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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2008 1:27 pm 
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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.)

There are a number of separate issues here that need to be disentangled.

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.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2008 4:33 pm 
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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.

Trade journals are the last things I would consider authoritative.

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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.

That's exactly what I said

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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.

I'm not suggesting otherwise.

Quote:
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.

I suggest that you actually look carefully and view the movies for themselves rather than seek out primary sources which, as far as anyone can tell, are non existent. The works themselves speak louder than any press release. It's called the aesthetics of film.

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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.

I'm not confusing anything. I am mentioning a little known fact which no one here (or elsewhere to my knowledge) has mentioned before. The point of mentioning it is that Sirk and Metty felt obliged to shoot two vesions side by side because of Sirk's expressed dissatisfactioon with the ambiguous masking/framing reginme at Universal (see the Sirk interview book.)

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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

I do prefer them based entirely on decades of viewing and an analysis of Sirk's visual composition.

And that's that as far as I'm concerned.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2008 2:15 pm 
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davidhare wrote:
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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.

I'm not confusing anything. I am mentioning a little known fact which no one here (or elsewhere to my knowledge) has mentioned before. The point of mentioning it is that Sirk and Metty felt obliged to shoot two vesions side by side because of Sirk's expressed dissatisfactioon with the ambiguous masking/framing reginme at Universal (see the Sirk interview book.)

Thanks for the reminder--I have the Sirk interview book handy and consulted it last night. Sirk said explicitly that he and Metty shot SIGN OF THE PAGAN with a single camera and lens, which is different from the films I mentioned above. That means Universal-International would have made optically cropped 1.37:1 prints for "flat" projection. However, in that passage Sirk was referring specifically to the Cinemascope films he shot for Universal-International, such as this and CAPTAIN LIGHTFOOT. He didn't say anything about the open-matte, non-scope films that he shot, and you can't really generalize by extending it to "Sirk's expressed dissatisfaction with the ambiguous masking/framing regime at Universal." It was strictly a Cinemascope thing.

I have some more information about Universal-International's matted widescreen format at that time. Robert E. Carr and R. M. Hayes' book Wide Screen Movies (1988) refer to it as "Wide Vision," which involved matting to 1.85:1 and projecting on a curved 2:1 screen. The first film specifically shot for that format was Anthony Mann's THUNDER BAY (1953), which predates the production of MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION by several months.

Here's a New York Times ad for MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION's premiere engagement in New York (NYT, Aug. 31, 1954, p.26):

Image

At this point I have little doubt that Metty and Sirk composed the film so that it would at least look good in widescreen projection. Whether they saw this as the film's primary exhibition format, or composed the film mainly on the assumption that it would often be shown in the Academy aspect ratio in smaller venues, or whether they privately preferred the widescreen or Academy aspect ratio, is another question that would take further research. Looking at the film itself is important, but it doesn't provide a definitive answer in an inherently ambiguous situation like this.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2008 3:23 pm 
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Excellent research. So, basically Universal is the one to blame by cropping Sirk's film way back on 54?


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2008 4:36 pm 
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Gigi M. wrote:
Excellent research. So, basically Universal is the one to blame by cropping Sirk's film way back on 54?

I don't think "blame" is really at issue in this case. If Universal-International instructed its directors and cameramen to compose all their films for exhibition at a widescreen aspect ratio, then the widescreen framing is inherently part of those films' aesthetic. Why would a filmmaker who was evidently concerned about visual style not frame a film so it would look good in widescreen for its premiere theatrical engagement?

Remember, this was before the home video days, when the theatrical run was basically the only chance you had to see most films.

The real question, as I see it at present, is the extent to which Sirk and Metty also took into account full Academy aspect ratio projection when they shot the film--they almost certainly did, since widescreen projection was not yet uniformly adopted--and more importantly, which format they personally preferred.

David Hare is arguing that if you look at the film itself, the composition of the full-frame image has an integrity that would be disrupted by masking the film for widescreen projection. I'm arguing that given the situation, Sirk and Metty had to consider how the film would look in widescreen projection and composed the shots with that in mind. Therefore, presenting the film widescreen on DVD is at the very least a valid alternative. I won't go so far as to argue that either the full-frame or the widescreen composition is definitive, because we'd have to hear that straight from the horse's mouth, and the horse went out to pasture many years go. There was so much uncertainty during the transitional era of the early-to-mid Fifties, that I'm not sure we'll ever be able to come up with a final answer.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2008 4:39 pm 
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Sirk said explicitly that he and Metty shot SIGN OF THE PAGAN with a single camera and lens, which is different from the films I mentioned above. That means Universal-International would have made optically cropped 1.37:1 prints for "flat" projection.

He doesn't go on to say anthing about this but in fact he and Metty shot TWO distinct and separate versions - one in anamorphic Scope, one optical 35mm flat. Your statement is incorrect. This is yet another reason why I brought up the exiestence of the two versions.

Further into your paragraph you talk about the specifically Scope films - and I invite you to examine the compositions and deployment of Sirk's mise en scene in them as compared to the 35mm optical titles. I dont have them all, only Tarnished Angels and A Time to Love. Sirk very clearly plans and executes blocking and movement and framing composition entirely differently to the other movies. For one thing he doesn't layout decor or static objects in diagonal penetration and exit from the frame in the way he does in the Wyman/Hudson pictures.

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Looking at the film itself is important, but it doesn't provide a definitive answer in an inherently ambiguous situation like this.

I take exception to the notion that "merely" looking at the film for clarity is insufficient. Your entire relationship to the film involves looking at it.
My point is was and always will be - in the case of Sirk and Metty - no matter how many or how few cinemas did screen the optical 35mm titles in some sort of mask, what is of most concern is this: what if anything does the masking ADD to your understanding of the film, and what if anything to the film itself? What if anything does it detract from the film? Answer those questions for yourself. If you're in any doubt whatsoever the only solution is to have the films available in the fullest possible aperture.

Universal was a studio with a desire to maximise the commercial competitiveness of their product, including the adoption of widescreen (including Scope), and the Hunter/Sirk/Hudson productions were among its biggest moneymakers. Yet despite this the movies do NOT sit comfortably with widescreen masking. In sharp contrast to a studio like Columbia which decided on a preferred masking ratio of 1.85 from 53 onwards. When you watch things like Quine's Pushover(54), Siegel's The Line Up (58), even Lang's Human Desire (53) in 1.85 masked version and then watch them again in full frame it's totally clear the masking is intentional - in Columbia's case the widescreen edict was very clearly being observed by directors and DPs. In the case of Universal and Sirk/Metty this is FAR from clear.

The entire "argument" on the Sirk and Metty issue is inextricably bound up with their mise en scene. And this is of course far more difficult for most people to talk about than production data.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2008 1:01 am 
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davidhare wrote:
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Sirk said explicitly that he and Metty shot SIGN OF THE PAGAN with a single camera and lens, which is different from the films I mentioned above. That means Universal-International would have made optically cropped 1.37:1 prints for "flat" projection.

He doesn't go on to say anthing about this but in fact he and Metty shot TWO distinct and separate versions - one in anamorphic Scope, one optical 35mm flat. Your statement is incorrect. This is yet another reason why I brought up the exiestence of the two versions.

This is from p. 117 of the 1997 edition of Sirk on Sirk: Conversations with Jon Halliday:

"The main thing was that with Sign of the Pagan, and the other Cinemascope pictures I did, I was required to shoot so that the film would fit both the new Cinemascope screen and the old-size screen. You had one camera, and one lens, but you had to stage it so that it would fit both screens. This is just as tough as doing a picture in two versions was in Germany."

Now it's always possible Sirk misremembered and the film was actually shot with two cameras, since the Halliday interview took place about 15 years after the film was shot. But Sirk strikes me as someone who had an unusually sharp memory. I think if we could check a surviving "flat" print of the film, we could probably tell whether it was originally shot using an anamorphic lens. For instance, any haloing around light sources (such as torches) would be elliptical when the image is unsqueezed. Also, if I'm not mistaken, the anamorphic lenses of that time typically resulted in shallower depth of focus than standard lenses because they didn't let in as much light.

Anybody out there have a print or video copy of SIGN OF THE PAGAN to verify this?


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2008 4:11 am 
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JS - yes Sirk mentions the Scope version of this. (No other text does. In fact there are dual versions, one 35mm optical. But you need to go and find that out, which you can't do from the Halliday book.)

Sirk is also extremely broad on the subject of widescreen, especially given Jon Halliday is not in the least bit concerned with this line of questioning (this was the 60s for Chirstssajke when I was a teenager going 20 and we were all seeing these fucking movies for the first time.)

You are simply not responding in any way to the invitations I've sent out to examine the film texts, beyond ever saying "it Looks OK."

There's more to it than that kiddo.

And I am really begging people off this subject, weithout real background in analysis - at least on this forum. Go and do a search on a_film_by for posts on Sirk and Ratios. Go and engage with experts.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2008 10:49 am 
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davidhare wrote:
JS - yes Sirk mentions the Scope version of this. (No other text does. In fact there are dual versions, one 35mm optical. But you need to go and find that out, which you can't do from the Halliday book.)

Sirk is also extremely broad on the subject of widescreen, especially given Jon Halliday is not in the least bit concerned with this line of questioning (this was the 60s for Chirstssajke when I was a teenager going 20 and we were all seeing these fucking movies for the first time.)

You are simply not responding in any way to the invitations I've sent out to examine the film texts, beyond ever saying "it Looks OK."

There's more to it than that kiddo.

And I am really begging people off this subject, weithout real background in analysis - at least on this forum. Go and do a search on a_film_by for posts on Sirk and Ratios. Go and engage with experts.

Not to worry, at some point in the next few weeks I will also be looking at MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION itself and doing a close comparison between the full frame and widescreen images. I have the French DVD, which is full frame, and I've ordered the widescreen version put out by Seuvia films in Spain. It's listed as 1.85:1, which presumably means it's not as heavily matted as the UK DVD. I'll post frame caps so everyone can see them for themselves. Mr. Hare is most cordially invited to participate in the comparison. Your perspective will no doubt be extremely valuable, given your lifelong engagement with the Sirk films. In fact, if you have any specific scenes you wish to cite as examples of Sirk's mise-en-scene, I'd be happy post screen caps of those to facilitate discussion; just let me know.

Of course study of the film itself is important; I would only add that you also have to consider the context in which the film was produced, including working methods.

In the meantime, I found some additional information that sheds further light on this. In the May 1953 issue of American Cinematographer, Arthur Gavin published a lengthy article entitled "2-D, 3-D, Wide-Screen, or all three." (p.210 ff.) He explains that the major studios opted different widescreen aspect ratios as standards at that time. Fox, of course, was pushing the anamorphic CinemaScope process. Paramount preferred 1.66:1, arguing that most theaters as they were contructed could not handle a wider screen than that; apparently, they were also concerned about not excessively cropping (masking off) older Academy aspect ratio films in projection. Universal and Columbia adopted 1.85:1, and MGM 1.75:1. He states that Warner and RKO were more interested at that particular point in pushing 3-D processes than widescreen. Obviously, things would change soon afterwards.

He also provides some illlustrations (p. 212) showing how the ground-glass on Mitchell camera finders now had lines on the top and bottom marking the critical limits for the widescreen image. That is, the lines above and below which any critical action in the scene shouldn't cross. He writes in the caption: "In masking finder for widescreen composition colored plastic is used so cameraman can view and compose a scene with consideration to both aspect ratios." (p.212) That is, widescreen and Academy aperture. He also emphasizes that by and large, for widescreen systems involving masking, cinematographers could use the same lenses and lighting schemes as before, unlike 'scope.

What I found interesting was that Gavin cites 1.85:1 as the aspect ratio preferred by Universal-International, which would seem to sport Carr's description of "Wide Vision." That is, the film itself is masked for 1.85:1, and projected onto a curved 2:1 screen. Subsequently he describes the screen that Universal itself was selling to exhibitors, which was curved and had a highly reflective surface to "magnify" light from the projector. (p.212)

So it's entirely possible that the UK DVD is too tightly cropped, and that if you're going to go with a widescreen presentation of the film, 1.85:1 would be more appropriate.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2008 7:54 pm 
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Be warned the Suevia despite saying 1.85 is - I understand - also the 2:1 matte. IT would have been interestingt (If ultimately predictable to me)/

I should add to all my own ramblings I don't think 1.78 is wrong or bad for Written on the Wind, and 1.85 is obviously the intended ratio for Imitation of Life (even 16mm prints of this which I have screened over the years are hard matted.) But even 1.78 as used in the Criterion and French and UK/Oz versions of All that Heaven Allows quite are quite clearly too tight on two shots and CUs although the framing is generally OK for wides and landscape. I suspect as well There's Always Tomorrow SHOULD be masked to 1.78 or 1.85, but let's wait for the DVD. But I strenuously believe Mag Obs has had the bad luck to fall into the first year of Universal's push for WS masking, but it of all the Hunter pictures bears a relationship to the pre 53 widescreen era for Sirk and Metty in terms of composition, lighting and framing. And ATHA could survive a 1.66 mask, at absolute maximum.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 09, 2008 1:44 am 
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davidhare wrote:
Be warned the Suevia despite saying 1.85 is - I understand - also the 2:1 matte. IT would have been interestingt (If ultimately predictable to me)/

I should add to all my own ramblings I don't think 1.78 is wrong or bad for Written on the Wind, and 1.85 is obviously the intended ratio for Imitation of Life (even 16mm prints of this which I have screened over the years are hard matted.) But even 1.78 as used in the Criterion and French and UK/Oz versions of All that Heaven Allows quite are quite clearly too tight on two shots and CUs although the framing is generally OK for wides and landscape. I suspect as well There's Always Tomorrow SHOULD be masked to 1.78 or 1.85, but let's wait for the DVD. But I strenuously believe Mag Obs has had the bad luck to fall into the first year of Universal's push for WS masking, but it of all the Hunter pictures bears a relationship to the pre 53 widescreen era for Sirk and Metty in terms of composition, lighting and framing. And ATHA could survive a 1.66 mask, at absolute maximum.

Thanks for the heads-up. Even if the Suevia disc is matted 2:1 and thus too tightly matted, it will still be useful for me to study in comparison. And what you're saying here about your own observations on the post-53 melodramas is really useful. I'll keep all this in mind as I study the films over the next few months.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 16, 2008 10:52 pm 
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Uh oh.

The kids at HTF were up in arms over Criterion's reported aspect ratio of 1.33 until someone posted this:

Bob Furmanek wrote:
Good news! I just received a reply from a tech at Criterion, and the 1954 MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION is correctly mastered in 2:1. The confusion came about because their website only listed the AR for the 1935 version.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 16, 2008 10:55 pm 
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Oh fuck fuck fuck fuck

And they're happy about it too. No wonder I never read HTF


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 8:15 am 

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Hi folks,

First time posting here-- be nice!

Don't start breaking out those torches yet. MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION was listed in the trade magazines at the time at being produced in the flat ratio of 2:1. No, we're not talking about SuperScope here. There were no anamorphics involved with this ratio-- the aperture plate was simply cut at .825" x .4125"

Universal was fairly explicit when they went ALL-widescreen in April of 1953. They would ONLY be using the 1.85 and 2:1 ratios, the latter being for "special pictures."

For those of you interested, here are some trade announcements from October of that year (here and here). It's interesting to note that TAZA, SON OF COCHISE, while in 3-D, was also shot for an aspect ratio of 2:1. When we ran it at the Egyptian Theatre in September of 2006, it was run in that ratio and looked particularly dynamic.

Trade magazines of the time aimed ad exhibitors listed the aspect ratio of 2:1 as well. See BoxOffice and Variety.

Note that when OBSESSSION opened at the Loew's State theater in NYC on August 4, 1954, it's being advertised as "On the Wide Vision Screen."

While there are some ill-informed people at Home Theater Forum, the ignorance of early wide-screen ratios is rampant across the Internet. Hopefully this information has enlightened a few people.

-J. Theakston
Research Dept., 3-D Film Preservation Fund
http://www.3dfilmpf.org


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 10:19 am 
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Dave: I'm "the kid" who posted that information on the HTF. (At the age of 47, I'm flattered with your nickname.)

As Mr. Theakston correctly stated, Universal - as a matter of studio policy - switched to widescreen cinematography in April of 1953. The confusion today lies with the fact that while they were composing for widescreen, they were also protecting for 1.37. While most major theater chains had installed new screens by the end of 1953, there were still some small towns running in the standard ratio. Since these early widescreen films have only been seen in 1.37 since their original theatrical release, most people assume that is the correct ratio. It is not.

Having collected hundreds of industry trade journals from the 1952-1955 period for our 3-D documentation, we have also well documented the dawn of widescreen photography and exhibition. These trade journals, such as Boxoffice, Variety, Motion Picture Herald, Exhibitor, Film Daily, etc. were intended for industry professionals and theater operators. They accurately document every recommended aspect ratio from that period.

The primary source materials don't lie, and MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION was most certainly photographed and presented 2:1. It began filming 6 months after the studio had adapted their widescreen policy.

I hope this information is useful.

Bob Furmanek
Vice President
3-D Film Preservation Fund


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 10:55 am 
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My God, what are the chances of all new first-posts being as useful as those last two..?
I like the film (if watched with my OTT Melodrama Sirk hat on) but probably not enough to double dip unless the documentary is VERY good.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 11:03 am 
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Bob Furmanek wrote:
I hope this information is useful.

It certainly is! Thanks for chiming in, both of you.
Now, can you share your thoughts on the Touch of Evil aspect ratio over here?


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 11:08 am 

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Unfortunately, I'm all burnt out on my thoughts on TOUCH OF EVIL. You can read them on Dave Kehr's site.

I'm considering doing a post on my blog about the topic, but I'm waiting for some more documents to come in for my argument.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 12:40 pm 

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domino harvey wrote:
Oh fuck fuck fuck fuck

And they're happy about it too.

And they (and criterion)'re right. See the two longish posts above and the long discussion of this we had last year.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 1:53 pm 
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yoshimori wrote:
domino harvey wrote:
Oh fuck fuck fuck fuck

And they're happy about it too.

And they (and criterion)'re right. See the two longish posts above and the long discussion of this we had last year.

That discussion did not establish that 2:1 is right. No one was able to offer a convincing rebuttal to what, to me anyway, were the three most important points David was making, which are some of the same arguments I've made in off-forum discussions. 1) There is a difference between press releases (and other publicity materials) and the way that widescreen was actually introduced. It was not as sudden or as cut-and-dried as some are making it out to be 50+ years later, and there is little evidence that everyone began composing for 2:1 immediately after this decree in early 1953. 2) Absent some definitive statement from Sirk or Metty, there is room for contention about whether they were composing for 2:1 and protecting for 1.37:1 or making sure it would look acceptable with widescreen masking but still preferring to use the added height of the academy ratio for their compositions. A careful look at the film in 1.33:1 shows how they were doing this. And (3) those familiar with Sirk's mise-en-scène can make a case that there was a difference between the way Magnificent Obsession was composed and later Sirk films that were indeed composed with the understanding that widescreen masking would be used in far more theaters than with Magnificent Obsession.
So far, I'm not sure our two new members have added much here. In the Douglas Sirk on DVD thread we already had several links establishing that the studio was recommending a 2:1 ratio for Magnificent Obsession. We already had people claiming it was "presented 2:1" without citing how many theaters did 2:1 and how many did not. Even if, for the sake of argument, the vast majority of theaters presented it in 2:1, it doesn't follow that this is how the film looks best. What this comes down to is which ratio best represents what Sirk was trying to show with the film, so I'm most inclined to listen to those who can really get into a discussion of the mise-en-scène in relation to Sirk's cinematography.
I've seen this film in 1.33:1 and I prefer it to the wider ratio that came with the UK Sirk set. At the very least, there is a case to be made for watching this in 1.33:1. It seems rather closed-minded to declare this ratio "wrong" and argue that it should not be included in the release. I don't understand what interest some people here have in steamrolling over the view that there are merits to watching this in 1.33. The mid-50s were a tricky period for aspect ratio discussions, and while I understand why people want things to be cut-and-dried, it seems like presenting this film in multiple ratios should be no skin off anyone's nose. Criterion's reputation for presenting "exhaustive" editions has led them shell out considerable money to include horribly butchered cuts of films that were clearly renounced by the director, along with the director's cut. In the same sprit, why couldn't they do a far greater service here by including the film in academy, which they are probably aware many Sirkophiles prefer. They probably made this decision looking at a widescreen release print -- at least I'd be interested to know whether they even bothered to compare the ratios and think about how Sirk and Metty were really composing the film.


Last edited by Gregory on Fri Oct 17, 2008 2:20 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 2:11 pm 
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It is my belief that Sirk and Metty would compose the film in the ratio in which they knew it would be seen at the opening engagements in every major city, and in smaller theaters as well. To compose for anything less (1:37, for example) knowing that important venues would be showing it in 2:1 and cropping off important information, just doesn't make any sense to me.

Keep in mind that by the end of 1953, most major theaters in the U.S. had installed new widescreens. In fact, in the New York area alone, every RKO and Loew's theater throughout the entire circuit had gone widescreen in July. MO began shooting in late September. Surely, the filmmakers knew that all the big theaters would be running it in the studios recommended widescreen format.

In short, they composed for 2:1 while protecting for 1:37.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 2:20 pm 
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I had tacked this on to my previous post, but it should probably be on its own, as it's unrelated to the other discussion:

As long as I'm taking Criterion to task for presentation, torch in hand, I'll add that I think it's a shame that they've relegated Stahl's outstanding, earlier film to the status of a "special feature." Stahl's work is now in real need of reappraisal and revival, and this seems like a bit of a slap in the face. The only times I recall them including an entirely different feature film as an extra feature is when it's an early work by the same director as the main film that most agree is is a minor work (e.g. with Jarmusch, Linklater). When the film is by a different director and is deemed at all important, they put it out in a split release, as with The Killers and The Lower Depths.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 2:38 pm 
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What about Berlin Alexanderplatz or the Lady Vanishes?


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 2:43 pm 
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Bob Furmanek wrote:
It is my belief that Sirk and Metty would compose the film in the ratio in which they knew it would be seen at the opening engagements in every major city, and in smaller theaters as well. (...)In short, they composed for 2:1 while protecting for 1:37.

That depends on what you believe was their overriding concern-- a brief run in cinemas possibly overtaken for the moment by what was perceieved to be a "fad", or posterity.

If the filmmakers thought that this 2.1 widescreen was a bunch of hype, a passing fad to get people into the cinemas via ad taglines "see the great big new..!", one that would not only pass but would not be applied evenly across first run exhibitions... and would not be applied for future second run screenings as well as television exhibition ad infinitum... then the filmmakers (Metty and Sirk in this case) would no doubt covertly compose according to their own set of priorities and beliefs: what is more important venue for the strongest possible image? The ongoing life of the film for posterity, or a week or two run and big city cinemas?

There's a precedent for this in the early sound era, where many filmmakers thought (and prayed) that sound was merely a passing fad dreamed up by studio execs to bump sagging ticket sales at a given moment. Thus you'll find films made during the changeover which work wonderfully as-- because the mise en scene was structured around-- a silent film, with a sound version which is a clunky cinematic experience. SO you have a situation where the filmmaker was "protecting" for the hoopla/passing-fad version, but in reality composing the film for what they believed would be the 'posterity' version which would reign once the silliness of a passing fad imposed by execs on both filmmakers and the public, waned.

I look at caps from a title like Magnificent Obsession, as well as compare my full frame vhs of Touch of Evil with the cropped version, and I see the same thing... shots that were hedged to "work" in the new widescreen exhibition requirement, but which tell a story and reveal a full sense of blocking and mise en scene in 1.37.

Anf Gregory that's not always true vis a vis dual releases by different directors being buried: see Berlin Alexanderplatz 1931 by Jutzi..
EDIT: ah I see DH beat me to it.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2008 3:14 pm 
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I agree with Schreck here. My biggest problem with this other, "historical," approach to the issue of AR (as is the case with the Touch of Evil debate as well), is that it neglects the importance of the film itself. Where are the rigorous comparisons - the willingness to sit through multiples reels in multiple ARs (as Fred Camper and I did with All That Heaven Allows) and make an informed aesthetic decision? Yes, that opens up the possibility of human error. (That is, what is good to one person's eye might not be to another). Nevertheless, there are serious limitations to the other approach, not least of which is that it assumes that the filmmakers made the picture in some kind of historical vacuum - that they made the film with a firm and clear vision based on historical circumstance and not based on their own aesthetic convictions, convictions that have only been muddled, not clarified, by our knowledge of historical circumstances.


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