Pseudo Widescreen (or when someboy is altering a film)

Technically-oriented discussion of classic films on everything from 35mm to Blu-Ray
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radiotelefonia

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Pseudo Widescreen (or when someboy is altering a film)

PostTue Nov 11, 2008 5:40 pm

How many DVDs are out there featuring altered versions of films in order to "fit" them in Widescreen TV sets?

Here is one example, THE TALL T:

DVD version:

Image

TV version:

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Paul Penna

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PostTue Nov 11, 2008 6:31 pm

See how high in the frame the copyright line is? That's a dead giveaway that the film was intended to be matted to a widescreen ratio when projected. The 1957 copyright date is another indication that this was the case, like practically all films made after 1953. This is what's termed a "known issue."
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boblipton

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PostTue Nov 11, 2008 6:36 pm

It's my understanding that Stevens shot Shane originally in standard and then cropped it to widescreen for the release.

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Jack Theakston

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PostTue Nov 11, 2008 6:43 pm

THE TALL 'T' is shot in what's called "flat" wide-screen, in which the full 1.37:1 aperture is shot, but is cropped in the projector with an aperture plate to any ratio from 1.55 to 2:1 (1.85 is now the "standard" ratio). More than half of all of the films out today use this process, and it has been the case since 1953.

It's my understanding that Stevens shot Shane originally in standard and then cropped it to widescreen for the release.


This is true. Paramount was the first studio to utilize a flat wide-screen process-- at that point, it was 1.66:1. Since it was a concept that was cobbled together literally in one week, Paramount had no features that were shot with that format, so they picked SHANE because it's mostly long and medium shots. However, commencing in April, they were shooting everything with a 1.66:1 mask on the viewfinder.

In May, Universal introduced the 1.85 format with THUNDER BAY. Again, the film was shot Academy, but there was no way for them to get a "big" film out that fast, so they picked one that is fairly panoramic.

Similarly, there were a number of films in the Spring of 1953 season that fall under this category (WAR OF THE WORLDS, 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE), but by the summer of '53, with most films having had been filmed after the "big switch," almost every studio was wide-screen ready.

Interestingly, there has been a number of heated debates on the subject out there on the Internet, but I find that more often than not, the anti-wide-screen folk don't seem to have their facts in order. If any one transition is well documented, it's the wide-screen transition, right down to trade magazines such as BoxOffice listing individual aspect ratios for each film.
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silentfilm

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PostTue Nov 11, 2008 8:38 pm

Thanks for posting this. I had no idea that The Tall T, much less 5 Budd Boetticher westerns were released on DVD last week.

I have a window card from The Tall T and a one-sheet for Ride Lonesome, both of which I was able to get signed by Boetticher. I'd love to have the DVD set to screen these again.
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Mike Gebert

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PostTue Nov 11, 2008 10:12 pm

Thanks for posting this. I had no idea that The Tall T, much less 5 Budd Boetticher westerns were released on DVD last week.


Not only that, but Mike S./Precode was involved. (I thought maybe he posted it here, but he must have said it in person at Cinevent.)

Not to mention he's partly responsible for this and this (which I had to have, believe me-- hey, at this price any two on each set can suck and it's still a deal).
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silentfilm

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PostTue Nov 11, 2008 11:52 pm

Mike was involved in getting Budd Boetticher at Cinecon a few years ago. There was some controversy over his film, because Seven Men From Now (1957) was a late-1950s film, and Cinecon usually shows things from the 1940s and earlier. Also, the film was Cinecon's first ever widescreen film. (They have shown a few more since then.) Those that skipped this film really made a mistake, because it has a terrific script, great performances from Randolph Scott and Lee Marvin, and great direction of course.

Mr. Boetticher was in poor health, but he gladly took questions from the audience. He died about a month later.

I had seen The Tall T and another Boetticher/Scott western a few years earlier back when the USA Film Festival in Dallas still screened older films. Mr. Boetticher was in great health then, and he spent a lot of time answering questions from the audience and telling some great stories. I was lucky enough to be able to find a Tall T window card and a Ride Lonesome one-sheet and get them autographed after the show. Ride Lonesome had been scheduled, but the print was in poor shape, so they substituted another title instead, and I can't remember which one.
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Mike Gebert

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PostWed Nov 12, 2008 6:30 am

Seven Men From Now is a great movie. Andre Bazin called it "the least intellectual and most intelligent of westerns," which I think is French for "no bullshit."

The really good unknown Boetticher film is The Killer Is Loose, with Wendell Corey taking a break from playing dull authority figures to play a mild-mannered psycho out to get Joseph Cotten. Two interesting things about it-- eventually Corey winds up in a dress, and damned if he isn't the model of Norman Bates a few years later; and Cotten and the other cops wind up tracking him in part over walkie-talkies, in a dry run for Cotten's buddy Orson's Touch of Evil the next year. It plays TCM occasionally.
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radiotelefonia

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PostWed Nov 12, 2008 7:36 am

There are a few of the Boetticher films out there. Among them, some TV rips of his phony widescreen films, in their correct aspect ratio.

If I follow intentions, I should be the most important person in the world. :mrgreen:
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Jack Theakston

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PostWed Nov 12, 2008 10:00 pm

But you don't understand. The cropped version IS the version Boetticher shot for, not the other way around.
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radiotelefonia

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PostThu Nov 13, 2008 5:51 am

I understand...

But I prefer films in the Academy aspect ratio. Studios should provide the two versions, but that's OK.

I don't feel the same rapport with WideScreen films.
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Christopher Jacobs

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PostThu Nov 13, 2008 1:04 pm

Most Hollywood films made after 1953 or 1954 were shot in the standard Academy ratio and "protected" for projection in a variety of formats from 1.37 to close to 2:1. Almost all of these were composed for some sort of wide format, usually around 1.66:1 in my experience, with extra headroom in medium shots and nothing too important that might be cropped to 1.85:1 so that the image often looks cramped at 1.85 but definitely too "loose" at 1.33/1.37. Some of these still look better at 1.37, whether thay were shown that way or not, but usually look fine at 1.66 and don't suffer much at 1.85. The 1.78:1 16x9 TV format is a compromise between these two and is often adequate.

Regarding The Tall T in particular, I remember previewing a 16mm print for a film society back in the 1980s and realizing immediately it had been composed for wide screen. I kept moving the projector back and masking the top and bottom until it looked "right," then measured the screen dimensions. They turned out to be almost exactly 1.66:1.

The problem with letterboxing DVDs is that it leaves no other viewing options. The problem with not letterboxing them is that when you blow up the picture and crop it yourself (most modern TVs and video projectors have various "zoom" options now), you loose picture resolution. Sometimes I will watch It Came from Outer Space or The Deadly Mantis at 1.33 and sometimes I'll watch them at 1.78. Both are good for most of the film, and one or the other might look better for certain shots. If non-scope 1950s films on BluRay get transferred at full Academy aperture, the loss of sharpness is less noticeable, but of course they will be even sharper with the full 1.78 HD frame, and they were usually projected at some widescreen ratio between 1.66 and 1.85 when they first came out.

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Jack Theakston

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PostThu Nov 13, 2008 1:37 pm

Sometimes I will watch It Came from Outer Space or The Deadly Mantis at 1.33 and sometimes I'll watch them at 1.78.


The problem there is that a) IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE was not composed for wide-screen (it was shot in February of '53 before Universal re-tooled their viewfinders two months later) and that b) the DVD of THE DEADLY MANTIS should be 16x9, but belies another problem-- studios "zooming in" on their transfers during telecine.

Here is a comparison between the DVD and a 35mm print that shows how much information is lost: http://i279.photobucket.com/albums/kk153/jacktheakston/mantis/deadlymantis3.jpg

The problem is that what you see on video isn't always what you would see on film in similar circumstances. In order to cover up all sorts of flats such as boom mics, top of sets, cables and mattes, many companies decide to do zoomed-in transfers, which doesn't help anybody because they're cropping off all four sides at that point.
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radiotelefonia

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PostFri Nov 14, 2008 1:33 am

Christopher Jacobs wrote:Regarding The Tall T in particular, I remember previewing a 16mm print for a film society back in the 1980s and realizing immediately it had been composed for wide screen. I kept moving the projector back and masking the top and bottom until it looked "right," then measured the screen dimensions. They turned out to be almost exactly 1.66:1.


Something like this...

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image
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PostMon Nov 17, 2008 7:22 am

You can see the change in the opening credits for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, too. At the start of the 1950s, the words "Warner Bros." are at the very top of the concentric circles. A few years later, the circles extend well beyond the words "Warner Bros."

The only logical explanation is protecting for the films to be masked for widescreen.
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greta de groat

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PostMon Nov 17, 2008 12:48 pm

Since my previous question on another topic seems more pertinent here, i'll repost it:

I've only bought one film so far from Sunrise--Devil's Island, and while the print was way better than the unwatchable one i had on VHS, it did appear to be slightly cropped at the top and bottom, i assumed to make it appear to be somewhat wider-screened than the normal aspect ratio. I compared it to the tape and did not see the same cropping there. It also appeared on the short film extra (What a Change of Clothes Did).

Anyway, it made me hesitant to buy anything else from them. Is that a problem with other titles too? I see they have Stella Dallas, which i dont' yet have a copy of, and i have to decide between Sunrise and Grapevine for a DVD of Smouldering Fires.

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dr.giraud

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PostMon Nov 17, 2008 2:07 pm

greta de groat wrote:
Anyway, it made me hesitant to buy anything else from them. Is that a problem with other titles too? I see they have Stella Dallas, which i dont' yet have a copy of, and i have to decide between Sunrise and Grapevine for a DVD of Smouldering Fires.

greta


I have the SMOULDERING FIRES vhs tape from Grapevine. The print is kinda rough but watchable. It has an OK score (and the grinning Carl Laemmle superimposed over the globe opening logo). I haven't seen the DVD.

Are there good prints (16mm only, I assume) of this around? It's a great movie.
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greta de groat

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PostMon Nov 17, 2008 3:22 pm

dr.giraud wrote:I have the SMOULDERING FIRES vhs tape from Grapevine. The print is kinda rough but watchable. It has an OK score (and the grinning Carl Laemmle superimposed over the globe opening logo). I haven't seen the DVD.

Are there good prints (16mm only, I assume) of this around? It's a great movie.


PFA tried to show the 35mm GEH print a few years back, but when the found it was incomplete they had to resort to a 16mm print that was not in great shape. Don't remember if it was theirs or if they got it from someplace else. Too bad, as it's one of my favorites and i was looking forward to seeing a better print.

But, if anyone has the Sunrise DVD, is it cropped like Devil's Island?

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radiotelefonia

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PostTue Nov 18, 2008 8:07 pm

No, it is not cropped, just windowboxed.
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greta de groat

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PostWed Nov 19, 2008 12:18 am

radiotelefonia wrote:No, it is not cropped, just windowboxed.


I'm not too technical--explain how that's different. Doesn't it still involve some picture loss at top and bottom?

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PostWed Nov 19, 2008 4:52 am

greta de groat wrote:
radiotelefonia wrote:No, it is not cropped, just windowboxed.


I'm not too technical--explain how that's different. Doesn't it still involve some picture loss at top and bottom?

greta


Because of the soundtrack, the shape of the image in early Fox "talkies" (films with Movietone scores) was a little taller than became standard when everybody went with sound-on-film systems. "Windowboxing" these films leaves some blank space on the sides in order to show the entire vertical image. So, like letterboxing with widescreen films, the idea is to show as much of the complete, intended image as possible.
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greta de groat

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PostWed Nov 19, 2008 10:58 am

dr.giraud wrote:
Because of the soundtrack, the shape of the image in early Fox "talkies" (films with Movietone scores) was a little taller than became standard when everybody went with sound-on-film systems. "Windowboxing" these films leaves some blank space on the sides in order to show the entire vertical image. So, like letterboxing with widescreen films, the idea is to show as much of the complete, intended image as possible.


Ok, you are talking about Fox talkies. I was talking about the Sunrise Silents DVD release of Devil's Island (1926) as well as the extras on the disc. So nobody else has noticed this on any other Sunrise Silents DVDs?

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radiotelefonia

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PostWed Nov 19, 2008 12:38 pm

I was speaking about the Sunrise Silents DVDs. dr.giraud explanation was an explanation of the term "Windowbox", not about Fox Films.
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PostTue Sep 08, 2009 2:58 pm

Sunrise seems to source their original material from 16mm film prints for their DVD releases. 16mm is by its very nature a slight crop from the same image on 35mm-certainly from 35mm silent films. So there is a built-in crop factor when using a 16mm print.

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