Aspect Ratio & Differing Cuts: When it Matters

MBDONTH EC035We are movie snobs. Let’s reiterate that. WE ARE MOVIE SNOBS.

It’s hard sometimes to get some of these highly specific ideas into the conversation when we decide to move away from our little bubble of cinephile pedanticism, but we do it regardless. I can’t remember the last time I was in a room where I could sit and discuss how aspect ratios affect a film and gotten anything other thatop ten films of 1983n sighs back from from my audience. However, the holy grail of movie snobs – Criterion – has decided to bring up the topic and as usual I (like many of us) am listening.

The Criterion Collection has recently released On the Waterfront – a film I love dearly – with a very interesting decision in mind. They’ve placed the film available on the disc released in three differing aspect ratios (1.35:1, 1.66:1, 1.85:1). Along with this interesting choice (which I honestly never knew was a choice since I had only seen the film in 1.35:1) they’ve also released a short video essay discussing the aspect ratios and what it means to this film in particular. See below:

There’s so much necessity placed on the presentation and formatting of films in the realm of movie lovers that it’s amazing to see a film have such an open idea of how it should be viewed. While film is a subjective material that we consume there is also a sense of ‘right’ determined on so many things. We even still argue about differentiations in IMAX projections and how people who go to (what some have deemed) LieMAX screens (which is the only one available to me) are cheating themselves of the ‘true’ experience. However, in this regard there seems to be little talk of what’s right and what’s wrong as opposed to just all around joy.

There’s a point in the essay where the narrator talks about how even though the studio made it clear that the film was available to be projected in any of the three ratios, more than the equipment available the audience was at the mercy of the projectionist to decide on which experience the viewer would be able to enjoy.

I’ve had the displeasure of attending a lot of films during my time in Jamaica (at Carib 5) where my projectionist decided (sadly without any logic in mind) to project a film in an incorrect ratio. When I first saw Scott Pilgrim vs. The World it was projected in a 1.35:1 ratio (which I couldn’t understand). Where that film was made with numerous ratios in mind (from 2.40:1 to full frame and half frame) it definitely was not made to be limited in any way, On the Waterfront on the other hand was made with the option available.

Do we want this option? We as film connoisseurs (or so we wish to call ourselves) tend to be slaves to what has been determined as the artist’s intentions. If Kazan came up to us today and said that 1.35:1 was the correct way to watch the film we would happily fall in line. There’s very few occassions where we as a group come together to call bullshit on this idea. We’ve seen fan edits of films, but at the end of the day they’re forgotten and novelties at best.

So I guess the bigger question I have to consider is whether we should even bother to care about the artist? Should we therefore one morning wake up with the epiphany that Scott Pilgrim is better cropped in an Academy ratio and forever forget what was originally presented to us? This is me just rambling in the wind, but I guess it’s worth asking the question.

What’re your thoughts on the aspect ratio? Pro choice?