Saturday, December 11, 2010


Reading this book raises so many questions.

Is it really cinematic?

In many ways, it is. Again, it's very visual, even though the text doesn't lend itself to such an adaptation. The problem of how to fill space remains. In comics different shaped panels are used to fill the page. Each panel is a different screen ratio. There are high narrow rectangles, squares, along with some wide flat rectangles that mirror the cinema's current ratio. A frame can take any shape.

Are wide screens wide?

No, there are just screen ratios projected in different sizes. This is especially true now. Theater screens are getting smaller, while home screens are getting bigger. TV shows are often played through computers, presentation projectors, and high quality sound systems. This can make the viewing experience more enveloping than what one finds at many theaters.

Purists used to complain about TV prints of movies, which cut off the sides of the screen. Now, we have wide screen prints, that cut off the top and bottom of movies shot in the old ratio. Recently, I saw a trailer for a European theatrical rerelease of Casablanca. I knew something was wrong, but I had to watch it a few times to figure out that it had been cut up to look wider.

Film historians often look back to This Is Cinerama and the scene where the screen suddenly widens, exploding with color and lush visuals.

So, why aren't wide screens wide? Because there is no variation. With no comparison, it's just a surface for a projected image. There are many ratios, but none are spectacular.

Why are movies based on comics often flat?

Because, an artist's tool is no longer used. In movies, there is only one frame shape from beginning to end. Dick Matena is a master of the close-up, but he doesn't waste space. Often, a small fraction of a page is used to show a face. By comparison, a camera has to blunder in for a close-up, filling the screen with a lot of extraneous scenery, because nobody has a face shaped like a wide low rectangle.

What can be done?

The screen ratio can change during a film. In the silent cinema, filmmakers often used irises. Instead of moving in, the camera would keep its distance, and an iris would close around a particular object. Back then, almost all screens were big.

The iris fell out of favor before television, but the prevalence of small screens meant that such a technique was out of the question. Now, screens everywhere a big enough for irises, ratio changes and other shape shifting. The question of how much is too much can only be answered by trying out various techniques, but the wide low rectangle has clearly run its course.

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