Aspect Ratio discussion for Magnificent Obsession

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yoshimori
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#1 Post by yoshimori » Mon Feb 05, 2007 8:37 pm

davidhare wrote:In the great tradition of Universal totally fucking up 1.37 titles to "update" or in some way "improve" them (Touch of Evil, Jet Pilot, etc.), Magnificent Obsession is most definitely masked/cropped to 2.00:1.
Magnificent Obsession was shot in 2.00:1 superscope, a common aspect ratio for Universal-International films in the 50s and 60s. link

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#2 Post by yoshimori » Tue Feb 06, 2007 12:00 am

I haven't seen the comparison caps, but I did see a nice print of the film at LACMA last year and it looked to us well-composed in widescreen.

davidhare is right: superscope was an applied process - extraction and squeeze in the lab, then unsqueeze in the theater. It was certainly wrong of me to say Magnificent Obsession was "shot" in superscope. Sirk and Metty surely "shot" the full negative on Magnificent Obsession. But that doesn't mean they weren't composing with an eye toward what probably seemed the inevitable widescreen release. Metty's 1954 Naked Alibi was released widescreen, and his 1954 Four Guns to the Border was released 2.00:1 superscope. Sirk's own 1954 Sign of the Pagan, which Metty shot, was a widescreen pic, though I believe SotP was shot anamorphic, from which an alternative 'flat' version was extracted optically. All three, plus Magnificent Obsession, were released in fall or early winter.

That only one of them was imagined as 1.33:1 is certainly possible, but I'm not (yet) convinced.

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#3 Post by yoshimori » Tue Feb 06, 2007 2:11 am

davidhare wrote:As a friend of mine over at beaver commented, 50s ratios are one of the biggest minefields in American film history. Proceed at your peril.
I step lightly. I think it's a little strange, though, if we don't consider the possibility (likelihood, I'd think) that filmmakers, especially tech geeks like cinematographers, knew in 1954 that non-scope widescreen was upon them and that they adjusted their thinking (and shooting) accordingly. I'd be stunned if Metty didn't become fully aware of how prints of Magnificent Obsession, Four Guns, etc. were screening until 1956.

I'll look forward to comparisons of the scene you mentioned, but even so, I'm not sure a comparison will settle it. [Anybody got a copy of American Cinematographer September 1954? It's a touch before my time. Is there nothing in Sirk on Sirk?]

We didn't notice anything odd about that scene (or any other) at the LACMA screening. Maybe because the movie was so whackily thrilling.

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Gregory
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#4 Post by Gregory » Tue Feb 06, 2007 4:20 am

This is a serious letdown after being so thrilled that Magnificent Obsession was finally coming. And now it's going to be difficult to pay out so much money to get The Tarnished Angels. I will probably keep waiting rather than buy this, on practical grounds and on principle.
Universal has scheduled an individual release of Magnificent Obsession for March 5. If solid evidence of the correct aspect ratio can be put in front of the right person, and if enough people e-mail the company as soon as possible to ask them not to repeat the mistake, maybe they could be persuaded to postpone that release and do it over. It might sound like a longshot, but it worked with MGM's big Bergman set.

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Gregory
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#5 Post by Gregory » Tue Feb 06, 2007 2:18 pm

Please post contact information for their home video division. I looked around on www.universalpictures.co.uk and a few other sites and couldn't find anything.

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#6 Post by yoshimori » Tue Feb 06, 2007 6:50 pm

davidhare wrote: There is plenty of head height throughout the movie, in charcter with Academy Ratio shooting but that's not a reason to excuse either misframing or extremely poor teaching and DVD mastering practice.

BTW Forty Guns (not Four Guns) was shot in 'Scope licenced from Fox as were several Fuller pictures because he Asked Zanuck to do them this way. They were also (the color ones in any case) printed in IB even though necessarily shot in Eastman stock.

Honestly! Where do you kids learn this bogus shit!! At fucking University??
Sorry to pile on more bogus shit. A simple question, if you don't mind. I assume that you've seen equivalent stills from the 2.00:1 matte and can assure us the stills above are not cropped left and right. Right? These are the frames from which the 2.00:1 release prints were extracted?

I didn't mention 40 Guns, btw. Four Guns was my abbreviation for the 2.00:1 superscope release of Four Guns to the Border Metty shot, together with Magnificent Obsession, Naked Alibi, and Sign of the Pagan, in 1954. Those are the films I mentioned in my post a couple of posts up. Sorry for the confusing abbreviation.

I'm also not sure what "learned shit" you're referring to, but the 2.00:1 Los Angeles screening of Magnificent Obsession was not part of any university course I know of. My skepticism about the definitiveness of the purely 1.33:1 intentions of Sirk/Metty re Magnificent Obsession derive mainly from having seen the film at 2.00:1 and enjoyed it. Apologies if a faulty sense of composition has mislead me.

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#7 Post by yoshimori » Tue Feb 13, 2007 11:23 am

Thanks so much for your work in providing these caps, Mr dh.

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#8 Post by yoshimori » Wed Feb 14, 2007 2:45 am

davidhare wrote:For essays on Sirk and his use of space and movement contained within space Bordwell is essential reading, as Ive just been reminded by Peter Henne at a_f_b.
I wonder what Bordwell you mean. I have Classical Hollywood Cinema, Narration in Fiction Film, Film History, Film Art, Post-Theory, Making Meaning, On the History of Film Style, Figures Traced in Light, and the (obviously irrelevant to the discussion) Planet Hong Kong, Eisenstein, Ozu, and Dreyer books, but none of them treats Sirk in any more-than-passing way.

I'd dissent from your reaction to the 2.00:1 frames. Each looks quite good to me. The compositions in the three stills for which you gave us comparison 1.33:1 frames (on the previous page) look more than fine in 2.00:1. The two shot with the background shelving is obviously much "tighter" in 2.00:1, but in a profitable way, in my opinion. The "three shot" is now, like the camera lens, more clearly focused on Wyman. And the dark optometrist shot is, for me, way more chilling in widescreen. It really is about that light in her eye! In the more open 1.33:1 composition, the tonal contrast between the back wall and her shadowed face is very distracting.

The bigger thing, as far as I'm concerned, is that the 2.00:1's perfectly reasonably composed (even "well" composed) images are highly highly unlikely to have been a "happy accident". Try clipping - as I just did to scenes from Singin' in the Rain - fully 1/3 of any other 1.33:1 movie down to 2.00:1 and see if such nice compositions result.

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#9 Post by porcupine2 » Fri Feb 16, 2007 1:29 pm

I couldn't resist the box in the end - as the Criterions were the only Sirk I had. Now (improper AR tarnished) I've been fascinated by Magnificent Obsession. I've watched it over and over. Right from the first shot of the speed-boat cutting through the dark blue to send up that spume of water.

A couple of people have said on this thread that it's a masterpiece, I'd be interested in hearing any thoughts on it. David Hare speaks of the vertical space - where character's bodies & faces appear in the frame as the tale progresses.

-Spoilers-

I've noticed that the scene often highlighted from this is a moment of almost total rising despair in the dark, Helen feeling her way out of the hotel room onto the balcony. In fact, out of all the eye-popping colour this time round, it's black that stuck to my eyes. When the European doctors all wear black suits to tell Helen the bad news, it seemed like the blackest, inkiest thing I'd seen.

I note that the speed-boat is red - a typical colour of course - but in another "moral" film Claire's Knee, Rohmer gives Jerome a similiarly red speedboat, - this is the Christian test of the hollow man! Another arbitrary comparison that arose in my mind is absent Dr Phillips/then present Randolph as a God figure, compared to Colpeper in Canterbury Tale. Both a little creepy, though one ostensibly lauded while the other must seek penance, yet for the other characters in the films, becoming-more-like-the God figure is their pilgrimage.

"Throughout my pictures there are these recurring signs — the plane, those goddamned cars, and the pond to which they all want to return, all these victims." Michael Stern interview with Sirk

Getting as far away from that lake as possible & NOT wanting to return - this is a success, it seems as if in the hospital in Mexico we've flown out out of the previous artificial world into a whole new level of artifice, with that specially built operating theatre and the held shot of the reflection in the glass. It seems like a film about accepting / achieving heaven not on earth but in heaven.

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devlinnn
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#10 Post by devlinnn » Tue Mar 06, 2007 1:35 am

According to Amazon UK, the single release Magnificent Obsession, due this week, has been withdrawn. With hope it is because of the AR, but I doubt it.

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#11 Post by yoshimori » Sun Mar 18, 2007 2:44 am

Just got back from the American Cinematheque here in LA where there's a Sirk retro this weekend. Tonight's films were Magnificent Obsession and A Weekend with Father. The former was projected at 2:1. The latter, from 1951, was a 1.33:1 film, and we couldn't help but notice that if it had been cropped to 2:1 three out of every four shots would've been ruined - full heads of speaking characters cut off in medium wide shots, titles completely cut off, etc. This was NEVER the case with Magnificent Obsession - no missing heads or titles.

The only conclusion I can draw from this state of affairs is that the makers of Magnificent Obsession were aware that their film would be matted on projection and composed to create beautiful images in those widescreen frames.

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#12 Post by yoshimori » Sun Mar 18, 2007 3:11 am

davidhare wrote:I don't assume you mean by this post you completely deny anyone the chance to see M.O. in 1.37
Correct! I'm still perfectly happy to entertain evidence - something from Sirk or Metty or someone connected with the film or some discussion of technical stuff from the time period - suggesting that the preferred aspect ratio was Academy. But it's now very clear to me that the 2:1 ratio (or something very close to it) was consciously in the minds of the filmmakers. These compositions can't have been a lucky accident. No?

Godisard

#13 Post by Godisard » 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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GringoTex
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#14 Post by GringoTex » Tue Mar 20, 2007 7:16 pm

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.

Godisard

#15 Post by Godisard » 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.
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.

Godisard

#16 Post by Godisard » Wed Mar 21, 2007 3:40 am

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.
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.
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.
hypothetical posturing
The magazine is a serious publication. The acknowledgements for the article include a lot of industry insiders including
Phil Scott, formerly of Universal Pictures
so it's something more than hypothetical posturing imo.

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Matt
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#17 Post by Matt » Tue May 29, 2007 3:37 pm

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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BenCheshire
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#18 Post by BenCheshire » Tue Jun 19, 2007 3:55 am

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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Lino
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#19 Post by Lino » Fri Jun 22, 2007 11:21 am

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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#20 Post by porcupine2 » Fri Oct 05, 2007 4:30 am

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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Lino
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#21 Post by Lino » Sat Oct 06, 2007 9:38 am

No, it just means they're not selling any. I guess.

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Gigi M.
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#22 Post by Gigi M. » Fri Oct 12, 2007 2:28 pm

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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Lino
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#23 Post by Lino » Sat Oct 13, 2007 6:19 am

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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Gigi M.
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#24 Post by Gigi M. » Sat Oct 13, 2007 9:33 am

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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Lino
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#25 Post by Lino » Wed Oct 24, 2007 10:14 am

David, you might want to read this.

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