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May 25, 2011


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Fernando Rey's Brown Suit

Pretty sure it screened at Lincoln Center in '07 in 1.66.

Always figured it was matted to 1.66 in camera due to that gigantic hair in the frame while Quinn is marching at the beginning. Unless Kubrick intentionally wanted a giant hair there for some reason.

In Vitali's favor, of course, is the fact that Clockwork, for instance, is 1.66, and that, too, could've easily been transferred in 16:9, but wasn't.


Well i'm glad that's cleared up.

Zack McGhee

@Brown Suit: It's pretty much up to the discretion of the venue and/or projectionist what aspect ratio a film gets screened at. As a projectionist, having thought of BARRY LYNDON as a 1.66 title because of the DVD, for example, I almost certainly would've shown it that way. Unless the print is hard-matted (exceedingly rare), you get the full frame at your disposal, so the aspect ratio is just a matter of what lens and aperture you use. Now I suppose it's possible the print you saw *was* hard-matted to 1.66 or that Lincoln Center had meticulously researched it and come to the conclusion that that was the proper ratio. I'm just saying that the fact that you saw it that way doesn't necessarily mean that's how it was intended to be seen.

Bilge Ebiri

I have to take exception with Vitali's contention that the film was never released in 1.66, because the original DVD and the laserdisc (released during Kubrick's lifetime) actually WERE 1.66, and DO appear to contain more information in the frame. (And he seems to even imply, when he says it wasn't even shot in 1.66, that the negative doesn't even have this extra information in it, which is obviously incorrect, as a screenshot from the DVD release can tell you.)

Fernando Rey's Brown Suit

Zach, Leon was personally at the LC screenings. That was my point.


When he says it wasn't shot in 1.66, he probably meant that they matted for 1.77 rather than 1.66. It's just his tone that makes it sound more definitive than that. He reads as though he were forcing the issue rather bossily, and impatiently. He has probably been asked this before!

I suspect that the film had to have been shown in 1.66 in many European theaters upon its original release, as many of them would have been unable to matte the film 1.78. Similarly, I'll bet a lot of American theaters showed it 1.85. It's all a matter of lacking the proper lenses...

Bilge Ebiri

Vitali says it was NEVER released in 1.66, anywhere, which is demonstrably untrue, as the DVD and the laserdisc were both 1.66. And I seem to recall at the time a lot of official-looking people saying these were in accordance with Kubrick's wishes.

BTW, Glenn, we put that Kubrick FAQ together over a long period of time, so some things will be better sourced than others, but David Mullen ain't exactly chopped liver, being an award-winning cinematographer and all. Though I recall a pretty funny exchange once when he and Bernard Rose got into it over something or other, and each started pulling rank on the other, without quite realizing who the other guy was...

Nick Ramsey

Argh, will we ever really know the truth about the Kubrick aspect ratio issues?

For a filmmaker renowned for his exactness in all facets of filmmaking . . . but it does remind me of one of the anecdotes in "A Life in Pictures" about how Kubrick relied on dubs for many of the international releases of his films because he couldn't personally check the subtitles. Seems like another case of six of one . . ..

Thanks for the detective work, Glenn.

Homer J

"we never released it in 1.66 in any format whether it’s film or television or DVD. It was 1.77" = FLATLY UNTRUE (the previous DVD and laserdisc releases were 1.66:1) therefore calling the rest of Vitali's rant into question. Oh, and I've seen it projected at 1.66:1 in the theatre too.


As I said before, I feel like Vitali was just being particularly vociferous. I don't see how that makes him unreliable. He's obviously just wearied by the debate around this subject.

A quote from the DVDTalk interview he did a while back:

"...you have to remember one other thing. In the early days of video when the video market was starting, Stanley was not into videos at all. I think if you look at the very first passes on The Shining or in Barry Lyndon, and certainly 2001. We had no involvement in those things at all. "

I think it makes sense that he would say "we" never released the film in 1.66 then. "We" being Vitali and the employees of Kubrick's own production house and executors of his estate. Not "we" being Warner Bros.

Bilge Ebiri

The very first passes of the video market were the original VHS copies of these films, which were cropped, full-frame, and not at all optimal. By the time laserdiscs were established, Kubrick was regularly involved in remastering and re-releasing of his films -- witness the Criterion DR. STRANGELOVE, the Criterion LOLITA, the Criterion 2001, etc. Indeed, I seem to recall someone from Criterion at the time saying they had to do something like 20 or 30 passes on a film before Kubrick was pleased with the result (can't remember which film it was...) Around that time, the second BL laserdisc released was slightly letterboxed to 1.66. I don't know that Kubrick was involved in that transfer (though I seem to recall something on the actual laserdisc back cover saying the aspect ratio was done according to his wishes -- I could just be imagining that part) but to say that he didn't care about home video at the time is absurd. All reliable evidence suggests he cared a great deal.

Indeed, if you look at Vitali's comments, almost literally the opposite of what he says is true. In terms of DVD (2 releases), laserdisc (2 releases), etc., BARRY LYNDON has NEVER been released in 1.78. Until now it has always been either 1.66 or just full-frame (the earlier iterations). And as others have noted, there is some evidence that recent theatrical screenings by venues that actually put some thought into these things have also been 1.66.

Again, the 1.78 AR may well be according to Kubrick's wishes. I'm willing to believe that. (And, honestly, I'm fine with the 1.78 crop, personally.) But if that is in fact the case, then these folks have to acknowledge that they have been serially neglecting Kubrick's wishes up until now.

Bilge Ebiri

BTW, that DVD Talk interview is in fact quite eye-opening, and, I suspect, a bit closer to the truth. Vitali suggests there that BL is meant to be screened at 1.77, but he also says that Kubrick, with his photographer's eye, always made sure to frame for the complete negative. Here are some relevant passages:

"The original video release of Full Metal Jacket was in the supervised hands and owned by Stanley. The thing about Stanley, he was a photographer. That's how he started. He had a still photographer's eye. So when he composed a picture through the camera, he was setting up for what he saw through the camera - the full picture. That was very important to him. It really was. It was an instinct that never ever left him. What he wanted the videos to reflect was how he shot the film through the camera, what was on the original neg and what his composition when he was shooting it was. That's why Full Metal Jacket is in full frame. If people looked, okay? What you get on the video that you didn't get in the theatrical because of the 185 masking, was what Stanley was invisioning. You assume these soldiers in the world that they're in. And he uses wide angle uses to shoot. I mean an 18 millimeter lens was the commonest one. He used 24 sometimes. Wide angle lenses. It was important to him the relationship between things. You can see in Full Metal Jacket how small the people were in relation to this huge landscape."

"The thing with Eyes Wide Shot, it was how he saw the thing through the camera and how he set it up. That's what he wanted to reflect in his videos. He did not like 1.85:1. You lose 27% of the picture on 1.85. Stanley was a purist. This was one of the ways it was manifested."

"After Barry Lyndon, more and more theaters were showing films 1.85 or in Cinemascope even if it wasn't shot that way. He had no control. He couldn't go around every cinema and say "You show this film in 1.66" as you could with Clockwork Orange, because then the projectors had 1.66 mask. With multi-plexes things are different and so they only show a film in 1.85 or in 2.21, the Cinemascope. You know? You cannot put a mask in 1.66 as it should be for Clockwork Orange. You can't put a 1.77 in as it should be for Barry Lyndon and that's what Stanley understood with The Shining onwards. He realized that his films we're going to be shown in 1.85 whether he liked it or not. You can't tell all the theaters now how to show your movies. They say it's 1.85, that's it. Stanley realized that masking for 1.85 would far outweigh having 1.66 projected at 1.85. We did a re-release of Clockwork in the U.K. and it's 1.66. It's composed for 1.66. It's shot in 1.66, and the whole shebang. Well, you know, they had to screen it in 1.85. I can't tell you how much it hurt that film."

Pinko Punko

I love how a four word sentence from the General reveals a priest of the Movie Godz.

Jeffrey Wells

Hooray for Bilge Ebiri in this matter. And shame on Glenn Kenny for drinking the Orwellian kool-aid that Vitali is pouring into everyone's cup now.

In other words, am I going to believe Taschen, Leon Vitalii and Christiane Kubrick or my lying eyes?

Did you look at the comparison shots I ran yesterday?  Are you kidding?

I say again -- WHAT led those improvisational, drugged-out, reality-denying people at Warner  Home Video to issue "Barry Lyndon" in 1.66 on that Kubrick Collection DVD in '07?  And were those '07 discs not aesthetically supervised or consulted by Leon Vitali (or so I recall)?

You can't set one standard and then turn around four years later and say, "Changed our minds...new standard!"

And what about the accepted doctrine about Kubrick wanting to simulate in "Barry Lyndon" the slightly taller, more boxy-ish aspect ratios of 18th Century paintings?  Are we throwing that one out the window too and throwing it upon the bonfire?  If only WHV could send a commando team into the Louvre this weekend to slice off the tops & bottoms of those paintings so they'd be closer to 1.78 to 1!

This revisionism feels Orwellian.  It feels like "Farenheit 451.". Vitali and WHV are saying, "I know some of you share a memory of having picked and eaten red apples out of our orchard a few years ago.  Well, they were not red apples.  They were green pears!  Pears, I tell you!  And anyone who says they ate apples is delusional!"

This is fucking madness.  Corporate-kowtowing madness.

On May 26, 2011, at 2:09 AM,[email protected] wrote:

...from Taschen lists the "Lyndon" aspect ratio as 1.77, and the frame reproductions therein are also in that format. FYI. Approved by Kubrick's widow, Jan Harlan, the Kubrick estate.

Sent via BlackBerry 

On May 26, 2011, at 2:09 AM,[email protected] 




What surprises me is Vitali's claim that "Barry Lyndon" was always intended to be shown in 1.77. Uh? 1.77 wasn't a common format at all until the arrival of 16:9 TV sets; before that it was either 1:66 or 1:85. Unless he meant that "the difference between 1:77 and 1:85 is minuscule". This detail, more than anything else, is what makes me suspect what he says.


Huh, the "tone" of Vitali's statement. He sounds (well, reads) a bit like Seymour Cassel or Al Ruban denying there's another cut of 'Shadows'. Except, here, we don't know who's the psychotic film professor who keeps the original film negative of 'Barry Lyndon' in, yes, 1.66, and wants to show it to the entire world on the condition his name gets printed on every frame.

The Fanciful Norwegian

Just want to jump in to say that the laserdisc and DVD of this weren't actually 1.66:1 -- they were 1.59:1, a weird choice that can probably be explained by in-camera matting (i.e. 1.59:1 was probably the tallest image they could extract from the negative, but it wouldn't have actually been screened in that AR).

Glenn Kenny

Bilge, I didn't say that David Mullen was "chopped liver." All I said was that in the Kubrick FAQ, Mullen's assertion concerning the screening of "Barry Lyndon" in 1.66 was not backed by any corresponding textual evidence. That's all. If there is textual evidence, it would be great to be filled in on it. After my own fuckup concerning the aspect ratio, I'm not going to go too far out on a personal limb. I'm just reporting my own findings, and I wanted to get my exchange with Vitali out there relatively quickly. For the record, Vitali does continue to back up what he said in DVD Talk about Kubrick composing in order to be parsed in different aspect ratios. Speaking to another journalist at the same event, I overheard him riffing in the same vein. I agree that it is kind of odd that he wax so vehement after the different versions of "Lyndon" that have hit the market, and I have no explanation for that.

As for Jeff's citation of "the accepted doctrine about Kubrick wanting to simulate in 'Barry Lyndon' the slightly taller, more boxy-ish aspects of 18th-Century painting," all I want to know is, where does this doctrine come from, and why is it accepted? That is, can Jeff cite some actual textual evidence for this? Because I looked into about eight books on Kubrick yesterday, including Michel Ciment's, and there was nothing in any of them that referred to the influence of 18th-Century painting as it related to frame composition and/or aspect ratio. All I'm asking for is some hard textual evidence. I understand Jeff's traveling, so maybe it'll have to wait until he gets back to his library. Or maybe Roger Durling knows something, can help him out?

@ I.B.: Not to be picky, but there wouldn't BE a negative in 1.66. We're talking about projection matting here. And a projectionist friend I trust is of the opinion that the stories concerning Kubrick sending 1.66 aperture plates to theaters showing the film in the U.S. are apocryphal, for reasons I won't detail here. But if the discussion grows more complicated/heated, I may ask to quote him at length.


Mr Glenn Kenny, can you please tell Mr Vitali that he once said this:

"Barry Lyndon was released theatrically in 1.66:1, even in the U.S. since Kubrick insisted on 1.66 hard mattes being sent to the various theatres showing the film (1.85 is the common "flat" widescreen ratio in the U.S.)" - Leon Vitali


@ Glenn Kenny: Nah, I know, just didn't want to elaborate too much in my fancy.


Thank God for Bilge Ebiri. This is some George Orwell s**t going down. Warner Bros think consumers are stupid. The film looks better on the 2001 release. Period. That is how it was projected in my countery for over 20 years. How does Vitali explain this?

Glenn Kenny

@ Turk: Yes, I'd be willing to ask Vitali about that quote, if you can give me a source for it.

It's likely, by the way, that these 1.66 hard mattes of legend would have been useless in most American theatres in 1975, for reasons I'll get into once I've cleared a few other things up. Stay tuned.


Vitali is a complete fool in this interview.

For starters, the 1.77:1 aspect ratio didn't exist in the '70s. There were not mattes for cameras with this ratio. It only appeared with widescreen TVs.
Then, there's ample evidence that Kubrick wanted the film to be screened at 1.66:1, which was a real format at the time.
There are reports in the John Baxter biography that a projection was stopped in London as the theatre had picked the wrong aspect ratio.
There's an interview with the at the time Warner head of publicity for Europe in the Michel Ciment book where he states that Kubrick as curious about how the movie would be screened. He had a few questions for the theaters that were booked in France and Germany and discovered that most of them didn't own a 1.66:1 soft matte anymore, while it cost a few quids. So, they sent the matte to all theaters.


I like to imagine this whole conversation taking place at the orgy in "Eyes Wide Shut," with Mr. Vitali as the red guy and Mr. Wells as Tom Cruise getting interrogated.

Bilge Ebiri

I want to add that the old laserdisc actually SAYS on it that it was transferred under Kubrick's supervision. FWIW.

To wit: "Transferred under the supervision of Mr. Kubrick, 'Barry Lyndon' is presented in a matted widescreen format preserving the aspect ratio of its original theatrical presentation. The black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are normal for this format."

Michael Brooke

For what it's worth, when I was at the Everyman Cinema in London in the early 1990s - which for many years was the only UK venue to play 'Barry Lyndon' (the booking guy at Warners once joked that he might as well let us look after the print, as it only ever seemed to shuttle backwards and forward between us and the depot) - we always screened it at 1.66:1, under the impression that that was the correct aspect ratio. Since I don't recall any discussion of this at the time, I assume it was marked that way on the film cans.

We knew for a fact that it wasn't 1.85:1, because of an anecdote we'd heard from Geoff Andrew (Time Out/BFI Southbank programmer) - when he was a projectionist at the Electric Cinema, he ran it at 1.85:1, and received an outraged complaint from Kubrick's office, who had sent a spy to the screening. I know for a fact that the practice continued into the 1990s, as I had two or three calls from Vitali (representing Kubrick's office) about other matters in connection with our screenings, based on reports received - but he never once complained about the aspect ratio.

Not that it would have done him much good if he had, because as Dwigt points out above, the 1.77:1 aspect ratio was non-standard. We could handle 1.33:1, 1.66:1, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1, but that was it - and I doubt very much that many other cinemas could say anything different. In fact, we did better than many, as we could at least show 1.33:1 properly.


Is this whole Lyndon issue, at least on JW's end, actually legit? Or some kind of weird put-on performance art??? Has Jeff finally morphed into DZ from his blog?

This is all over a SLIVER. An infinitesimal, barely perceptive sliver. This isn't a crappy Sony pan-and-scan from the 90s where they'd swoosh around the frame til you got dizzy (Last Action Hero, Larry Flynt); It's not a late 70s TV print of a Panavision movie where they'd smoosh it into 1.33 and the opening credits would be all stretched; It's not even the injustice of Peter Hyams's SUDDEN DEATH being only available in 1.33 despite his Scope compositions.

It is ONE QUARTER OF ONE INCH that YOU WOULD NEVER EVER notice was different. OAR and all that shit, but my God, this argument legitimately deranged, and leave it to Jeff McMahon to have the most accurate take on the whole thing.

Jeff is losing his motherfucking mind (TM Avon Barksdale) over nothing. Over a DVD he'll watch once the day he buys it, and probably never again/


What the hell is with all the Orwell references going on around here? Is "Orwellian" becoming the new "fascist", in that you just throw it at whatever you don't like at the moment?

Michael Brooke

Lex, nearly 7% of the picture is more than a 'sliver', though I agree it's nothing like the 43% that routinely got chopped out of CinemaScope films, and that you'd have to be seriously anal to argue that the film has been "destroyed" or "ruined" (as some have been doing).

In any case, regardless of the original intentions, I'm very happy with the new Blu-ray - I watched the first half-hour the other night, and I honestly wouldn't have known that it wasn't intended for 16:8 from the outset.

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