Site MapHelpFeedbackNotes and Queries
Notes and Queries
(See related pages)


Widescreen formats established in the early 1950s have continued to govern theatrical filmmaking, but other technological changes have affected films' presentation.
      Since only roadshow theaters had 70mm equipment, wide-gauge films were also released in 35mm copies for neighborhood and suburban theaters. Ryan's Daughter (1970) ended the major 70mm production cycle, but some big-budget films shot in 35mm, such as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (both 1977) were released in 70mm, largely to provide bigger images and better sound. Until the mid-1990s, 70mm release prints were common; after that time, improvements in digital sound made them superfluous. Shooting features on 70mm has all but ceased, with occasional efforts like Far and Away (1992), Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996), and sequences of The Dark Knight (2008, filmed on IMAX).
      When films are shown in nontheatrical situations, they often appear in ratios drastically different from those originally intended. A cable-television or DVD version of a CinemaScope film may be matted to a widescreen ratio less than the correct 2.35:1, or it may be a flat version that fills the 1.37 frame. Matted and flat versions can lose up to half of the original image.
      For decades, broadcast television, which was designed to accord with the Academy film ratio of 1.37:1, routinely showed widescreen films in flat versions. To cover the action in a widescreen original, television engineers devised the pan-and-scan process, which introduces camera movements or cuts that were not in the original.
      Some cinematographers shoot widescreen films with eventual television presentation in mind. This is easiest when filming "full-frame" (i.e., at the 1.37:1 ratio). This squarer image is more appropriate for versions that will appear on television and videocassette. In filming wider ratios, the cinematographer may take the television frame into account by leaving blank areas in the composition. One of the virtues of the DVD format, launched in 1997, was that it encouraged viewers to see widescreen films in the letterbox format, which approximates the wider theatrical image by presenting black bands at the top and bottom of the frame. Letterboxing, along with the growing trend toward widescreen television monitors, led to more faithful video versions of widescreen films.
      For a discussion of widescreen ratios of the 1950s and their legacy, see John Belton, Widescreen Cinema (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992). The framing and staging techniques of early CinemaScope are discussed in Marshall Deutelbaum, "Basic Principles of Anamorphic Composition," Film History 15, no. 1 (2003): 72–80; and David Bordwell, "CinemaScope: The Modern Miracle You See without Glasses," in Bordwell, Poetics of Cinema (New York: Routledge, 2007), 281-325.

Film History 3eOnline Learning Center

Home > Chapter 15 > Notes and Queries