I get really upset about people showing movies or running video with the wrong screen shape. I’ve been warned that this forum should stay a “math-free” zone, so I won’t mention ASPECT RATIOS and use numbers, but we shouldn’t need them. While I rant about this–and expect me to go on about it–let me interrupt with an aside that’s particularly telling.
I went to a screening of The Quiet Man (1952) a few years ago. Maureen O’Hara was in attendance before and after the film, but she went out to dinner during the showing itself. She said she’d seen the movie enough and didn’t need to see it one more time. I was dismayed to see the picture start with the grand Republic Pictures logo, an eagle over a globe… this time only to say A Republic… (without the Picture.)
You see, the projectionist had decided not to do his homework on this film, and he ran it in widescreen format. If he’d bothered to check, he would have known that in 1954 the industry switched from conventional “Academy-sized” format (almost square, like most tube-TVs), to widescreen (much like your newer flat-screen TVs). The problem is that if you run an older film in widescreen format, you cut off the top and bottom of the image, which is what was done with The Quiet Man…
ALL THE WAY THROUGH…
I found this highly annoying, since it ruined much of the movie’s great photographic composition. I plotted my revenge against this idiot projectionist until it dawned on me that I might have a much more powerful ally. Ms. O’Hara did a nice Q&A session with the audience, and I saw that this is a woman who takes no guff. From anyone. Ever. She’s very nice about it, but whenever someone said something stupid or wrong, she corrected the error.
I wanted the projectionist to be in big trouble for screwing this up (after all, they’d taken my money for the show), so I figured the best thing I could do was to tell Maureen O’Hara about it. I waited until the Q&A was over and went to the reception. Gingerly, I approached her and introduced myself. (Forgive the numbers here… but I am reproducing what I told her…)
“Are you aware that they ran that entire picture at 1.85?” I asked.
Her eyes flashed. “What? That’s not a widescreen picture!”
I was happy that she knew exactly what I meant without explanation. She went on…
“What about the scene when Duke is dragging me across the glen?” she asked.
“You were off the bottom of the screen during the entire shot,” I answered.
“I ruptured a disc on that scene! I’m going to speak to them about this!”
I reported this story to a friend of mine who’s in “the industry,” and he was amazed. This fellow had met O’Hara as well. He had only one question: “What did she do with the bodies?”
The projectionist had decided that they had a wide screen, and he had to fill it. I’ve heard the quote from people before: “I paid for a wide screen, and I’m going to fill it up.”
And you can do that, but you’ll have to stretch, crop, and malign the image so much that any artistic intent of the original filmmakers is completely lost. In this case, the projectionist cropped the image. This annoys me in the extreme.
The problem is that there are several different screen sizes, and they literally do not fit with each other. The rectangles are different shapes. That’s why they call the newer formats “widescreen.”
These are the notable ones:
1) Movies 1894-1954 are generally in what’s called “Academy format,” which is a narrow rectangle slightly wider than it is high. (Yes, film geeks, I’m aware that silent aperture is different, and I project them properly, but that gets a little technical, so don’t bug me.)
2) Movies 1954- adopted a widescreen format that is wider. In America, this is a bit wider than in Europe, so there a European widescreen and an American one.
3) Cinemascope/Panavision (1953-) uses a special photographic process to squeeze a widescreen image into the older Academy format and that yields an even wider screen. (Yes, I know that’s not quite accurate, film geeks… lay off!).
4) Finally in the 2000s, TV got into the act, adopting another screen size that is between the size of American widescreen and European widescreen.
The upshot of this is that we have to mix and match screen sizes all the time. If you run a widescreen movie on a narrow Academy screen (like old TVs), then it doesn’t fit, so you either have to crop off the sides (ick) or “letterbox” it, where we see black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.
These black bars aren’t there because we’re masking off part of your narrow screen, but rather because the narrow screen isn’t wide enough to accommodate the picture. See what I mean here:
The opposite problem is now occurring because we have widescreen TVs that are showing older Academy programs. That, properly shown, would leave black bars at the sides of the image, like this:
Instead, the vast majority of TV owners opt to stretch out the narrow image to fill the black bars, like this:
I HATE THIS! When the picture is stretched out this way, thin people look fat and fat people look enormous. I call it “the egg people,” because everyone has an oblong, egg-shaped head.
Here is a brief animation showing how the image is stretched in your TV to create egg people:
I’ve had people tell me that “you get used to it,” and that they like the screen filled up. Well, I don’t get used to it, it’s wrong, and don’t expect me to get used to something that is wrong. I hate watching movies and sports this way.
I’m telling you all that if you don’t reset your TVs to eliminate the egg people, I’m going to send Maureen O’Hara out to your house. She’ll do it for you.
And she’s not as forgiving as I am.