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March 13, 2009


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S.F. Hunger

I always thought "Snakes and Funerals" would make a good title for a book about the history of aspect ratios in movies. You know, something like "Snakes and Funerals: A History of Widescreen Cinema."

Question: did Fritz Lang really believe that about 'Scope, or was he just reciting a line scripted by Godard? I know that certain old Hollywood masters, including George Cukor and John Ford, hated it for real.

The First Bill C

Cukor hated it? I could be wrong, but that seems like a misnomer. The guys who really hated it--Lang and Ford, as you said, and Hawks--made that clear by dabbling then retreating, but Cukor worked almost exclusively in 'scope in his later years. (9 or 10 pictures by my count.)

For what it's worth, Hawks' dislike of anamorphic widescreen always did bum me out, because LAND OF THE PHAROAHS makes such wonderful use of the panoramic frame.

S.F. Hunger

BIll C, I have on my desk the book "Hollywood Voices," a collection of interviews edited by Andrew Sarris. In his interview, Cukor expresses disdain for widescreen:

"It's the most terrible shape. The old shape was the best. The old square...CinemaScope is such an unfortunate shape...the problem is, you can't get any height with the thing. That makes it very difficult."

It would seem that his frequent use of 'Scope in his later years was likely the result of studio pressure.

The First Bill C

Mea culpa, SF. Yes, that would make sense, since he generally split his time between Warners and Fox--the two biggest 'scope pimps in town.

Owain Wilson

I'm simply mental about CinemaScope, Panavision, and any other format that isn't square. I honestly believe that the movies were WAITING for it. Nothing breaks the heart more than a big movie shot in crappy old 1.85:1.

I once had the opportunity to ask Steven Spielberg why he chose to stop shooting in 2.35:1, and he replied that his movies would look better on TV if he used 1.85:1. I respect the man, and greatly appreciated his correspondence, but I thought his reasoning was tragic.

Yeah, I know he was trying to make the most of the medium that would prolong the life the of his work, but I wish he would have concerned himself with the movie itself before worrying about how it would look on the box. He obviously didn't see widescreen TV's coming.

Still, it's nice to know that he's returned to the widescreen format of late, with Minority Report, Munich, and the last Indiana Jones.

Christ, I'm such a whore for widescreen. I remember being so concerned that Apollo 13 should be shot in 2.35:1 that my heart was actually beating faster when the lights dimmed in the cinema and I waited for the screen to expand. Cheers, Ron!

S.F. Hunger

Owain, I feel you; the 2.35:1 ratio sets my heart aflutter too. But by the same token, I think a lot of directors don't really know how to compose for it, and you end up seeing a lot of 2.35 films that don't take advantage of the wide dimensions and look all out-of-wack. For a lot of movies, boring old 1.85 is more appropriate, or it might just be where the director is more comfortable. Still, there's something inherently exciting about that 2.35 shape that can almost redeem lousy framing...almost.


I think a lot of the old directors hated Cinemascope. Vincente Minnelli complained about it, although after Brigadoon (which I still like, but I think shows his initial lack of affinity for the ratio) he dealt with it just fine. Peter Ustinov also tells a delightful story about Max Ophuls during Lola Montes, trying to subvert Cinemascope. Maybe I'll save it for my Anecdote of the Week.


Spielberg's concern about TV reminds me of a story about the time Conrad Hall was sitting through dailies with a suit who kept complaining that the footage was so dark it wouldn't look good on TV. Hall finally exploded, "I don't give a shit about TV! I'm shooting this for theatres!" Wish we had a few more folks like him around today.

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