Senior HTF Member
- Apr 9, 2000
I hold this truth to be self-evident, that all movies deserve to be seen in their original aspect ratios. Four recent events suggest that this truth is not universally evident:
In Chicago's Grant Park, a summer film festival holds free screenings on a big screen for as many as 10,000 movie lovers. The 2001 season began with "An American in Paris." Introducing the film, I was startled to discover that it was being shown in widescreen -- in what's called a 1.65-to-1 aspect ratio. But like almost all films made before 1954, "An American in Paris" was photographed in the 4:3 ratio, or pretty close to a square screen. By trimming the top and bottom of the original picture to artificially widen it, the projector was cutting off, among other things, Gene Kelly's feet. I learned that the entire season was planned for 1.65:1, despite the booking of such other 4:3 classics as "The Maltese Falcon," "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "Top Hat" -- with the cutting off of the even more sublime feet of Astaire and Rogers. Protesting, I learned this was not a mistake but a policy; the festival was being underwritten by HBO, and an HBO executive in New York had insisted on widescreen "so that people will not think we're showing television."
"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" came at last to DVD, in August 2001. Although it was shot in widescreen, it had its sides cropped off to make it into a 4:3 image. A Warner Home Video spokesperson told me: "It is in a full-frame format as research indicates that families prefer a full-frame presentation." In other words, "we have chopped off a third of the original picture so that what is left will fill your TV screen and not subject you to the torture of seeing the entire picture area in letterbox format."
At the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, there is an exhibit of video art by Nam June Paik. Paik's works include performance pieces from 1968-69 by Charlotte Moorman, the cellist who often performed topless. There is also a collaboration with John Cage in 1975. All of these pieces were obviously shot in the original video format of 4:3. They were being shown on new Samsung flat-panel widescreen video monitors, which have a ratio of 16:9. This was an opportunity for vertical letterboxing (black bands at the left and right, to preserve the original ratio in the center), but instead all of the films were being shown widescreen, meaning heads and feet were sometimes missing; one could occasionally hear Cage talking, but not see his mouth.
A friend in Manhattan showed off his new 16:9 widescreen HDTV. He was watching a golf tournament. He had the picture set to widescreen, although the program was being broadcast in 4:3. This created a stretching effect in which all of the golfers looked like the Michelin Man, and were hitting a little ball that was now oval instead of round. My friend wasn't missing any of the picture, but he was distorting it by stretching. Widescreen TVs have a setting allowing them to center a 4:3 picture. When I pointed this out, my friend replied serenely, "I like it that way. What's the use of spending all that money on a widescreen TV if you're not going to use it?"
My friend can do whatever he wants. It's his TV. The other three cases are incidents of artistic vandalism. I was dumbstruck by the depredations at the Guggenheim. An art museum would never obscure the top and bottom of a painting. If video art is art, then it must be treated as art, and seen as the artist made it.
TELL IT, ROG!!!
Complete article here: http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/feature/2001/09/11/ebert_widescreen/index.html
Al's DVD Collection
Al's Criterion Collection
[Edited last by Al Brown on September 11, 2001 at 08:32 AM]