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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2007 12:51 pm 
Perhaps this article from the Operating Cameraman from the Summer 1994 issue is of interest. It says that near the end of April 1953, Universal announced that all its feature pictures would be composed for projection at the wider ratio of 2:1.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2007 5:57 pm 
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This reference to Universal in 1953 and 2.1 is completely contradictory:

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The search for the perfect aspect ratio was only just beginning. At its Thunder Bay screening, Universal also had presented test footage composed for projection at a 2:1 aspect ratio. Near the end of April 1953, Universal announced that all its feature pictures would be composed for projection at the wider ratio, claiming that 2:1 would preserve the height of the original

I can't understand how 2.1 can preserve the height of the original - it predicates a spherical 35mm shooting regime which builds in added height and base area to accommodate cropping. THe article also makes no reference to Superscope as the "official" 2.00:1 spherical widescreen process.

The article actually gets to the point later when you read that:

Quote:
To this day, however, there is no consistent adherence to the 1.85:1 standard. In truth, the projected aspect ratio in any given screening facility is based on a combination of three elements: (1) the projector-to-screen distance, (2) the size of the screen, and (3) the focal length of the projection lens. Where possible, theater designers try to come as close as possible to 1.85:1. But there are many older theaters that still project images at 1.66:1 or 1.75:1. Some of the newer, smaller multiplex auditoriums use a 2:1 ratio for spherical features. And some theaters even show all features--whether spherical or anamorphic--at one ratio, by masking anamorphic features down to 2:1 or 1.85:1.

The writer however omits a fourth critiical reason: the ability of invidual theatres mechanically to apply the recommended masking.

Indeed during the fifties many cinemas outside the big cities and outside the USA had no facilities for hydraulically masking the frame. Thus you may have seen a 1.85 masking of Dial M for Murder in Sydney's premium Roadshow cinema for Warner (The Region 4 DVD is in this ratio, and is universally loathed BTW) while the remaining Metro cinemas screened it at 1.37. I recall one small specialist cinema in Sydney - the Gaiety Kings Cross for anyone who remembers - which, finally, as late as 1966 made a permanent masking alteration to its old and quite small Academy Ratio screen to permanently mask to something approximating 2:1. And I subsequently remember having to watch things like French Can Can and dozens of other pre 53 titles during the late sixties projected masked into this clumsy format. By this time they were also screening lots of Scope prints (and had an anamorphic lens for this) so they clearly figured on a commercial balance favoring the fixed wide screen.

In any case - to reiterate earlier posts - Vera Cruz was the first "officially" released 2:1 Superscope title going into first release in December 1954. (But in fact it was released in 1.85:1) Magnificent Obsession, along with many other titles from a number of studios, MAY HAVE BEEN shown in some circumstances with masking of one ratio or another - 1.66, 1.75 or 1.85 - but there is no anecdotal or other evidence to my knowledge to show that it was ever projected at 2:1. Just as we now have All that Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind in 1.78 versions on DVD. I invite people to speculate if these would be helped by even wider masking and tighter cropping.

There is no argument that projection ratios for spherical 35mm prints after 1953 became a total dog's dinner, until some sort of formal preference for 1.85 came into effect in the early 60s (and Vistvision had been replaced by Technirama, Tecniscope and Super Technirama, just as Panavision was supplanting Scope for bother proprietary lenses and 'Scope's licencing fee from Fox. And Superscope evolved into Super35.)

There is also no argument about DPs becoming aware of the likelihood of widescreen projection from 1953 onwards. The only argument is about how best to view the movie. In my view if there is the slightest dispute about this the DVD should be releasing dual versions of the title - one masked and one full frame. This would of course be impossible if something like the "widescreen" version of Mag Ob were to supplant the original as the "Official" vault master, just as Universa has done with Touch of Evil, effectively suppressing the 1.37 original 1958 cut and mask.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2007 7:16 pm 
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Godisard wrote:
Perhaps this article from the Operating Cameraman from the Summer 1994 issue is of interest. It says that near the end of April 1953, Universal announced that all its feature pictures would be composed for projection at the wider ratio of 2:1.

Thanks for the find. That seems to settle the debate then. I can't imagine under what circumstances Sirk would choose to ignore the studio directive and not compose Magnificent Obsession for wide screen.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2007 7:22 pm 
davidhare wrote:
THe article also makes no reference to Superscope as the "official" 2.00:1 spherical widescreen process.

It's actually a three part article. The Superscope process is briefly mentioned in part 2 which is in the Winter 1993 issue.
Superscope was shot flat but was converted in the lab to anamorphic prints and consequently used anamorphic projector optics for projection. However, the writer seems to suggest that before 1.85:1 became the standard for 35mm non-anamorphic projection (which he puts at around 1956), Universal's standard for non-anamorphic projection was 2:1.

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The only argument is about how best to view the movie. In my view if there is the slightest dispute about this the DVD should be releasing dual versions of the title - one masked and one full frame.

I'm not an expert on Sirk so I have no opinion on how to best view the movie. My main nterest lies in the history of widescreen cinema so that's why I reacted. I agree with you that Universal would have made everybody happy if they had released a dual version of MO.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2007 7:48 pm 
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Superscope was shot flat but was converted in the lab to anamorphic prints and consequently used anamorphic projector optics for projection. However, the writer seems to suggest that before 1.85:1 became the standard for 35mm non-anamorphic projection (which he puts at around 1956), Universal's standard for non-anamorphic projection was 2:1.

All this data about Superscope has already been covered previously in this thread. To which should be added (or repeated) Superscope was a process which was easily retrospectively applied to movies made 1.37 pre 1953 which were never intended for widescreen. Example Jet Pilot (completed 1950, first released 1957.) The writer also ignores the fact that a number of movies intentionally made with Superscope in mind (and with a Superscope Credit) are in fact masked at 1.85 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

If you were so foolish as to believe the passage quoted from the article above. the writer is in fact making assertions not borne out by fact or experience. Superscope was a process initially most frequently adopted by RKO, not Universal. It was also infrequently picked up by smaller studios like Allied Artists but I have not seen any evidence whatsoever to conclude Universal EVER settled on a 2:0 ratio, or Superscope in whatever AR as a process for all its spherical (i.e. non anamorphic) films during the 1950s.

IMO the writer has settled on a 1953 press release - made for commercial imperatives by the studio, but his assertion is not historically verifiable in actual production - and he's come to the conclusion that 2.0 was the official Uni ratio. This is plainly and simply wrong. And the miscreance of logic frankly tarnishes much of the rest of the article because it suggests the writer is working from extrapolation without documentary evidence. Yoshimori asked for evidence. This is not evidence. MY own viewing experiences - pathetic as they evidently are only going back to the late 1950s - are somewhat more substantial than this hypothetical posturing.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 21, 2007 3:40 am 
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If you were so foolish as to believe the passage quoted from the article above. the writer is in fact making assertions not borne out by fact or experience. Superscope was a process initially most frequently adopted by RKO, not Universal.

The author does not claim that Universal ever used Superscope. I can only repeat myself, the author claims 2:1 for early Universal non-anamorphic projection (by masking obviously). Again, Superscope uses anamorphic optics for projection. There is a difference.

Quote:
IMO the writer has settled on a 1953 press release - made for commercial imperatives by the studio, but his assertion is not historically verifiable in actual production - and he's come to the conclusion that 2.0 was the official Uni ratio. This is plainly and simply wrong.

No, it isn't. I've actually heard the same claim before from other sources.

Quote:
MY own viewing experiences

It doesn't matter how cinemas at the time projected 35mm flat films. What matters is that a studio decreed that all its feature films would be composed for projection at 2:1. The keyword here is composed.

Quote:
hypothetical posturing

The magazine is a serious publication. The acknowledgements for the article include a lot of industry insiders including

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Phil Scott, formerly of Universal Pictures

so it's something more than hypothetical posturing imo.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 21, 2007 5:14 am 
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Are you simply telling me this is an argument about correct position and framing? Do you have any idea how complex this is in film history?

I would add - the mag is attempting to impose some sorta WS above all. theory. This is nonsense - do you want to argue that everything should have been in color and WS? ForEVAH!!

Do you HATE Academy? And is that your position?

Well there ya go! I've spent a lot of time on this, as have you arguing some sorta position. But WHAT? I simply don't know what you (and the other person) wanna do with this.

BTW, name me the Universal 2:1 screenings.


Last edited by Anonymous on Wed Mar 21, 2007 5:22 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue May 29, 2007 3:37 pm 
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I'm not taking any sides in this argument, but I thought this piece of documentation recently posted on HTF might be of interest.


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PostPosted: Tue May 29, 2007 6:09 pm 
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While these rticles are fascinating it has to be remembered that these are publicity documents which relate intended screening ratios.

That's to say "intended" thru advance publicity, not necessarily factual real life screenings. Indeed it was NOT until 1956 that a majority of theatres were equipped with hydraulic screen masking apparatus.

Some theatres may have shown Obsession in 2.1 (or far more likely 1.85) the majority of others in 1.37. The complete unreliability of publicity sheets is the fact they are just that, not actual documentary evidence of actual screening practices. Take a title like Touch of Evil from as late as 1958 when 1.85 had become a de facto standard for non-Scope widescreen. For all intents and purposes the Welles should have been a shoe in for 1.85. Yet Ive only ever seen both the 58 and the 78 (added footage) versions in 1.37 theatrically. And there is some evidence around to suggest Welles and Metty shot it for 1.37, in large part the reason for using super wide angle (mostly 24mm) lenses to achieve depth of focus in night sequences. Hitchcock's 1957 Wrong Man should also be a shoe in for 1.85 , as it's a major studio picture with a big star (Fonda) yet the DVD which is masked to this ratio clearly fucks up the bottom of the image in shot after shot. Seems to me 1.66 if anything at all would have been prefereable.

This is a minefield of a subject and everyone needs to be aware that until the late 50s at least, widescreen masking - by fiat as it were - is a no mans land of contention. In the end everything up to 1960 (except Scope and Vistavision) was still being shot optically in 35mm and if in any doubt at all, 1.37 is the preferred framing option in my view. At least up to 1957.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 3:55 am 
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I see what all those reviews on amazon are about now. Once you see it for yourself it screams at you: botch!

What I find amazing is that in the early days of DVD and video they felt they had to explain "black bars are normal for this format" because a lot of philistines actually preferred not to have black bars, than to see all the picture as the director intended; yet here we have the company falsely making the picture seem like its more widescreen than it was cause widescreen these days carries a prestige with it... Uncanny...

Anyway, shame to have a blot on the first proper retrospective box set of this fine director's work.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2007 11:21 am 
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Take it as you will as I'm not sure how accurate this info is but apparently, the spanish DVD for Magnificent Obsession has an AR of 1.85...


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2007 6:24 pm 
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Lino I think someone elsewhere (beaver listserve or a_f_b) has discovered the Spanish disc is not 1.85 or 1.37 but a port of the British disc. In any case 1.85 is also wrong.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 4:30 am 

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The botched Sirk r2 set is on Amazon uk for just under 16 pounds now (down from 55 ?). A bargain even if one blocks out MO from consideration. This reduction may also indicate a re-release in the pipeline perhaps?


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2007 9:38 am 
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No, it just means they're not selling any. I guess.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 12, 2007 2:28 pm 
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Got this set yesterday from Amazon Uk and immediately watched Magnificent Obsession. From the beginning of credits I thought the transfer was going to be a disaster, but I must say I never had a problem with the cropping. Never saw a cropped head and always saw everything in place. I'd only seen the film once many years ago in 1.33:1, but I really thought it looked great projected 2.00:1.


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 13, 2007 6:19 am 
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Same here. But I must state that at times it felt the framing was a bit tight around the edges. The controversy rages on.


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 13, 2007 9:33 am 
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Lino wrote:
Same here. But I must state that at times it felt the framing was a bit tight around the edges. The controversy rages on.

That's true, but never felt the picture was cropped, and that was the main reason for me not wanting to invest in the set. Now that I have it, I'm very happy with it.


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 13, 2007 5:25 pm 
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In the Halliday interview book with Sirk, the director makes a general mention of the 50s as a "time of change", in particular in regards to widescreen. Of course he shot several movies in Scope, and he provides the opinion that "we had to shoot in Scope with a view to also allowing for regular (Academy) ration for theatres which couldn't show the new format." In fact his Scope movies are composed very specifically for the 2.35 ratio, and I strongly suspect Sirk in fact was talking about the non-Scope widescreen masking regime, which studios like Universal were requiring directors to take account of at least until 58 with more cinemas coming into line with widesreen apparatus.

Certainly Sirk and Metty leave a lot of headroom in the three Hudson melodramas. But it's a question of what he does with the headroom, the way he lights within it and lays out decor to intersect or break up the image into planes, etc. My point has always been that if Universal insists on releasing these movies ONLY in a matted widescreen format, it has superseded and made forever redundant the chance to see the pictures in full frame open matte. (which is exactly how people my age always saw them originally.)

I am still holding out for the Carlotta/Gaumont box from France. They never replied to my email questioning "formats d'ecran" but I note the release date was put back to November. And I am frankly tantalized by the voluminous extras discs which suggest "alternate" versions, if not the Stahl originals of Imitation (this a certainly) and Magnificent Obsession (this a real rarity) - these could indeed include full frame, plus masked widescreen.

Sort of OT, but I recently took possession of some directair DVDs of several mid-fifties Columbia titles including Human Desire, The Line Up and UA's Autumn Leaves, all of which I've only seen full frame. These are all masked to 1.85, and the resultant image is varyingly satisfactory - the Siegel and the Aldrich look good, but the Lang looks severely cropped (as does the "Superscope" reframing of the RKO title While the City Sleeps.)


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2007 10:14 am 
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David, you might want to read this.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2007 7:07 am 

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dh. Thanks for all your info on this thread. Doc Films had a Sirk retrospective last spring, and I missed "Magnificent Obsession". This is a disappointing turn of events indeed.

I was wondering about two things. First, could you explain a little more about 1.66 and 1.85 matting in the period. Before this thread, I was under the impression that most films shot open matte would've been projected 1.85 at least after 1956. Thus, "All That Heaven Allows" and "Written on the Wind" would've been screened in 1.85. Do you know at what point 1.85 replaced 1.66 if ever as a standard matte for projection? I'm just a little confused. It seems it must have depended on the facilities of the theaters in question.

Secondly, I was wondering about the quality of the "The Tarnished Angels" image in the box set. Presumably, they couldn't have messed that up since it's in scope. In our retrospective, it was screened in a gorgeous 35 print, and if there's any Sirk I'd like to own on DVD it's that and "There's Always Tomorrow". Could you post some comments or even screencaps?


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2007 11:02 am 
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che-etienne wrote:
Do you know at what point 1.85 replaced 1.66 if ever as a standard matte for projection?

Was 1.66 ever a "standard matte" in Hollywood? I've always been under the impression that 1.66 was used far more extensively in Europe than it ever was in America.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2007 11:41 am 

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Precisely what I'm confused about. I didn't think it was ever standard, or for that matter even in use commonly. But from davidhare's comments it sounds like it may have been used quite often before 1.85 became standard in the final few years of the decade...


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 02, 2007 7:22 am 
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Guys I can tell you what I do remember seeing masked to 1.66 in the 60s and 70s - usually Euro titles in WS 1.85 ready OZ cinemas, but titles like Fahrenheit 451, Charlie Bubbles, and indeed the three Bergman "Faith" pictures including Persona. Point was 1.85 was a "premium" non ana format, until the sixties which was more - or less - adhered to in masking practices ion Australia. And by inference the rest of the world and non Metro USA.

My sole viewing experiences of the Sirks non Scope in both 35mm and 16mm were always in Film Society and non commercial screening situations and the projectionists always left them to run at 1.37, which indicates that there were no masking instruction sheets on the cans, unless of course they were hard matted.

There is aboslutely no doubt - I think - that 1.78/1.85 was the de facto standard from 58 onwards, but STILL some movies looked better in full frame, like Touch of Evil, the Wrong Man, Anatomy of a Murder or the two 56 Langs. As a friend has suggested to me often enough. the real misery of this apparently unsolveable dilemma is that the DPs simply did not leave any substantial correspondence to indicate their (or their directors') preference. A contenmporary dilemma for instance is Storaro's insistence on reformatting the new restoration of Berto's Last Emperor to a top and bottom cropped narrower format. All the discussion Ive read about this, including Storaro's comments does not inspire confidence in his own concern or integrity with the original intentions of the director. So we are left in a bit of a warp, at least certainly with the 53 to 58 period. In every single case, I think we should now insiost on dual versions for DVD. That simple.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2008 11:00 pm 
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che-etienne wrote:
dh. Thanks for all your info on this thread. Doc Films had a Sirk retrospective last spring, and I missed "Magnificent Obsession". This is a disappointing turn of events indeed.

I was wondering about two things. First, could you explain a little more about 1.66 and 1.85 matting in the period. Before this thread, I was under the impression that most films shot open matte would've been projected 1.85 at least after 1956. Thus, "All That Heaven Allows" and "Written on the Wind" would've been screened in 1.85. Do you know at what point 1.85 replaced 1.66 if ever as a standard matte for projection? I'm just a little confused. It seems it must have depended on the facilities of the theaters in question.

Interestingly enough, the American Film Institute Catalog mentions an aspect ratio of 2:1 for WRITTEN ON THE WIND and ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, the same as the oh-so controversial aspect ratio for MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION. I'm assuming this comes from Universal adopting 2:1 as a standard widescreen aspect ratio for all their films during this transitional period. (That is, shooting the films open-matte and composing them for the wider ratio.)

Also, according to the AFI catalog MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION was produced in late September - late October 1953, and released in August 1954, with a Los Angeles premiere in April 1954. It seems very likely that Sirk and the cameraman Russell Metty would have framed it so it would work in a widescreen format, as dictated by the studio, if the aforementioned Rich Mitchell article from 1994 is correct. (He cites April 1953 as the date Universal announced it would compose all its films for 2:1 in projection.) However, Sirk and Metty probably hedged their bets by also composing it so it looked good in the full Academy aspect ratio.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2008 12:01 am 
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I always feel (and undoubtedly sound) like a broken record on this subject.

First off take a look at the caps from All that Heaven Allows above - can you imagine the frame possibly being any tighter? The heads would be cut off at nose point.

And here's the rub. Universal and the fucking AFI can bray on all they like about 2.1 being the preferred ratio from 54 to whenever (and let's remember they were hard matting things like Imitation in 1959 to 1.85.)

The point is this - NO ONE I know ever saw these 53 to 58 Sirks non Scope Sirks (for example) in anything like 2:1. By the time I was first watching these as a teenager in the mid to late 60s they were generally screened in 35mm full frame, (quite common for Film Society and Revival Houses then) or if there was a projectionst's cue sheet to makr it, 1.66 or 1.75. And people older then me (older than 59 now that is) have NO recollection of these being screened in anything like either 2:`1 or even 1.85.

I repeat - yet again - most theatres weren't equipped for the masking and they only gradually did they adapt to to it for ratios up to 1.85, basically by the end of the fifties when it was farily universal - if not Universal. Scope pics, or Todd AO or Cinerama or 70mm were always shown at dedicated cinemas with the appropriate throw lengths, equipment and sound systems.

IMO Universal is promulgating a revisionist view of its 50s practices - I repeat 2:1 was their "PREFERRED" ratio if the title was masked in Widescreen. But they seem to think no one is still around to remember, or maybe they're so stupid they actually beleive this was general practice. it wasn't.

As a side note the business of shooting for various frame ratios was so vexing for Sirk and Metty they managed to actually shoot TWO versions of Sign of the Paggan - one Scope and one full frame Academy. I know ONE person on the planet who has ever seen the Scope version.

Sirk and Metty very clearly preferred Academy to the extent that they went to the trouble of lighting, coloring and shading the high headroom of the frame so that it maintined a relationship to and balance with the rest of the frame. Certainly you can crop it without apparently losing visual "meaning" (viz ATHA caps above) but it is even more "meaningful" if the entire exposure is screened unmatted (viz my caps elsewhere of Wyman and the blind scene with the flowerpot on the balcony.)

I sure know how I wanna view these movies.


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