There are a number of separate issues here that need to be disentangled.davidhare wrote: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.)
1. You're accusing Universal of revisionism, when in fact there was trade journal information from the period (including Variety) that listed the aspect ratio for MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION at 2:1. I would consider information posted in trade journals from that era to be fairly authoritative, though not necessarily definitive.
2. How a film was shot and how it was actually exhibited are two very different things. You're probably right that many--if not most--theaters did not actually show the films at the 2:1 aspect ratio. Universal may have tried to push this standard, but that doesn't mean that the theaters adopted it. I would not be surprised if the films were often shown full frame or with aspect ratios somewhere in between such as 1.66:1. As you pointed out, theatrical masking wasn't consistent in the beginning and didn't stablize until later.
3. How a film was projected in the theaters during its first theatical release and how it was projected in revival houses are separate issues.
4. You're assuming that Sirk and Metty preferred full-frame compositions, but I would need to see more direct documention in the form of production memos or recollections of surviving production assitants before making that leap. You may be right, but there's simply no way to tell for certain without more primary sources. It's quite possible that they deliberately composed the films so they would work both ways. I would tend towards the latter conclusion, considering that other studios were producing films that way. For example, Paramount explicitly stated that VistaVision films could be projected anywhere between 1.33:1 to 1:85:1 but preferred the wider image. Most cameramen in Hollywood were probably aware of this fluctuating situation and probably composed their films accordingly so they looked more or less OK regardless of how the individual theater showed it.
5. Don't confuse the issue of matting with the the dual flat/scope versions of SIGN OF THE PAGAN. A number of early 'scope films were shot simultaneously in flat and 'scope versions, including no less than THE ROBE. This was even true in countries like Russia and India with their early scope productions (ILYA MUROMETS and KAAGAZ KE PHOOL come to mind.) So what Metty and Sirk did was not entirely unusual, and it says nothing about how they preferred an open-matte film like MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION to be projected.
6. There is absolutely no reason why you can't prefer the full-frame versions of these open-matte Sirk films. The additional details in the production design certainly enrich the films, as you mention. However, you can make a strong argument that the films can also be appreciated as "widescreen" films. This could result in very different--but also potentially valid--conclusions about Sirk's directorial style.
Considering the documentation that's out there about Universal-International films from that era, the 2:1 aspect ratio for the UK DVD of MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION sounds like a perfectly warranted technical decision, nothing for anyone to get upset about. Personally I'm glad that we have access both to widescreen and full frame versions of the film, and now I'm inclined to purchase both. It's a potentially instructive view of a historical period in which there was a great deal of flux and uncertainty, and how one director/DP team coped with it artistically.