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June 21, 2011


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D Cairns

Wooooow. In other words, the Orwell's 1984 "How many fingers am I holding up?" Warners are EVIL.


Nice work, GK. (I wonder how Wells will try to negate this.)


Fingerprint analysis? Graphology?


BOMBSHELL. Does this mean there's a bunch of egg all over Leon Vitali's face?

And correct me if I'm wrong, and apologies if this is a *dumb question*, but wouldn't item #2 make more sense if it read "please be sure you project it at this ratio, and in no event at MORE than 1-1.75"? He's saying under no circumstances should BL be projected in a ratio wider than 1.75, right?

Pete Apruzzese

I think I had mentioned in one of our conversations that I would love to see some primary source materials regarding the original aspect ratio. Well, this is it...and from the man himself. Interesting that it does allow for projection up to 1.75, so the Blu-ray gets a "Close, but no cigar" for fidelity to his original theatrical intentions.


I haven't even made the jump to Blu-ray yet, but I sure want me some 'Barry Lyndon'-headed notepaper.

Pete Apruzzese

Graig - yes, if I got that letter (and I've received/read a few similar letters as a projectionist) I would take it to say to run the film at 1.66:1 (preferred) up to 1.75:1 (acceptable), but no wider.

Fabian W.

That's obviously a forgery! Has nobody here seen this movie with John Malkovich? How quickly people forget.

Anyway. Thanks for all this, even if it is slightly depressing news. Maybe WHV will reissue it at some point? Looks like they at least tried to get it right, too, unlike Fox with that faulty French Connection blus.

Hauser Tann

Where's the long-form letter?


Am I nuts here, or how can the claim "the letter from Kubrick to projectionists was the reference for our 1.78 aspect ratio call" make any sense at all (assuming they are referring to the same letter)?


Can you imagine being some Filipino kid working at the AMC in the Valley and getting that letter? It's kind of hard not to laugh at the pomposity...

Also there's so little difference between 1.66 and 1.77, this is such a mountain out of a molehill. Not like it was shot in Panavision and presented in 1.33. Anything in the 1.66-1.85 ratio is close enough that it's all one big who-gives-a-shit and might as well be opened to 1.33 for TV, because the letterbox bars are so razor-thin it's just annoying.

Plus all of the world knows that 2.35:1 is the best aspect ratio ever, and anything shot narrower is LAZY and HACKY.

Gordon Cameron

>I wonder how Wells will try to negate this.

Why would he need to? Doesn't this letter support his point of view?

>Plus all of the world knows that 2.35:1 is the best aspect ratio ever, and anything shot narrower is LAZY and HACKY.

Yeah, total hackwork, that Citizen Kane... oh wait, I should write more words in all-caps, THAT WILL MAKE IT TRUE!

David Ehrenstein

Can we say "Anal Retentive" boys and girls?


Vilmos Zsigmond is also on record as saying that 2.35:1 is a superior cinematic ratio, but he has the advantage of being avuncular, intelligent and not a TOTAL FUCKING ASSHOLE.

Scott Nye

It'd all be worth it if, just for once, Warner Brothers put out a statement that said, "WE JUST DON'T CARE." They've contradicted themselves so many times over the past 10+ years in what "Stanley's intentions" were that it all seems very, very obvious.

Tom Russell

"The letter that said 'it should be 1.66, but absolutely no wider than 1.75' is why it's in 1.78!" Wha--?

I realize I'm not contributing anything new to the conversation, but I'm expressing my incredulity anyway.


Of course it's the best ratio. Don't you get UNDERWHELMED when you go into the theater and the screen is that small, boxy shape? It shows a lack of effort, versus shooting in widescreen.

Yeah, yeah, you guys can throw "What about Godfather and Clockwork Orange and Annie Hall" and whatnot at me all day long, but think of Nashville or John Carpenter or There Will be Blood or Fincher or Easy Rider or Close Encounters, Jaws, Deer Hunter, Heaven's Gate, Lawrence of Arabia, Tetro, Road Warrior, Once Upon a Time in The West, and ten zillion other movies that used 2.35:1 so beautifully, the RECTANGLE shape functioning as a canvas to create depth and scope and width and distance and poetry and beauty...

Versus a SQUARE BOX.

Fabian W.

Easy Rider? Nope.

Tom Russell

Mr. Ehrenstein: I don't think it's anal retentive, no; the allowable 1.75 versus the BluRay's 1.78 might be as negligable as 1.33 to 1.37, but pace Mr. Lex, 1.66 versus 1.78 is a sizable enough difference to matter.


Gee, what Mike Nichols movies were more visually distinctive:

The Graduate and Catch-22...

...or Heartburn and Silkwood.

1.85 is the Hackspect ratio.


Lex:G is the ASSHOLE ratio.

Tom Russell

Lex-- disregarding what's in the frame, I think 2.35 is a more pleasing aspect ratio than 1.66, 1.85, 1.78, maybe even 1.37. But that's just it. As Martin Scorsese is fond of saying, and our host is fond of quoting, cinema is a matter of what's in the frame and what's out; so saying that films made with one aspect ratio are inherently better than films made with another aspect ratio is pretty ridiculous.

And there are times when I see a film shot in 2.35, and I'm all like, seriously, THE HOUSE BUNNY, that needed to be in 2.35? It works well for some things, not so well for others.


When Kubrick used the term "no less than..." I think he means "less" in terms of the cropping/loss of the image as it goes wider. So in that way it makes sense.

Lex, must you recycle the same jokes on multiple blogs, especially when the guys who run them read each other's work on a daily basis? The Filipino kid thing wasn't even funny the first time, as i highly doubt you'd see one in a projection booth back in 1975. Or maybe I'm not giving the progressiveness of California's projectionist's union enough credit.

That Fuzzy Bastard

I have to agree with Graig that Vitali ends up looking a lot worse than GK. But Hauser Tann still wins the thread.


"And correct me if I'm wrong, and apologies if this is a *dumb question*, but wouldn't item #2 make more sense if it read "please be sure you project it at this ratio, and in no event at MORE than 1-1.75"? He's saying under no circumstances should BL be projected in a ratio wider than 1.75, right?"

He's stating the ratio in the opposite direction of how we normally see it today. 1:1.66 = 0.60, and 1:1.75 = 0.57. He didn't want it less than 0.57. 1:1.78 = 0.56.

So Warners is taking the letter to mean that the allowed aspect ratio is anywhere in the range of 1.66 to 1.75, and that 1.78 is not negligibly different than 1.75, and they therefore take the position that they are in the clear.

In other news, please stop feeding the Lex troll.

Tom Russell

@JBS: Normally, I wouldn't have indulged, but I took his 3:17 comment to be passionately and legitimately argued. It might be _wrong_-- and I think it is-- but I thought it was in this instance worth engaging. (His post at 2:54, maybe not so much.)


As I recall, Wells' argument this whole time is 1.66 is the only acceptable ratio in which to see BL. Here M. Kubrick is giving projectionists up to 1.75-- which, let's be real is basically the same diff. (See also: 2.35 which isn't really 2.35-- it's 2.39 or 2.40.)

My bigger point: Wells is an insufferable blowhard trying his hardest to get pageviews. (See also: his recent post wherein he argued that MGM's non-anamorphic KISS ME DEADLY DVD from 2000 is visually superior to Criterion's 2011 Blu.)

James Steffen

Thanks for the letter--it was fascinating to read!

I think WHV's "transgression" is overblown. Yes, the *preferred* aspect ratio for BL is 1.66:1, and Warner could have (should have?) presented the film that way. Even so, the difference between 1.78:1 and the Kubrick's maximum recommended aspect ratio of 1.75:1 is so miniscule that it's not worth worrying about. I guess I'm with JBS on this point.

BL was an open matte film, and the cinematographer very likely *protected* the image for 1.85:1 on the assumption that many theaters would project it that way regardless of Mr. Kubrick's instructions. Does anyone have access to Kubrick's actual written instructions to Alcott? that might help shed some light on things.

Anyway, you have to keep in mind that in projection a certain amount of the image often gets cropped by the screen masking, even beyond what is cropped by the aperture plates. How many times have you all seen films in the theater with minor or major masking/aspect ratio problems? There is always a certain fudge factor involved in real-life projection scenarios, and cinematographers have to plan for that when they frame a shot.

The difference between 1:33:1 (TV) and 1.85:1 (standard widescreen) is pretty big, but that's the kind of thing cinematographers actually have to account for when they shoot a film. The difference between 1.66:1 and 1.78:1 is small change in the grand scheme. Let's keep a sense of perspective here.

John M

He clearly strongly prefers the 1.66 ratio. Why Warners went against his strong presence--the way he visualized the film--is a real mystery. Seems like someone musta fucked up.

2.35 is the most misused ratio in cinema.

Jon Hastings

But Kubrick is giving that maximum recommendation because he recognizes that not all theaters will be willing/able to go with 1.66. But when you're a big company putting out what is supposed to be the definitive edition of one of his movies it seems preposterous to say that 1.78 reflects his wishes.

I also agree with John M. about the consistent misuse of 2.35.

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