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October 16, 2008


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Stephen Bowie

I've already lodged my (mild) preference in Dave's thread, but I'm a bit troubled by your phrasing here:

"The facts are these: Director Orson Welles and cinematographer Russell Metty shot Touch of Evil in the so-called "Academy ratio" of 1.37:1. And...well, actually, as far as the universally accepted facts are concerned, that's where they end."

Are you simply stating that "Touch of Evil" has 1.37 worth of picture info, or that it's established fact that Welles & Metty composed for 1.37/1.33 rather than 1.85? Because the latter is one of the issues contested in the various sources you mentioned, and I didn't notice any definitive evidence to support it.

Anyway, this is already old news, since Criterion announced a 1.33 DVD of Sirk & Metty's "Magnificent Obsession" yesterday ... and some folks are arguing for 2.1! Let the fun begin....


OK, that's a relief.

Boy, 2:1 is just Criterion's albatross, isn't it? I remember everybody thought they were insane when they put out "The Last Emperor" in that ratio.

Glenn Kenny

Stephen, Kent Jones posits on the Dave Kehr thread that Welles and Metty composed "Touch of Evil" in 1.33/7, ignorant of the fact that Universal's theatrical projection policy of 1.85. That's entirely possible. Other filmmakers, when shooting 1.33/7 and knowing the projection will be 1.85, allow, say, a boom mike to appear in the top part of the frame, knowing the 1.85 matter will block it out. There are no such shots in the full-frame "Touch of Evil," which lends credence to Kent's theory for sure. But again, the theory is largely speculative, supported by circumstantial evidence (e.g., Welles stated distaste for widescreen). So when I say that the only universally acknowledged fact is that "Touch" was shot in the Academy ratio, that's what I mean.

And yes, "Magnificent Obsession" will open up another whole can of worms...!


That is a relief (of sorts). Although I was going to end up buying it anyway.

Mr. Milich

Just so long as you guys don't start going into Kubrick...

BTW/ Criterion put out The Last Emperor in 2:1 because that is the only ratio Vittorio Storaro will approve.

Jeffrey Allen Rydell

Two quick points:

Metty was a Universal contract cameraman. Does anyone really think he was ignorant of composing for 1.85 theatrical exhibition while still protecting for 1.33 TV broadcast? In 1957? Really?

Welles in that 'phooey on widescreen' missive strikes me as grousing about then-cumbersome widescreen processes like Cinemascope and beyond. I'm not sure it's much of a smoking gun on this issue.



Mr Milich: I think I prefer the 1.33:1 versions of The Shining, Barry Lyndon etc. Anyone else?


Most standard 35mm films designated as 1.85:1 or 1.66:1 actually have 1.37:1 negative areas. They are meant to be matted in projection. The Godfather is one of these films.

Also, no full-frame version of Barry Lyndon can exist. It was shot with hard-mattes, as were most of Kubrick's previous films. Only his features Fear & Desire and Killer's Kiss were shot 4x3. All of his subsequent films were made for at least 1.66:1, with his last three being fully protected for open matte.

Mr. Milich

I prefer the 1.85 theatrical cropping on his last three (or at least the current 16:9). They feel more dynamic -- and that's what they were composed for and released as. Nobody saw them at 1.33 until home video. That's why the famous helicopter shadow was always visible in The Shining.

Lots of filmmakers shoot full neg, then crop for 2.40 theatrical. That's one of the main benefits to Super-35: The TV version is simply the full frame and nothing gets cut off the sides.


Not every film from the '50s was protected. The first time I ever saw THE SEARCHERS, the projectionist began it in 1.33. Not only could we see the phony exteriors but lighting fixtures hanging on the top of the backdrops, and in one shot even the rear wall of the soundstage! Naturally, the audience was laughing throughout. Fortunately, they switched over to 1.85 at reel 2, but by then the damage had been done. It's scarred me for life.


I don't know much about the details on Touch of Evil's framing, but I do know that it's crazy to think that even the best cinematographers can compose properly (super35 or not) for both 2.35 and 1.33. Just not possible, if you have any respect for the photographic medium. I find that shooting both 16:9 and 4:3 is a moderate enough cropping that both framings can work. 1.85 to 4:3 can still work in some cases, see the image above. But my guess is that ToE was filmed 4:3 and the 1.85 framings are artificial. Still watchable, however.

Bill C

Blushing, Glenn. Glad I wasn't way off-base.

One thing, though: I always understood that the projector's aperture was called a "soft matte" while a "hard matte" referred to an in-camera matte. The Muppet films are hard-matted (that is, their negative image is 1.85:1), for example, to keep unwanted information--like puppeteers--permanently out of the frame rather than entrust the composition to projectionists. This is less necessary in the era of Super35, but that's a whole 'nother snowball waiting to avalanche.

Pete Apruzzese

Bill C is correct, in-camera matting (which is rare) would be considered hard-matting. As would making 35mm prints with mattes in place (also somewhat rare, I've probably seen only a couple of dozen or so live-action films in 30 years of projection that had hard 1.85 mattes all the way through). Soft matting in the projector is the most common way to get a 1.85 image (and, of course, the camera viewfinders are marked for 1.85 when filming as that is the primary ratio).

D Cairns

Let's definitively lay to rest any suggestion that Welles and Metty didn't know Universal's policy. I believe Metty had shot films at Universal previously. It's something that would have come up.

The fact that the film works at both ratios suggests -- in fact, almost proves -- that it was composed for both ratios. Some people prefer the look of the 1.33. framing, others the 1.85, but both function -- unwanted information like camera tracks doesn't appear in the full-frame, and vital information like character's eyes don't disappear in the widescreen.

I've shot for 1.85 and protected for 1.33, with 1.66 as the medium most people probably saw the film in, and it's certainly possible. In my case the widescreen version had the most image (we shot Super-16), so I prefer it. Welles' preference is merely a matter of anecdote and supposition so far. Since both images, the 1.33 and the 1.85 were composed deliberately by the filmmakers, it's reasonable to suggest that both should be included in any definitive edition, regardless of Welles' preference, even if we could establish that for a fact.

Another powerful argument for the 1.33 is one that has influenced a lot of people I think wihout them quite articulating it: since most Welles films are 1.33, the 1.33 framing looks more like a Welles film. So I think that even if the "true" aspect ratio argument is unwinnable by either side, a 1.33 version is WORTH HAVING. And therefore, as good capitalists, the DVD makers should have included it.

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