ARTISTIC VANDALISM! Ebert rails against cropped 4x3, Wonka DVD, and "stretch modes"

Rich Malloy

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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
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[Edited last by Al Brown on September 11, 2001 at 08:32 AM]
 

brentl

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I may not agree with many of his reviews, but he has always stood for proper sound and video during a movie.
Good man
LL cool B
 

Chris

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That's a different purpose altogether though; you aren't watching for entertainment sake.. hell, normally you aren't watching.
 

Patrick McCart

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"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."
He means the 16x9 version was cropped (correctly), isn't he? I know the "keep it simple" method, but this is a little elaborate.
I'll pay $100 to Ebert if he can present an anamorphic print of Wonka (not that I'm dissing him...he obviously just made a confusion of which format the film was shot in.).
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P.S.: There's no P.S.
 

cafink

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The 4:3 version of "Wonka" uses a bit of "open matte," and a bit of pan-and-scan. Parts of the movie are indeed missing. It might not be the case for every single scene in the film, but considering Ebert's audience and the scope of his report, I think his choice of words was approprate. This article was intended to inform people of the problem, not to educate them on every detail of transferring a soft-matted 1.85:1 film to video. The process is much to complex to describe perfectly in an article of this sort.
As for an "anamorphic print" of the movie, I'm not sure I understand what you're saying… If you're talking about film, then I can assure you that one doesn't exist (nor did Ebert claim it did), as "Wonka" is a 1.85:1 film and those aren't printed anamorphically. If you're talking about DVD, then not only does such a disc already exist, but a new version will be released in just a few weeks.
 

Dan M

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But aren't you SUPPOSED to watch 4:3 material in 'stretch' mode on a 16:9 to prevent burn in?
Unfortunately, that is a problem with RPTV's.

When it comes to movies, I still watch them in their correct OAR. I refuse to watch Gone With the Wind stretched or zoomed.

However, when it comes to the evening news or sports and even silly sitcoms that I really couldn't care less about, I use the full mode.

I've had my widescreen set for about 2 years now and I'm already experiencing a bit of 'burn in'. It's not very noticeable but it is there nonetheless. I refuse to aggrevate the problem any more than I have to.

My set cost waaaayy too much moola to allow burn in because of watching an Andy Griffith rerun. Sorry...
 

Richard Kim

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But aren't you SUPPOSED to watch 4:3 material in 'stretch' mode on a 16:9 to prevent burn in?

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Unfortunately, that is a problem with RPTV's.

When it comes to movies, I still watch them in their correct OAR. I refuse to watch Gone With the Wind stretched or zoomed.

However, when it comes to the evening news or sports and even silly sitcoms that I really couldn't care less about, I use the full mode.

I've had my widescreen set for about 2 years now and I'm already experiencing a bit of 'burn in'. It's not very noticeable but it is there nonetheless. I refuse to aggrevate the problem any more than I have to.

My set cost waaaayy too much moola to allow burn in because of watching an Andy Griffith rerun. Sorry...
Regarding burn in in RPTVs, isn't there a risk of burn from watching alot of 2.35:1 films?
 

Dan M

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Regarding burn in in RPTVs, isn't there a risk of burn from watching alot of 2.35:1 films?
Probably over time.

Any static image over a long period of time could eventually 'burn in'. That's why I try to watch a variety of movies with different aspect ratios.

When it comes to OAR regarding movies (which is my what I usually watch), this is a risk I'll just have to deal with. For me, it's about priorities.

The black bars on 2.35:1 movies are relatively small on a widesreen tv. There are no black bars on 1.85:1 movies. I have the Panny RP91 and, fortunately, it places black bars on the sides of 4:3 movies.

But since regular tv watching is secondary on my list of priorities (sitcoms,sports, news etc), I use the stretch mode now. The 4:3 mode grey bars have already begun to burn in. I even have the contrast set to a low setting.

Sometimes I'll watch tv on my old 19" tv in my bedroom to give my widescreen set a break
 

Todd H

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Anybody ever e-mailed an invite to Roger Ebert to join HTF? I think he would fit right in to our little forum.
 

Scott L

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Great article, glad to know there are people in the high-ups that feel the same way we do about OAR.
btw- Anyone notice the date in that article? If I remember correctly Ebert was stranded in Canada that day with all the flights being cancelled. Just a lil bit of trivia.
 

Eve T

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Very interesting article. I give Ebert two

Bravo my good man.
And thank you for the post Al Brown
Eve
 

JohnRice

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All I can say is HOLY SHIT!

Shows that ignorance even goes as far as the Guggenheim. That was a sad post. It also bothers me to still see what I perceive as "removing a soft mask is OK because you 'lose' any of the picture."
 

Chris Lynch

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But since regular tv watching is secondary on my list of priorities (sitcoms,sports, news etc), I use the stretch mode now. The 4:3 mode grey bars have already begun to burn in. I even have the contrast set to a low setting.
You know, I'm sure the engineers who design the 16x9 sets for their respective companies are real geniuses.

So who in the hell had the bright idea to make the vertical bars grey or white? I have no 16x9, but one of my friends has a panny, and it has white bars. Those engineers know that will burn into your picture. What were they thinking? Do they want you all to go out and buy a new one every...

I think I just figured it out. Guess I'm no genius.

Heres to hoping the manufacturers don't continue to do this.
 

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