« Literary interlude | Main | You know it ain't easy... »

June 14, 2010


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Matthias Galvin

Excellent work as always, Glenn!
I know Jerry Kutner has had his copy kicking around for quite some time, but how in the hell did you EVER manage to get a hold of the fullscreen Touch of Evil? ;)


It's been a long time since I've seen the film and this is purely speculative, but judging from those two stills from Touch of Evil, I'd say that 1.85 was intended -- because of the shop sign and the glaring continuity error it creates. If you look behind his head in shot 1 and then look at the sign in shot 2, you'll notice that the sign jumps down one shelf. Shot 1 it hangs on the shelf above the shelf that's level with his head; in shot 2 it hangs level with his head. If the scene was shot in sequence, there's a possibility that they only discovered on shot 2 that it was impossible to get the sign and his head together into a 1.85 safe frame (it could be possible in a 1.37 one, but the camera would have to be back a little further and maybe at a lower angle) and re-hung it.

Mark Slutsky

Doesn't the "correct" answer just depend on the screen you're watching it on? If Hitchcock protected Psycho for square screens, then that aspect ratio is appropriate when you're watching it on... a square screen. And vice-versa.

Norm Wilner

I saw "Touch of Evil" projected full-frame at the Vienna film festival a couple of years back, and the German subtitles were the best argument yet for a matted 1.85:1 presentation: They appeared at the bottom of the frame, and absolutely nothing of import was ever obscured.

That, plus the dead space at the top of the frame, settled the debate rather nicely for me ...

The First Bill C

This only muddies the debate further, but it's interesting to note that Saul Bass's storyboards for PSYCHO are composed at Academy ratio -- http://faculty.cua.edu/johnsong/hitchcock/storyboards/psycho/b-shower-a.jpg -- whereas the storyboards for the earlier VERTIGO (which was shot in VistaVision) and the later MARNIE (which was shot flat, as they say) are all 1.85:1.

Pete Apruzzese

Wells is so wildly wrong in his #27 posting in the thread at his site that I don't know what to say.

Glenn Kenny

Indeed, Pete. So naturally, THAT'S the sentiment he then chooses to highlight as its own separate blog post.

Which is why I sometimes have to laugh when people accuse ME of being perverse...

Michael Adams

Psycho is not one of my favorite Hitchcocks, but I've just read Thomson's brilliant The Moment of Psycho and can appreciate it much more. Even when he's riffing on related topics, Thomson provides a textbook example of how to analyze a film. Meanwhile, count me in with the 1.85:1. And wouldn't 1.85:1 be a wonderful title for an HBO comedy about punctilious film bloggers and their followers?


One little question: has 'Reservoir dogs' ever been shown in 1.85:1? I remember watching it for the first time in a cruddy VHS tape, panned and scanned to fit in 1.33:1; it was horrid, yes, but there was more information up and down in the frame. For example, when Lawrence Tierney gets up to ask for the bill, you could see Harvey Keitel's entire face, which gets cut in half in 2.35:1. Did they shot it in 1.85:1 or similar and then cropped it?

James Keepnews

"..the sublime Welles, who never even dabbled in Cinemascope and whose two subsequent completed features as a director, 1962's The Trial and 1973's F For Fake..."

This confused me -- is Chimes at Midnight/Falstaff generally considered to be an incomplete film, a la Ambersons, It's All True and/or Othello? Since I've long considered it one of Welles' finest, I'm curious to know if I should consider it instead to be 85% of one of his finest, or thereabouts.

Glenn Kenny

@ James: Don't be confused; I fucked up, is all, and forgot to list it.

The extremely unsatisfactory Spanish DVD I have of the film appears to present a 1.66 image letterboxed within a 4X3 video frame. As Welles himself once said, "Unrewarding."

James Keepnews

Confusion won't be my epitaph, although given it's regular occurrence in my life, it certainly deserves the distinction...

"Unrewarding" definitely seems to dog every version I've seen of Chimes, generally VHS dupes of dupes in college libraries. I gather there's some rights issues that have stood in its way, but you'd think it would have gotten -- and more greatly deserved -- the full Criterion treatment over the (for James) inferior F for Fake.



IMDb indicates that RESERVOIR DOGS was shot in Super 35. I'm inclined to believe them on this one, because Super 35 (similar to RKO's Superscope) is cheaper to rent equipment for than shooting actual anamorphic 'scope and would've been cost-and-space effective on a low-budget production.

This would in fact mean that, unlike the other non-anamorphic 'scope format, Techniscope, there would be a large unused portion of the frame above and below the image (as you get in shooting 1.85). This would cause it to look fairly grainy, but the movie's shot on low-speed stock (50D), so that would create a really crisp image to begin with and balance it out. Which is a long way of saying yes, the negative could theoretically be shown in 1.85, but all prints of it were probably printed to be projected with 'scope lenses.

Tom Russell

My understanding is that Beatrice Welles had the rights for Chimes, which I *think* I read she then gave to some kind of charity last year. I could be mistaken on that count, so feel free to set me straight; I'd much rather be corrected than wrong.

Hey, do you guys remember when Beatrice Welles claimed she owned Citizen Kane and tried to wrest it away from Warner Bros. via a lawsuit? Boy, that was fun, and not at all frivolous.

Pete Apruzzese

I.B. -

Reservoir Dogs was shot in Super 35 (a full-negative format), which allows theatrical prints to be in the 'scope aspect ratio and allows video transfers to be full-screen with only a little pan & scanning. The downside is that the theatrical prints tend to be grainy and the flat home video version have half-hearted compositions (being that most directors make sure the 'scope framing is the best one). Here's a link to a decent overview of filmed aspect ratios and techniques, including Super 35:


Thanks, IV!

Still, it looks like they composed for 1.85, at least the opening scene: I checked some Youtube videos, and Keitel's isn't the only head cut in 2.35 that appears intact and pretty well framed (in the vertical axis) in 1.33.


Oops, I should refresh more frequently... thanks, Pete!

Badass Richard Conte

Just to make a brief point. Super-35 is not an uncommon, cheap format. It's used much more than traditional anamorphic. Fincher, Cameron, Bertolucci, Spielberg, Scorsese, etc.

Besides the ability to shoot both full frame and 2.40, filmmakers no longer need to use giant heavy anamorphic lenses, and because of that they can use high speed lenses to shoot in low-light situations.

Perfectly standard format.



I don't think anyone was suggesting that it was uncommon, or that it's used exclusively for low-budget films. And you're right, it's probably used more than real anamorphic at this point. It's just that most cinephiles are oddly unfamiliar with it (hence the explanatory notes) and that IMDb has a bad tendency to put in Super 35mm for Techniscope, etc. productions (their listings for processes and aspect ratios tend to be hit-or-miss, but their film stock info seems to be pretty right-on). It is, though, cheaper to than anamorphic, because the equipment is less specialized and it allows for a smaller crew and a more compact package (hence its early adoption by low budget productions). Cameron was, I believe, the first "respectable" director to make extensive use of it for non-budgetary reasons -- on THE ABYSS, because he needed cameras that could fit into fairly small spaces and still shoot 'scope.


(I take the Cameron aside back: Tony Scott was shooting on the format years before that and getting pretty damn good results).


(Final aside: I don't know about Spielberg or Scorsese, but I believe the only Bertolucci film shot in Super 35 is STEALING BEAUTY, shot by Super 35-proponent Darius Khondji)

david hare

Glenn Im no stranger to this topic, as you know, but I fell off my chair when I saw the Wells link.

He is - well - half right and there is some degree of contention about Pscyho's AR.
But just as importantly as Psycho let's look at The Wrong Man. This had circulated for years in open matte 1.33 (for TV) and 35mm prints were also often screened Academy.
But Warner's DVD of a few years ago reverts to what was then the commcerically "correct" 1.85 (or more likely 1.78 on the disc.) Now the argument goes, and is totally credible, that by late 1957 every A-list feature with big stars like Fonda, and whether B&W or color was intended for WS. And the common format IN THE USA then was 1.85 (in Europe if it was anything it was 1.66) When you look at key scenes of Wrong Man the masking is a disaster - take the montage around the three shots of Miles, Fonda and Quayle in Quayle's office, where Hitch quietly shows us Miles, fidgetting uncontrollably with her hands and arm. In full aperture the fidgeting is all contained in the foot room of the composition. In the 1.78 mask for the DVD it's almost totally cut out. In the process you completely lose the first visual key in the picture that Miles is losing her mind.

Anatomy of a Murder is another contentious title best served by dual format - one DVD issue does it in Academy/open matte and the compositions take on even more drama through lighting of headroom in sets, etc. But in the masked WS on the other DVD (and by this time Columbia had been intending all its features for 1.85 masking for several years) the image remains "balanced". So on the one hand you have a major Hithcock which looks deteminedly like it should be 1.37 or at the very most 1.66, rather than 1.85. On the other you have a major Preminger in the WS era that looks good in either or both formats.

The lsit is endless of course, as you well know. My own bete noir is the 2.00 masking of the 54 Magnificent Obsession which took up 24 pages and six months of screaming and meltdowns and character assassinations at the criterion forum a couple of years ago. Im just not going back to that one again.


The very first time I ever saw THE SEARCHERS, sometime in the late 60s, the theatre projected it in 1.33. It was a fiasco. The lights, tops of backdrops, even the rear wall of the soundstage were clearly visible--and these were "exterior" shots! The audience was in hysterics. They quickly switched to 1.85 on the second reel, but the damage had been done. And that was a 1956 film! By 1960, it's almost unimaginable that any American theatre would still be projecting new features in 1.33; God knows there were none in Dayton, where I grew up. "Protecting for TV" is just that: protection. By inference, it's a second choice.

All of which adds up to: Wells is an ass. But we already knew that.


Jesus tapdancing christ. Why does Wells have to be such an insufferable ASSHOLE all the time? He's not only wrong, but so fucking condescendingly confident in his wrongness that I want to reach into my screen and poke his smarmy eyes right out of his head. He responds to a perfectly reasonable response that explains itself quite well with:

"You're blah-blahing. One gander at those framing examples above tells anyone that the film was clearly NOT shot with a 1.85 ratio in mind. Obviously...are you blind?"

Yes...the commenter was "blah-blahing" jeffrey, not you. How he can be so wrong yet so confident is really quite astounding. The man is a walking train-wreck.

Stephen Bowie

Partly playing devil's advocate here, but to take a more existential approach: why do these conversations always seem to start with the assumption that if one can somehow divine the filmmaker's original intent, if one finds a smoking-gun memo with the magic colon-separated number in it, then the question is automatically settled?

Why, in other words, is what was in Orson Welles's head any more legitimate or "correct" than the way the original audience actually saw TOUCH OF EVIL in 1958? "Is" and "should be" often seem to get tangled up in these endless '50s AR debates, depending on who's deploying what argument.

It's mostly semantics, I guess ... I'm not disagreeing with the solution of presenting both versions if there's some doubt.


Wells is GOD.

Dude is like my personal IDOL.

Glenn Kenny

Ah. Mr. G. does sometime bring to mind the line that one of the Knights in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" says, apropos Tim the Enchanter: "What a strange person."

Dan Callahan

I've followed the battle over Sirk on Kehr's website. Reading "Sirk on Sirk" today, I came across this from the director himself: "I was required to shoot so that the film would fit both the Cinemascope screen and the old-size screen. You had one camera, and one lens, but you had to stage it so that it would fit both screens. This is just as tough as doing a picture in two versions was in Germany."

So Sirk at least kept both in mind. He doesn't say which he preferred, but I suppose we can make up our minds about that ourselves.

Jeff McMahon

So, based on somebody's comment on that Wells thread, Kubrick preferred the 4:3 full-frame presentations of his films but for commercial reasons had to go with masked 1.85 versions for theatrical presentation? I don't buy that. The claim 'Kubrick was still alive in the age of DVDs' is meaningless since he died before the age of 16x9 TVs.


Wells site has become a sewer of frat-boy "cinephiles."

The comments to this entry are closed.

Tip Jar

Tip Jar
Blog powered by Typepad