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July 18, 2012


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One aspect-ratio issue which did bother me was Werner Herzog, in 'Grizzly Man', cropping Timothy Treadwell's original 4:3 video footage for widescreen instead of simply pillarboxing it.


Thank you for that, Glenn.

Not just utterly apropos to the moment, but also a scene that made me EXCEEDINGLY giddy when I first saw it in a dark cinema.

(Has anyone ever noticed that Godard had a damn good run in the '60's? Sometimes I think the sugar cube in the coffee in 2 ou 3 choses is the single greatest sequence in the history of cinema. He's like the fucking Beatles.)


"One aspect-ratio issue which did bother me was Werner Herzog, in 'Grizzly Man', cropping Timothy Treadwell's original 4:3 video footage for widescreen instead of simply pillarboxing it."


Using intermittent pillarboxing can have downsides by taking you out of the cinema experience. There are times when you need it, especially if you're showing something really meant to signify old TV broadcasts or old home movies, of course.

But I would have made the same decision that Herzog did. The immersion is a bigger factor than disrupting the integrity of the documentary video.


One of David Bordwell's best posts concerns aspect ratio in Late Godard:

The gist is that the movies come from the lab marked 1.66 or 1.85. But they simply look much better at 1.37 or even 1.33. So James Quandt wrote Godard, who confirmed 1.66. (Compare Polanski on Rosemary's Baby). Then, however, Godard turned around and did a piece for Cahiers basically saying that to project Notre Musique at 1.66 or 1.85 would be the moral equivalent of bombing Sarajevo.

What are you gonna do? The director's word isn't final. Neither is it unimportant. Deep in the heart of Wells' obnoxiously phrased post was the germ of an idea: that Rosemary's Baby looks good, to him, at something other than 1.85. That could have been the start of an interesting conversation. Wells made that impossible, alas.

Anyway, the Bordwell post is really good.


Entirely IMHO Petey, but personally I like the way (for example) 'F for Fake' mixes unashamedly grainy 16mm with Welles' crystal-clear talking-head shots. Or in 'Winnebago Man', cutting from 1980s, nth-generation VHS footage of Jack Rebney to his present-day self, older but no mellower, filmed in HD. (Can't recall if the younger Rebney appeared pillarboxed, though; will rewatch.)

When a documentary addresses different layers and levels of presentation and representation, I find it thematically appropriate and cinematically rewarding to manifest, indeed emphasize, those differences visually.


Jeff Wells is the Tea Party of film bloggers now.

Josh Z

IIRC, Godard also changed his mind on Alphaville. The Criterion Laserdisc is letterboxed to ~1.66:1, but the later Criterion DVD is 4:3 per Godard's insistence.

John M

"Has anyone ever noticed that Godard had a damn good run in the '60's?"

A few people have.

David Ehrenstein

He's STILL the champ!


David Ehrenstein

"A colleague has made me aware of the discussion under way here, and while it amuses me beyond measure, I feel under the obligation to scholars and in defence of my magnificent friends at Criterion to set the matters aright. "Rosemary's Baby" is being released by Criterion in 1.85:1 because that is the aspect ratio I directed the film to have, because that is the aspect ratio that I prefer, and because that is the aspect ratio I insisted upon. While there was protection in the filming for the possibility of inadvertent projection at 1.66:1, it was never my intention to allow such projection if I could maintain control of the circumstance of projection. This film is and will always be properly framed at 1.85:1. And Mr. Wells, while I admire your sense of righteous fury, let me say to you that I know a little bit about fascism, and disagreeing with you is not the hallmark. However, your response to disagreement looks familiar. Polanski"

Slow curtain. The end.


The last time I saw M-F I found myself thinking primarily about how different it is visually from the ones that surround it. Without the comic book stylization of his work with Coutard, a kinetic tension develops between the naturalism of the images and the Godardian hijinks. It's like watching Godard infiltrate a Truffaut movie.

The gender politics give me a mild headache, though. The protagonist does develop a degree of self-awareness about the way he deals with the women in the movie but I'm not sure that completely mitigates the fact that they're all more or less depicted as vapid slaves to consumer culture.


"He's STILL the champ!"

Meh. He's still a contender, and I still happily trek to his new movies, but I think the last time he was the champ was Soigne ta droite.

(Polanski is so impressive to me because he's actually improved as he's reached an advanced age, which definitely is not the norm with directors.)

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