Re: Aspect ratios of 50s and 60s films
- --- davidhare@...> wrote:
> --- Fred Camper <f@...> wrote:
> > jess_l_amortell wrote:
> > > I'm just curious since it's the first I'd heard of a
> > > CinemaScope ratio being extracted from the frame in the 1950s.
> > I'm pretty sure the same thing was done with Lang's "While the
> > Sleeps." Certainly there were 16mm anamorphic prints circulatingin
> theAbout SuperScope, I just looked it up and learned there was indeed a
> > 60s (which would have been 2.66:1), but Lang said it was not
> > not widescreen.
> The Turner Laserdisc of City Sleeps is in 1.85. It has a high level
> of grain which suggests the print is another victim of Superscoping,
> although like a number of RKO Superscope reissues (Vera Cruz, Jet
> Pilot) it's delivered in 1.85, not 2.00. It definitely looks all
> wrong - credits are too tight, the image seems to regularly crop
> actors on the right, and the "classical" headroom is wildly
> unbalanced by an overly tight bottom of the frame which crops out
> legs, and so on.
2.35:1 version in addition to the 2:1 version. Hadn't realized that.
The Widescreen Museum website gives a list of SuperScope titles (incl.
Invasion and City Sleeps) but says, "Precise records of which films
were done in which aspect ratio are unavailable so no attempt is made
here to identify them, though other lists may do so."
Does Belton's book do so?
About While the City Sleeps, I seem to remember seeing it in something
like 2:1 in 16mm -- but more recently in a 35mm print projected full
frame, it seemed (_pace_ Lang) so top- and bottom-heavy that even
2.66:1 might have been (almost) plausible! So I'm startled by the
above convincing report. A series of comparative screenings of the
versions of some of these films is overdue!
I recall first seeing AtHA in Academy ratio (maybe in 16) so I was
surprised when it began turning up in (historically correct, I
realize) widescreen, even though that doesn't seem to destroy it as it
does Mag Obs.
> --- In email@example.com, "david hare" <davidhare@> wI can't find the specific post I wanted to respond to but I believe it
> There are many more
> > problematic titles from the period - Invasion of the Body Snatchers
> > even Anatomy of a Murder (as late as 59) which circulate in both
> > widescreen and 1.37 versions. Added to which the use of the old
> > Superscope process in either 1.85 or 2:1, which was even inflcted
> > retrospectively upon pre 53 (shot) titles like Jet Pilot
was by David Hare and referred to this issue as a "minefield."
Whoever used that word (please correct me if it was not you, David)
had it right.
I had wanted to participate a little more in this discussion because
this thorny issue is an important one to me. Many of my favorite films
were made in the period--and I do have some early experience of how they
were shown in some cases, and much later experience as well.
I had wanted to wait until after the Sirk double bill--that was
"All I Desire" and, of course, "There's Always Tomorrow" (Stanwyck
series put on by UCLA)--which I had definitely planned to see. I
wanted to see what they would do. "All I Desire" (1953) is always
correctly projected in 1:33/1:37 of course--it's beautiful compositions
all seemed absolutely perfect, as they always do.
"There's Always Tomorrow" was in 1:85, and in this case, that's the
only way I've ever seen it. By contrast to "All I Desire," its images
at first seems less graceful and less right--and I have a pretty strong
sense of the space of those images being conceived in terms of full
frame, even if they were filmed so there could be no specific complaint
if it's shown this way (no heads cut off or any thing like that),
though I must acknowledge that soon after it started, I got used to it
because I was just so absorbed by the film, and its mise-en-scene was
certainly not destroyed. The film was made between "All That Heaven
Allows" and "Written on the Wind"--only a month or so after the former,
same director, cinematographer, producer, studio. In the case of ATHA,
I have seen it 1:33 and agree with those who have said it looks better
like that. In the case of WOTW, I've posted before that I sat through
it twice in first run at the Hollywood Paramount, and my memory is of
1:33, and that on wide release a few months later, it was wide at 1:85.
When the Academy showed a collector's original Technicolor print a
few years back, they showed it in 1:33, and the collector himself was
at first surprised than readily agreed this was preferable. A year
later the Museum showed the same print in 1:85 and we saw it again and
agreed some of the visual tension of Sirk's framing was definitely gone.
In the case of Sirk, those three films in a row are the ones at issue
I believe. All those through "Magnificent Obsession" were surely
meant to be full frame, as the next two are in 'Scope, and the ones
which follow "Wind" are in Scope until "Imitation of Life" which all
agree is 1:85.
My experience with "Touch of Evil" was the same as "Written on the
Wind" (a conscientious 1:33/1:37 presentation the first week it was out,
and then 1:85 the following week when it moved to second run as a
second feature--even if one has little sense of aspect ratios as a
young person, when you see it two different ways close together you
are aware of it).
And as I posted before, and it's well known and noted above, when it
was finally released in 1957, "Jet Pilot" was cropped and shown wide
(pretty cruel treatment to a director with those visual gifts!), yet the
co-feature "Joe Dakota" (Richard Bartlett) was 1:33, as it was
obviously filmed, and looked infinitely better.
Yet one shouldn't be blase and say everything was really full frame,
or intended to be shown that way even if shot that way. For example,
"The Square Jungle" (Jerry Hopper), made around the same time as
"All That Heaven Allows" and "There's Always Tomorrow" by the same
studio, was shown full frame on AMC some years ago, and the characters
all seemed to never come up below the bottom half of the frame, and
to be confined to that space. It seems obvious that Hopper and his
cinematographer George Robinson took the idea it would be shown wide to
heart and composed with that in mind--I don't know how else to explain
something like that (yet Robinson also shot "Joe Dakota"!) And there
are other examples.
I can say authoritatively that when "Seven Men from Now" was restored,
Budd Boetticher insisted to both Bob Gitt and me that 1:85 was the
correct aspect ratio. For this reason, I believe that Brad Stevens
is wrong about "The Tall T"--when there was memorial tribute for
Budd with three double bills of all six Ranowns, this and the two
successive non-anamorphic Ranowns were shown, like "Seven Men" in
1:85 and all looked most comfortable that way. The remaining two,
of course, are in 'Scopoe. It just seems unlikely that Boetticher
would have retrenched to full frame after composing "Seven Men" wide
--and in some cases, a director might have wanted more expanse, as
in these Westerns (even the two "town" ones).
There has been some discussion of Superscope too. I don't know if it's
true in all cases (though am personally willing to take Fritz Lang at
his word, as with Budd Boetticher)but with the first ones, it was
definitely a case of taking films shot full frame and originally meant
to be shown 1:33/1:37 and making them into 'Scope, with some ill
effects. "Vera Cruz" was perhaps the first one--it's a favorite movie
of mine and I've seen it many times. If you saw it at a downtown
trible bill house in later years, it was just as if they were showing
Cinemascope; this did not do the film any good. It is best full frame
and is in fact brilliantly composed that way. I saw them recreate
that Superscope effect for "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" at UCLA.
Why? It looked terrible, I believe. Full frame seems just right to
me for that film.
A separate issue is when projectionists pay no attention to the obvious.
I saw Bunuel's "El" (1953) projected wide once. It was unwatchable.
Where practicable, the kind of experimentation of trying it different
ways that Fred Camper talked about with a screening of "All That Heaven
Allows" seems like a very desirable idea. But how often can something
like that reasonably done?
I don't know what the alternative is to being subjected to alternately
whimsical/responsible attempts to show things the right way (for, like
everyone, I continue to see the same films showed different ways at
different times), and the extent to which the reality of intention may
be buried or misinterpreted in the actual records of shooting, vagaries
of policy, and so on. I'm always glad to see this discussed here.
>I continue to see the same films showed different ways atI believe it's true that lots of misinformation is to be had in
>different times), and the extent to which the reality of intention may
>be buried or misinterpreted in the actual records of shooting, vagaries
>of policy, and so on. I'm always glad to see this discussed here.
studio records. For instance the recent DVDs of one or two of the
Hammer films came in at 2:1, when they obviously would have been in
the UK 1.66 ratio of those days. Someone in 1960 thoughtlessly
pencilled 2:1 as the ratio in Universal's records, perhaps really
meaning the also incorrect 1.85, and now we're stuck with badly
- Joe Kaufman
- One further wrinkle to the aspect ratio question came up in my mind as I
watched _All that Heaven Allows_ in 1:1.37 with Fred. I was part of the
<sarcasm>crack team of projectionist experts</sarcasm> who worked on
figuring out what ratio to show the film in with him, and we all agreed that the
film was not just better but strongly better in Academy. However, I noticed that
in one shot, reflected in that mysterious fireplace mirror, there is very clearly a
boom mike hanging over one of the actor's heads (Wyman's, I think). This was
high enough in the frame that it would not be visible in 1:1.85, nor, I think, in
1:1.66. Errors like this crop up in many films, and are in no way definitive, but
in my limited experience with Sirk, I cannot remember a single other sighting of
a microphone, or for that matter a grip, camera tracking, or any of the other
harmless intrusions of the profilmic that sometimes accidentally can be
In the absence of production data from, say, the cinematographer, how much,
then, should we weigh such minor production goofs - ones that appear in full-
frame but would be hidden by masking - against our subjective senses of more-
apt use of space or the frame? I'm still convinced that _All that Heaven Allows_
is 1:1.37, but if I saw 10 instead of 1 instances of the mike, would I have cause
to change my evaluation? 100?
Peculiar Marks are the Only Merit.
-Blake on Reynolds
- kian@... wrote:
>...if I saw 10 instead of 1 instances of the mike, would IOf course you have to look at all the evidence. When the lights are
> have cause
> to change my evaluation? 100?
visible above the set rather consistently, that's a pretty good clue.
But as you admit one mike does not an aspect ratio make. The camera's
shadow is clearly, even grotesquely visible in a dolly in on the window
shot in "Written on the Wind," and that's not an aspect ratio error --
just a goof. Russell must have had one too many martinis at lunch....