Widescreen and artisitc intent

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Nelson Au, Jun 27, 2002.

  1. Nelson Au

    Nelson Au Executive Producer

    Mar 16, 1999
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    Last evening I saw a repeat episode of American Cinema on PBS and was struck with a thought that I’m not sure has been discussed here lately.

    It discussed the power of television during the 1950’s. Live television gave viewers at home sophisticated entertainment, similar to going to a live theater show. It was very popular of course for the homes that did have televisions. And the numbers of homes that had a television were growing fast. This had the effect of taking the audience away from going to the movies, as the content was free. The studios were aware of this. They felt they needed to find ways to regain market share lost to TV viewers.

    Out of this need, the studios used gimmicks to bring the audience in, and were promoted as things they couldn’t get from TV. Such as 3-D and smell-o-vision. And of course, the favorite topic of discussion on this forum is aspect ratio. As many know here, the widescreen was a direct result of TV and it was to give the movie going audience a really big picture they could not get at home. CinemaScope, Panavision and Cinerama, among others were born to combat the TV.

    Now the part I find so intriguing is that TV now has gone the way of the movie. Many of you lucky members have widescreen TV’s with the ability to view DVDs in anamorphic widescreen. And TV shows such as Star Trek-Enterprise and theatrical films are broadcast in widescreen. As we approach the magic date when all broadcasts are in HDTV, and as I understand it, the broadcasts will be widescreen? Seems funny to me this turn of events, the movies of the 1950's were affected by TV and now visa versa in a sense.

    As an aside, how much real artistic intent is there from contemporary films shot in widescreen? Is the artistic intent of the director or cinematographer the art of composition of the image? Does the wider screen give the artist a palette that improves the visuals? I wonder how artistic some of the directors are today are in using the widescreen in a real artistic manner. Minority Report certainly used it well in the one shot with Tom Cruise and the PreCog girl’s heads side by side but facing away from each other, a very cool image.

    Is the art from the composition of the image, whether it is 4:3 or 2.66:1 or just that the director wanted to fill the whole image area with something? Certainly many films made have a grandeur not possible with the 4:3 aspect ratio, Ben Hur, 2001, Lawrence of Arabia, Dances with Wolves, Grand Prix, etc. If it was shot in widescreen, that’s how I want to see it. But as for preserving artistic intent, I think that perhaps that term is not exactly used in the true sense. I find it interesting widescreen was invented out of the need to combat TV at a time when both were exhibiting material at a 4:3 aspect ratio. Just an interesting thought. What is the art?

  2. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

    Feb 16, 2001
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    Albany, NY
    Yes, widescreen was essentially a marketing tool against television. But while some director's fought it, most embraced it, and they framed their film with the widescreen ratios in mind. Therefore, the intent simply changed.
  3. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

    Aug 2, 2001
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