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Aspect Ratio Documentation (1 Viewer)

Bob Furmanek

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Many people utilize either IMDB or TCM as their research tools for determining the intended widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. As the recent discussion of PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE illustrates, these sites are not always accurate. To determine the correct aspect ratio (the one intended by the director and cinematographer while composing each shot) you have to look at the studio policy and date of production. I've been doing this research since 1990 and have been able to accurately document the intended ratio of all fifty 3-D features from the 1950's. I believe in doing original research with documented, primary source materials. I've gone through hundreds of industry trade journals (Boxoffice, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, American Cinematographer, Exhibitor, Motion Picture Herald, etc) as well as studio documents such as Daily Production Reports and minutes of the Daily Committee Meetings at the various studios. From this research, I've been able to accurately determine when the various studios switched over to widescreen cinematography. Paramount was the first major studio to go 100% widescreen (1.66 was their house ratio) on March 24, 1953.
 

RolandL

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IMDB has a lot of errors. I forget the movie title, it must have been a Cinerama film, they had the aspect ratio as 3.99:1.
 

Bob Furmanek

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32db9aca_Paramount166BO51653.jpeg

Many theaters around the country began installing widescreens in the summer of 1953 and that's why quite a few academy ratio titles (Shane, War of the Worlds, etc) were shown wide although not composed for that ratio.
In determining which is correct, it's most important to document the dates of principal photography in relation to the studio policy. Case in point, the 3 Stooges short GOOF ON THE ROOF. Although filmed November 17-20, 1952 and meant for 1.37, it sat on the shelf until December 3, 1953 and was then shown 1.85 which is not correct.
 

Bob Furmanek

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john a hunter said:
This was presumably before the introduction of VistaVision which saw their preferred A.R move to 1.85:1, I believe.
Yes, WHITE CHRISTMAS didn't start production until September 1953.
 

I'm always concerned about how 1.37/1.33 films are framed for home release. Do the studios have some kind of equipment to make sure they are framing the films properly? The Citizen Kane UK dvd shows more image on the right (especially during the "News on the March" segment in which a headline reading "dies after illness of months" is shown. On the US blu-ray and previous dvd, it reads "dies after illness of month.") One little letter changes part of the meaning of the headline. Was he sick for a month or months? Is this because the UK version wasn't centered? I guess what I'm asking is, what is the criteria for framing the film? Is it to center the image? Is it to crop the left where the soundtrack would have been? Which framing is correct?
 

rsmithjr

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When I was a projectionist, the standard policy was to use whichever lenses/aperture plates/screen masking would result in getting the most image on the film. If the print was 133, we displayed it in 133, regardless of what the "intended" AR was.
We had a complete set of items to support AR from 133 to 255 (35mm only) and were proud of this approach.
 

Mark-P

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Well weren't you a naughty projectionist :D I'll bet there were a lot of exposed boom mikes and crew equipment in your presentations.
rsmithjr said:
When I was a projectionist, the standard policy was to use whichever lenses/aperture plates/screen masking would result in getting the most image on the film. If the print was 133, we displayed it in 133, regardless of what the "intended" AR was.
We had a complete set of items to support AR from 133 to 255 (35mm only) and were proud of this approach.
 

Peter Apruzzese

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rsmithjr said:
When I was a projectionist, the standard policy was to use whichever lenses/aperture plates/screen masking would result in getting the most image on the film. If the print was 133, we displayed it in 133, regardless of what the "intended" AR was.
We had a complete set of items to support AR from 133 to 255 (35mm only) and were proud of this approach.
Why wouldn't you have wanted to show the films properly? Was it just to have a larger - though obviously wrong - image? Whoever came up with that policy ruined many films and hurt the audience's ability to enjoy them as the makers intended.
 

Mark B

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Absolutely, Peter.
I've been a victim of ignorant projection on many occasions: PSYCHO, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, TO CATCH A THIEF, CABARET, BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, and many more were shown without mattes in a revival house I used to frequent. It was a waste of my time and money and really destroyed the experience. It got to the point where I only attended films shot in Scope, because they couldn't screw those up.
 

Bob Furmanek

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rsmithjr said:
When I was a projectionist, the standard policy was to use whichever lenses/aperture plates/screen masking would result in getting the most image on the film. If the print was 133, we displayed it in 133, regardless of what the "intended" AR was.
We had a complete set of items to support AR from 133 to 255 (35mm only) and were proud of this approach.
I knew someone with the same mindset. If there was an image on the print, he wanted to see it. We were often treated to microphones, stage lights, tops of sets and in one unique showing, the missing top of a rocketship. He ran a 35mm open matte print of HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL and when the exterior of the rocket is shown, it only went up about 8 feet off the ground!
Of course, the big difference is that we were seeing these flaws in private basement screenings. If a theater were to run the films this way for the general public, that would be wrong.
Bob
 

Gromilini

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Bob Furmanek said:
To determine the correct aspect ratio (the one intended by the director and cinematographer while composing each shot) you have to look at the studio policy and date of production. I've been doing this research since 1990 and have been able to accurately document the intended ratio of all fifty 3-D features from the 1950's.
I believe in doing original research with documented, primary source materials.
I've gone through hundreds of industry trade journals (Boxoffice, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, American Cinematographer, Exhibitor, Motion Picture Herald, etc) as well as studio documents such as Daily Production Reports and minutes of the Daily Committee Meetings at the various studios.
Bob
Bob, given the inaccuracies of TCM and IMDB, have you considered creating a database of reliable, researched and verified aspect ratios? It seems like a single, authoritative site to consult is crying out to be created--and it's one I'd bookmark in a heartbeat.
 

Bob Furmanek

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We've talked about it but considering the amount of time it would take, nobody has stepped up to the plate.
I've got the 3-D titles done, but there's many more that would need to be properly researched.
Bob
 

MatthewA

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Originally Posted by Mark B /t/319469/aspect-ratio-research#post_3909023
Absolutely, Peter.
I've been a victim of ignorant projection on many occasions: PSYCHO, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, TO CATCH A THIEF, CABARET, BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, and many more were shown without mattes in a revival house I used to frequent. It was a waste of my time and money and really destroyed the experience. It got to the point where I only attended films shot in Scope, because they couldn't screw those up.
That's pretty sad, but I know of a theatre that showed Academy ratio films in 1.85:1 because they didn't have the ability to get it right with their flat aperture plates. I even showed them a stop-gap method, but it went ignored. I had to sit through Gone with the Wind in 1.85:1 (although I was amazed they didn't get one of the notoriously bad 1998 New Line Cinema prints). I would have left had it not been the first time my date had seen the film. I walked out of Miracle on 34th Street and was appalled to find they had done this to Citizen Kane. At least they never showed 1.85:1 films open matte.
 

rsmithjr

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Bob Furmanek said:
I knew someone with the same mindset. If there was an image on the print, he wanted to see it. We were often treated to microphones, stage lights, tops of sets and in one unique showing, the missing top of a rocketship. He ran a 35mm open matte print of HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL and when the exterior of the rocket is shown, it only went up about 8 feet off the ground!
Of course, the big difference is that we were seeing these flaws in private basement screenings. If a theater were to run the films this way for the general public, that would be wrong.
Bob
Had we noticed such a problem, we would have switched to a different AR to mask it out.
We had the power and ability to make the presentation correct according to our lights at least.
 

rsmithjr

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Peter Apruzzese said:
Why wouldn't you have wanted to show the films properly? Was it just to have a larger - though obviously wrong - image? Whoever came up with that policy ruined many films and hurt the audience's ability to enjoy them as the makers intended.
And just who was the authority on what was "correct" for such a film? Prints did not generally come with "run me at 185" cards, after all.
Many flat films were in fact shot for multiple AR's. VistaVision even made a marketing point about it and placed their famous crosshatch in the upper right-hand corner to allow framing for multiple AR's. We always exhibited VV at about 166, corresponding to all of the information on the print. For VV, this was "correct".
It seems reasonable to see the entire image so that you don't miss something unless of course something is really wrong.
 

RolandL

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The 1959 film The Hanging Tree was on TCM last night and it was 1.37:1. I zoomed in to make it 1.85:1 and for most of the film it looked fine. There were a number of scenes that did look like too much important information was being cut off though.
 

Bob Furmanek

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rsmithjr said:
And just who was the authority on what was "correct" for such a film? Prints did not generally come with "run me at 185" cards, after all.
Many flat films were in fact shot for multiple AR's. VistaVision even made a marketing point about it and placed their famous crosshatch in the upper right-hand corner to allow framing for multiple AR's. We always exhibited VV at about 166, corresponding to all of the information on the print. For VV, this was "correct".
It seems reasonable to see the entire image so that you don't miss something unless of course something is really wrong.
Bob, were you a projectionist in the 1950's? If not, you may not realize that many films on their initial release did have the intended aspect ratio printed on the shipping band. If not, trade journals such as Variety, Boxoffice and Exhibitor listed the correct aspect ratio for theaters.
In the 1960's, some titles (such as A HARD DAYS NIGHT) had the correct AR printed on the original leader.
The only flat films meant for various ratios were VistaVision titles. Recommended for 1.85, the other ratios were so that each individual theater would get the largest image possible utilizing the full width and height of their screen.
Bob
 

Matt Hough

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I find that list so interesting and informative, and it's especially galling to see some of this information since we've never gotten a home video release of Calamity Jane, Hondo, Them!, or Dial 'M' for Murder that was framed properly.
 

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