Watch: How Aspect Ratio Limns a Film Director’s Vision

Watch: How Aspect Ratio Limns a Film Director’s Vision

You only know as much about a film as a director tells you. You only see as much, furthermore, as the director allows you to see. And, in considering the story within a film, you may think you are looking outwards when you allow the film to inspire expostulations and intellectual ramblings–and yet you are, in fact looking inwards, deeper into the images unrolling above you. One way we are reminded of this is through aspect ratio, which is, for the layperson, simply the proportional relation between the width of the frame and the height of the frame. De Filmkrant‘s video essay addresses the use of and experimentation with this element in recent films. Xavier Dolan’s frame tightens slowly on a woman’s face, going slowly out of focus; in another Dolan scene, a character actually pries the screen wide open. In Gust Van den Berghe’s ‘Lucifer,’ a circular frame is used throughout, giving the whole film, and subsequently its story, the quality of a vignette, from a film of an older era. Joost Broeren and Sander Spies, the video essay’s editors, attribute some of this experimentation with aspect ratio to the growth of digital filmmaking, but not all, in this survey of directors ranging from Wes Anderson to Ang Lee, and beyond. 

One thought on “Watch: How Aspect Ratio Limns a Film Director’s Vision”

  1. Very interesting and informative! A few items of aspect ratio trivia: The silent (Super 35) ratio was 1.33:1 (4:3), later adopted by television, but the sound (Academy Aperture) ratio used from the 1930s into the early 1950s was 1.37:1. Flat (not-anamorphic) widescreen is usually 1.85:1 but 1.66:1 (5:3) was for a long while common in Britain and Europe. The Cinemascope ratio for most films in the 1950s through 1970 was 2.35:1, but SMPTE changed the standard to 2.39:1 in 1970, and that’s the current standard no matter how many Blu-rays and DVDs insist it’s still 2.35:1. (Some round 2.39 to 2.4 but perversely write it as 2.40.) Many other ratios have been used for specialized formats: Cinerama, VistaVision, etc, and early silent films sometimes used a matte to achieve a different ratio for a single scene, anticipating the in-film framing variations highlighted here.

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