History of Wide Screen Formats

By Mitchell, Rick | American Cinematographer, May 1987 | Go to article overview

History of Wide Screen Formats


Mitchell, Rick, American Cinematographer


A PACKED AUDIENCE at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in November, 1985 was treated to the first presentation in 5 5 years of the Grandeur version of The Big Trail, filmed originally on a yomm negative. Like supposedly knowledgeable film buffs who were surprised to learn that Doctor X (1932) had been filmed in color and Dial M For Murder (1954) in 3-D, the audience that night was astounded to learn that The Big Trail was in fact, only one of eight features made on film stocks wider than 35mm and publicly shown, primarily in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, 22 years before Cinerama, CinemaScope, and Todd-AO.

Actually, the wide aspect ratio seems natural for motion pictures and one wonders how the initial 1.33:1 standard came about. Although aesthetic standards drawn from the world of painting have frequently been cited, the actual reason is technical. Motion pictures are photographed through lenses which are placed in cylinders to better gather and focus the rays of light. Aesthetics do come into play in the fact that humans have a preference for a squared-off frame, and although some early experimenters in both still and motion photography went with a circular frame, most went with a squared off aperture within the area of the negative upon which the image was focused. The other aesthetic consideration was not to make this image perfectly square, but to give it a bit more width than height.

Two other factors might also be cited: the precedent of the projection of lantern slides, which were in the 1.33:1 ratio, and the psychological effect of the size of the viewed image. When the image is less than about 2 ft. in height, its shape is not significant. As it becomes larger, or appears to be larger in scale in relation to other known objects, it becomes analogous to human vision; the J.33:1 image appears both squarer, and unnatural when presenting images in motion. It should be noted that although W.K.L. Dickson claims his first device for Edison was a projected, talking picture, Edison was primarily interested in developing a peep show device, in which the images to be viewed would be comparatively small.

It is interesting to note that in a survey of early film widths and frame sizes published in the. January, 1969 issue of the American Cinematographer, all the examples from before 1900 are in the 1.33:1 ratio. Only after 1900, when projection had become the established method of presenting motion pictures, was serious consideration given to a wider aspect ratio, though precedent existed in one of the first American projectors, the Latham Eidoloscope, press shown on May 20, 1895, though apparently never put to commercial use. Two years later, Enoch Rector presented highlights of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight photographed on a negative 2 '/16 in. wide, with the picture in an approximately i.66:é aspect ratio to cover the full width of the ring with the boxers in full shot. Latham and Rector's patents would ultimately evolve into the Biograph Company, which photographed subjects on a negative 221/3é in. wide, but which would be printed onto cards used in another type of peepshow device. For commercial success, Biograph would go along with the 3 5 mm 1.33:1 standard established by Edison for films designed for projection.

While this would evolve into a theatrical standard that would hold true for the next halfcentury, it did not stop experimentation in wider aspect ratios or larger negative and print stocks, especially in France. The best overview of these experiments, with illustrations, can be found in Kenneth McGowan's "Behind the Screen." Just as economics forced the standardization of film width and frame shape, economics forced reconsideration of that standard within a quarter century, from exhibition rather than production.

The problems began during World War I and shortly thereafter when theater chains went on their boom of building huge picture palaces. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

History of Wide Screen Formats
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.