Sunday, March 4, 2007


By: Vittorio Storaro ASC, AIC

Ever since Plato's Myth of the Cave we are used to seeing images in a specific space. In Plato's Myth, prisoners are kept in a cave facing an interior wall, while behind them, at the entrance to the cave, there is a lighted fire with some people with statues and flags passing in front of the fire. At the same time, their shadows are projected onto the interior wall of the cave by fire's light. The prisoners are looking at the moving shadows in that specific area of the wall. They are watching images as a simulation, a "simulacre" of reality, not reality itself. The myth of Plato is a metaphor for the Cinema.

Since that myth, audiences have gotten used to seeing images in a specific space. The journey of visual arts in history, which human beings have made for so long, encompasses all different styles of Drawing-Painting-Photography, Cinematography, Television, etc... These styles were always determined by a specific area that allowed any visual artist to express himself on a "canvas on a specific size". This canvas determines all visual arts to be a specific form of expression, not a copy of reality.

Since the Lumiere brothers 100 years ago, a space has been framed in a very specific way, allowing any filmmakers since to think and to realize his art form through composition, a word almost forgotten in today's film industry.

Recently, any movie-no matter how big or small, successful or not-will, after a very short life on the big screen, have a much longer life on an electronic screen. Today, the answer print is made for both of these two different media. The Cinematographer's work ends after having released an Interpositive for theatrical distribution, and a digital master for video distribution.

Having these two different media, with essentially two different aspect ratios, each of us (Directors, Production Designers, Cinematographers, Camera Operators, etc.) shares the nightmare of compromising the composition of the image. Looking trough a viewfinder, a camera, or a monitor, we are always faced with at least two images of the same subject.
Since the Cinema is a language of images, by changing the original composition of the cinematographic picture we are altering the linguistic expression, the style and indeed the film itself. It is like altering the size of an artist's painting to suit the wall where the painting is supposed to be shown. A film in any video transfer, when recorded in letterbox and in full screen versions, is without a doubt actually two different movies.

In the jungle of different aspect ratios in today's Cinema and Television, the upcoming advanced High Definition Video system will introduce yet another one, an aspect ratio of about 1: 1,79. For a while, we will have three different visual proportions, and therefore three different compositions, of the same movie

I don't know who made this decision for a new aspect ratio, since it doesn't resolve any past, present or future problems for a common composition between different media. I am not aware of any Directors or Cinematographers who have been asked for their opinions about the possible new area or new composition for future audio-visual systems.

Some day in the future, any small screen film projector, in any cineplex, will be replaced by an electronic High Definition Video projector. Consequently any movie made for these small screening rooms, particularly if they are intimate or psychological stories, will be directly recorded in High Definition instead of in 35mm negative. This is a process that we can slow down or speed up, but it cannot be stopped. But I also believe that audiences around the world will always have the need to get together in a large "Amniotic Sac", so to speak, such a big film theatre, in order to participate in the collective unconscious of a big audience, watching on a large screen any epic-spectacular-big romance story. This part of the world of cinema, in my opinion, will need to be filmed in 65 mm.

If all of this happens, then the future audio-visuals recorded in these two different ways will depend on the specific need of the story. Considering High Definition and 65mm, I think it would therefore be sensible to propose a new standard for both.A new aspect ratio that will fit future, present, and past compositional needs. Currently 65mm is set at an aspect ratio of 1: 2,21 and High Definition at about 1:1,79, so, if we remove the 0,21 from the 65mm, and if we add the same number on top of High Definition TV, we will have a perfect balance between the two: that is, 1:2.

This new aspect ratio or format will respect not only all co-authors who participate in the creation of Images but also all audiences with their own right to see a picture as it was conceived, and this new format will allow us to readily compose any new image in the future without being affected by the media used, or on which screen it will be projected. In any case the image will eventually end up on laser disc, HD in the same composition. We can also fit into this electronic screen any past films from the silent era, filmed in 1:1,33 or Academy 1:1,375 to all panoramic systems, including 1:1,66 - 1:1,75 - 1:1,85 anamorphic and 65 mm pictures will only have a very small modification on the sides.

Since the first public screening of a moving image, the Lumiere brothers defined the relationship between the size of the film negative and the size of the screen. A portion of canvas, where our dreams were and are realized, became the standard for viewing films. It was only after the advent of electronic images shown on television, that a need was felt to modify and extend that magical space to which we were accustomed, in order to involve the viewer more in the spectacle. By inventing too many systems (Cinemascope - Vistavision - Cinerama - ToddAo - Technirama etc..) each one so different from the other, they almost canceled one another out. However, in recent times, the 70 mm print format seems to have become the standard for the big screen.

Just as we are generally trying to establish the right proportion in life, we should try to do so in Cinema, with the right size negative for the right size screen: 16mm for viewing an image on a Small Screen; 35mm for viewing an image on a Normal Screen; and 65mm for viewing an image on a Big Screen.

This way, the right technology will be used to create the proper image. Also, it will create a respect for the moviegoer. In today's film industry, unfortunately, almost all movies for the Big Screen are shot on 35mm negative, most of them with anamorphic lenses and then, later, blown up to 70mm print. This gives a false impression to the spectator, who thinks the movie he is seeing has been created originally for the big screen. Recently, with new cameras, new film negatives, and new technology in the laboratories, we don't need anything different on the set for filming in 65mm negative, compared to shooting normally in Cinemascope. Dailies in anamorphic 35mm will make possible all Post-Production normally in 35mm. From a direct Interpositive on 65mm, an Internegative 65mm or a reduced Internegative for Anamorphic 35mm will provide Released Prints in both requested formats.

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