Movies of every shape and size. UGH.

Movies change over time. In some ways it’s neat to go back and look at how that’s happened.

As far as aspect ratios, it’s not. Not for me. The different shapes and sizes of movies change so much so often. It brings out my OCD and makes me nuts.

Aspect ratios are expressed length:height of the picture you see on the screen. Modernly, we have either 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 at the movie theaters. Everything’s widescreen today, but the latter is known as “anamorphic.” The picture is more than twice as long as it is tall. In the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, this was known as CinemaScope. Example: Ben-Hur. Before and during that time, most movies were 1.33:1, which is a squarish, full screen TV size of the past. Oh but it gets more radical. There’s 2.75:1. Panavision.

Is all this confusing? Simply put, it looks terrible on a TV today if it’s not 1.85:1 or 2.35:1. If those black bars on the sides or too and bottom distract you, you can stretch the picture to fit the screen, which means the characters look too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, and blah blah blah. Given how many movies I’ve watched in god knows how many formats, I’m sick of the black bars and stretching. Why do we have to watch movies with black bars? Movies like Napoléon bear as much as a 4:1 aspect ratio. Four times as long as it is tall. How the hell do you watch that on a modern TV and expect to be able to see the characters, when the black bars are bigger than the actual picture, or the characters look squeezed anorexically to fit your screen?

And in Europe, the standard aspect ratio is 1:67. That differs not much from the American standard 1:85, but it’s still a considerable difference.

Am I just nuts? Or does someone else on this planet see a problem with how movies have changed? Should all movies just be projected onto walls or projection screens, rather than viewed on TVs, so to avoid the need for black bars and stretching? Should I give myself a more theatrical viewing by covering the black bars with red velvet curtains?

What’s your take on this madness (and yes I am talking about the vastly different aspect ratios throughout movie history, not my own OCD)? Leave me a comment.

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9 thoughts on “Movies of every shape and size. UGH.

  1. The difference in aspect ratios is definitely annoying, though not as annoying as not being able to see them all properly. I’d rather have the black bars than have the picture be the wrong size though. Usually it’s such a bother to change it on a tv though that I suffer through, which I probably shouldn’t do but there you have it.
    I remember a story one of my film profs told in class when discussing aspect ratios: apparently when they were reformatting Spartacus to fit a full screen tv they cut out a huge chuck of picture so it would fit, and the movie was incomprehensible at points.Like you could never see Spartacus and who he was fighting at the same time or something like that. The real problem is not so much that they changed, it’s that the technology is not always equipped to handle the change in the best way possible.

    • Yeah I was at a lecture in Philly a few weeks ago and one of the many things I learned (all regarding movie history) was that certain cuts of Rebel without a Cause seem like Jimmy Dean’s giving a voiceover, when really he’s just standing all the way to the right or left of the shot. Apparently the point of that was in fact to accentuate the change in aspect ratio.

      I’m really OCD about this lol. I’m actually planning on watching Napoléon at some point but don’t know how the hell I’ll see the 4:1 image on a 16:9 (1.78:1) TV without getting distracted by the black bars. Hope I don’t have to go to one of those festivals where they annually show slightly longer restorations of the movie. That would cost way too much.

  2. I for one love the different aspect ratios. When I saw Grand Budapest Hotel in theaters I was impressed at how it changed from a 1:85 to a 2:35 and then back to a 4:3 aspect ratio. The black bars on the side and top never bothered me because Im seeing them the way they were intended to be seen. On The Waterfront DVD come with 3 different aspect ratios on 3 disks and there is a cool feature that explains each

    • Wasn’t aware of that about On the Waterfront, but I forgot to mention that probably the one good thing this scrap of movie history has brought us is that aspect ratios can change artistically. I thing I’d like that in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Off the top of my headhat was done in Oz the Great and Powerful, The Great Gatsby (maybe, I’m not completely sure), and even in Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. I like when the shift from past to present is expressed that way.

  3. Cinemaniac — I second that emotion !
    But TV’s have improved so much compared
    to when I was a kid and we only had B&W fuzzy….

    Why are there yards and meters,
    quarts and liters, -er & -re,
    judgment & judgement?

    No se

    • True. We can thank god for HDTV and Blu-ray, and all the efforts various film restoration groups (often nonprofit) have made to make less recent movies sharper. There isn’t an HD version of the TCM channel, but even the movies they show there are restored well enough to look good on an HDTV. That is, until the black bars on the sides of the TV when they’re showing something like Grand Illusion draw more attention than the movie itself.

      Even worse is trying to watch movies made between 1926 and 1932. I forgot to mention that in this post. During the transitionary period from silent to sound films, a ratio of 1.19:1 was used. Given how awful TV shows like Friends and MASH look nowadays when networks have to stretch the 4:3 (1.33:1) to fit a now-standard 16:9 (1.78:1) TV screen, I can’t imagine how horrid classics like 1927’s Sunrise and 1931’s M would look…

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