

 

This thread has moved into a weird area. From wondering whether Bonnie and Clyde was or was not a widescreen film, we have moved on to asserting that ONLY widescreen movies were made after, say, 1955! I am sure the conversion to widescreen theatrical capacity was as you indicate, but I know from my own life experience -- what I lived! -- that standard format (squarish, whether it's 1:33, or 1:37 or whatever, reasonably contained by the format of a regular television) films were made long after 1954, 1964 and even today!

 

I'll look around to find the interesting list of these things. My POINT is that any such list is suspect in a world where widescreen automatically means "authentic."

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You seem to be neglecting the fact that variable-ratio movies do exist. As I've mentioned many times, some movies are shot with open matte but framed to be shown 1.85:1 in theaters.

 

Movies filmed in Super 35 can be shown in anything from 2.35:1 ratio in theaters (although they're not true anamorphic widescreen films) and also in 1.33:1 for old-fashioned TV sets (and obviously they can also be framed for HDTV or in 1.85:1).

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> {quote:title=HollywoodGolightly wrote:}{quote}

> You seem to be neglecting the fact that variable-ratio movies do exist. As I've mentioned many times, some movies are shot with open matte but framed to be shown 1.85:1 in theaters.

>

> Movies filmed in Super 35 can be shown in anything from 2.35:1 ratio in theaters (although they're not true anamorphic widescreen films) and also in 1.33:1 for old-fashioned TV sets (and obviously they can also be framed for HDTV or in 1.85:1).

 

If by "variable-ratio" you mean "projectionist's choice" I do deny their existence, yes. If you mean films are made filling the whole 35mm frame but intended by the director to be masked in some single way, then that is so. But my point here has been that Bonnie and Clyde was meant -- by the director! -- to be shown in a way that was not 1.85 or anything that might be called widescreen.

 

Super 35? What has that got to do with anything? Yes, yes, a 35mm frame -- any image! -- can be masked in an infinite number of ways, but the director has chosen ONE way, and that is the way DVD distributors and TCM should choose as well. Do you disagree with that?

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> {quote:title=hlywdkjk wrote:}{quote}

> Accoding to the AFI Notes for the film, *Bonnie And Clyde* was released in 1967 in a format designated 1.85:1. Hopefully some of you can make sense of that number. I can't.

 

 

1.85:1 means 1.85 to 1, which means that if the wide-screen picture was 18.5 feet wide, it would be 10 feet high.

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I checked IMDb, and although they list Bonnie and Clyde as 1.85:1, they say it was filmed in 35m spherical. So, it was not made in anamorphic wide screen.

 

A couple of other comments - as to almost all films after 1955 being in wide screen, that is just BS, no matter what authority says it, and every TCM aficionado should know that well. Sure, most are WS, but there are plenty that are not, and you can see them on TCM. Then, there is the 1.66:1 aspect ratio. It was quite popular back in the 60s, not just in Europe. Even today, it isn't unusual to see a documentary shot in 35mm spherical, with the academy ratio.

 

I know little about projection in the modern multiplex, but in regular theaters, and we still have a couple here, the aspect ratio that you see on the screen is, in part, determined by the aperture plate. They have different aperture plates for different ratios. Lenses are either anamorphic, or spherical, and different lenses are used for different "throws," or the distance to the screen. So, there is no problem showing an academy ratio film, 1.37:1, using the correct spherical lens, and aperture plate combination.

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Note to everyone:

 

A wide-screen film of the ?spherical? kind, is basically a normal film, shot in the old Academy ratio of l to 1.33 or 1.36, except that wide-angle lenses are used to shoot it. These are normal wide-angle lenses, not special ones.

 

That allows for the ?matting down? of the film gate during printing or projection, so that the very top and bottom of the frame is masked off in long wide strips, and they don?t appear on the movie screen or TV screen at all.

 

It would be like taking any old Academy movie and masking it for letterbox. Except that can?t be done with old movies without cutting out a significant portion of the top 1/4 and bottom 1/4 of the film.

 

In other words, ?Casablanca? could be converted into a wide-screen film by matting the frame and by cutting off the top 1/4 and the bottom 1/4. But no one wants to do that, since the film was shot with normal lenses, rather than with all wide-angle lenses, and the stuff at the top and bottom is just as important as anything else in the film.

 

The only old Academy film I can think of right now that was artificially matted down like that was ?Gone With the Wind?, for the 1970s ?wide-screen? theatrical version of the film. They tried to turn it into a kind of ?Cinemascope? film, simply by matting off the top 1/4 and bottom 1/4 of every scene, which was a silly thing to do.

 

The term ?spherical? refers to a basic old-fashioned lens which is shaped like a slice out of a sphere. An ?anamorphic? lens is oval. Vertically it acts like a normal lens but horizontally it acts like a wide-angle lens.

 

(the links aren't working today)

 

Anamorphic lens:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Scope_Aperture.jpg

 

Film shot with an anamorphic lens:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Anamorphic_lens_illustration_with_stretching.jpg

 

Film shot with a wide-angle ?spherical? lens but matted down before projection:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Anamorphic_lens_illustration_without_stretching.jpg

The top 1/4 and bottom 1/4 of the image is simply covered up with a black mask, a ?matte?.

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