Get Wide?

Dec 3, 2008 by Samantha Halfon · 1 Comment ·
Filed under: Computing, Filming 

As the story goes, in the fifties, Widescreen was the argument cinema opposed to the increasing power of the television. It was a way to improve the magnificence of the cinema in order to keep audiences coming. Thus, leaving behind their newly acquired small and grainy little black and white box. Actually, alternative (wider) ratios had already been used prior to the 50’s. Still the coming of the Cinemascope or of the less destructive VistaVision were due to the studio’s worries over television and the falling attendance numbers. Eventually, in the fifties, the 1.85:1 ratio became the standard, at least in American cinema as opposed to the past 1.33, “squared” ratio.

The Big Heat by Fritz Lang (1953)

The Big Heat by Fritz Lang (1953)

As usual, the technical progress is the combination of technology and the need someone will have for it. As they say: “necessity is the mother of invention”. So widescreen had been around but it was an expensive luxury. Studios needed special cameras and film and theaters needed a specific projector. The need to keep a deserting audience coming pushed theaters owners and studios to switch their equipment to support the new format. In the same way, I believe electric cars don’t stand a chance at replacing the current gasoline ones simply because there is no immediate advantage to car makers. Maybe if gas gets more expensive, car designers will rush to offer an alternative.

Bad Day At Black Rock by John Sturges (1955)

Bad Day At Black Rock by John Sturges (1955)

About seven years ago, Apple made an incredible comeback selling iPods. The iPod became the unsurpassed leader of the portable music player market. The iPod, the first one, was a great product but it wasn’t that much better than its competitors of the time: it just played music. The difference with the iPod was that they created a product that really met a demand: a nice, elegant device to play music on the move. It was not about storing data and playing music. It was about music. It introduced album management and music online shopping. That probably was, the first real step in the connected-multimedia world we live in now. It changed the way we regard our digital devices. Apple’s marketing campaign for the iPod was all about the music. They showed hundreds of albums covers pouring out of iPods and people carelessly dancing in the intimacy of the sound that only they could hear and carry around.

Computers quickly followed this marketing path. Nowadays, a computer company doesn’t advertise about its storage capacity, it advertises about the possibility for you to store and edit your photos. Internet providers don’t advertise a 20Mbits/seconds connection speed, they advertise the “possibility to watch streaming HD TV”. Multimedia, whatever it is, became the first advertising element for everything digital. Strangely enough, computers, and especially laptops, were the first to go widescreen advertising on the possibility to watch movies. Suddenly, the computer became a smart TV. It could do all the computing tasks and replace the TV. A lot of teenagers don’t watch television anymore. Students, when going to college bring a single device, the laptop which holds everything they need: music, movies and works.

Televisions finally caught up with the trend and became flat with wide screens. To compete with the computers, they argue they offer a better resolution and a better quality. And then appeared the HD-Ready and Full-HD logos we now see everywhere.

Nevertheless, everything is widescreen now. Everything that comes from the film industry that is (and little by little what comes from the broadcasting industry) but what about what we do, what about us, video makers. Our videos look “square”. They don’t fit the computer screen, nor the iPhone screen. Little by little, the video format will switch from 1.33 to 16.9. Most cameras, even the low end ones, now offer an option to film emulating a 16.9 aspect ratio. I say emulate because the sensor is actually still a 1.33 and the option only disables the sensors of the top and bottom rows to frame the image with the 16.9 ratio. It’s cheating and cutting down but it looks like cinema.

Last week, youTube, the main video broadcast website, went widescreen too! From now on, it’s widescreen all around! A movie like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington will suddenly look even older. Not only doesn’t it have color, it doesn’t even fit the screen anymore. I can only imagine the disaster if editions with reframed ratio start coming along, cutting not the valley and mountains on the border of the cinemascope western frame, but the foreheads and collars of the golden age Hollywood stars!

Audiences are now distracted by the Internet. What is the new effect cinema will bring to keep its attendance? The hype, when I walked around the IBC [International Broadcasting Conference] in Amsterdam last year, seemed to be around 3-D. 3-D, just like wide format before it, has been around for a while. Actually, one of the first 3-D movies, Hondo, stars John Wayne and was directed by John Farrow back in1953. This time, with a new increased competition, 3-D might make a lasting comeback. We shall see.

So what about us, World Wide Angle? I admit I want to try my hand at this wider ratio. Our camera, the Canon GL2, offers such an option and I will be trying it out at our next shoot. Until now I have filmed with a 1.33 aspect. Lately we have took a lot of photos with the 1.5 digital camera ratio and that made me want to use a wider aspect with the video too. Next shoot: exhibition opening at chez Grace on Saturday evening. We shall discuss widescreen further then.

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One Response to “Get Wide?”
  1. stuff says:

    This is great stuff. Thanks for sharing.

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