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Ravi Kiran

Return of Anamorphic?

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It seems like more movies are being shot anamorphically these days. If there are indeed more anamorphic films, what could be the reason for this? Is it really just the stretchy bokeh and lens flares? I'd think that the sharpness benefit is largely negated by the 2K DIs many of these films go through.

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It seems like more movies are being shot anamorphically these days. If there are indeed more anamorphic films, what could be the reason for this? Is it really just the stretchy bokeh and lens flares? I'd think that the sharpness benefit is largely negated by the 2K DIs many of these films go through.

 

But not the grain benefit. Plus if you are going through a 2K D.I., at least the scan of the anamorphic frame is taller, has more vertical resolution, compared to the 2K spherical image that will be cropped vertically. But yes, some of the benefits over Super-35 of increased information are minimized.

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Maybe to try to squeeze the maximum amount of information (and on-camera visual stylization) from 35mm. Could directors and DPs be responding to the pressure from production to get the best out of the format, or risk going to RED, Genesis, D21 or something like that?

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Maybe to try to squeeze the maximum amount of information (and on-camera visual stylization) from 35mm. Could directors and DPs be responding to the pressure from production to get the best out of the format, or risk going to RED, Genesis, D21 or something like that?

 

I doubt it is some drive for more quality; I think if anamorphic is making a comeback again, it's just because of the look of the lenses, the flares, etc.

 

Considering that anamorphic means shooting 4-perf in a day and age when producers are automatically budgeting for 3-perf, I doubt that proposing anamorphic is some way of counteracting a move to the Red, Genesis, or D21.

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With the ubiquity of HDTVs and letterboxed DVD/Blu-ray transfers (at least in some countries), are producers and filmmakers less concerned with the 4:3 versions of their films, and hence, they feel more comfortable shooting anamorphic?

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Interesting interview here with the director of the upcoming movies "Legion" and "Priest". He mentions the reason he could not shoot both in anamorphic is Michael Bay's fault! :o

 

http://www.aintitcool.com/node/43720

 

Bay is also, in part responsible for the re-embrace of anamorphic...His refusal to shoot super-35 on CG laden shows started to erode the fallacy touted by a lot of FX Houses that anamorphic is just way too difficult to use on big FX pictures.

 

I think, in some part, it's also a rise in a generation of directors brought up on late-60's - early 80's movies

 

Or maybe that's just me.

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Guest Stephen Murphy

In an FD times a few months ago Jon Fauer predicted a resurgence in anamorphic production in 18 months after 3D had settled down citing rumours of several companies with new anamorphics in development. And low and behold RED announced their anamorphic lenses in development last week. Id love to see a front element Cooke S5 anamorphic regardless of how big the lens is so hopefully Cooke will get in on the act one day.

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Guest stevie wara
With the ubiquity of HDTVs and letterboxed DVD/Blu-ray transfers (at least in some countries), are producers and filmmakers less concerned with the 4:3 versions of their films, and hence, they feel more comfortable shooting anamorphic?

 

 

Anamorphic is such a silly format. I really don't very much care for it. At the moment, I can only think of one example of a feature film where the format actually worked. If I tried very hard I might find two. If my life depended on it I might possibly find three.

 

Until the studios panicked in the early 1950s over the growing curiosity of television, filmmakers were generally just fine with their academy aperture affairs. It wasn't as if the filmic artists of the era all banded together to demand their 2.40!

 

It WAS as if the studios just wanted to find a new gimmick, and that new gimmick turned out to be scope.

 

This "return to anamorphic", if it is even so, might be viewed as a modern re-adoption of the gimmick that is scope, in a renewed effort to separate from today's widescreen television with its now very common (and not so awful) 1.77 aspect ratio.

 

The big budget boys have their own new gimmick, and that's what's known as today's 3D.

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You're a bit behind the times to still be referring to a 1950's format as a "gimmick"... It's long since moved past being a gimmick. What's next, are you going to refer to sound movies as a gimmick?

 

I can think of plenty of great movies shot in anamorphic -- look at European movies such as "La Dolce Vita", "Contempt", "The 400 Blows", or all of Kurosawa's movies from "Hidden Fortress" to "Red Beard". Not to mention David Lean's widescreen movies ("Bridge On the River Kwai" and "Dr. Zhivago" were specifically shot in 35mm anamorphic.)

 

I could on and on -- it's one of my favorite formats. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" was the movie I saw in high school that made me want to make movies. "Blade Runner" is another great anamorphic movie. "Dances with Wolves". Terrence Malick's last two movies. Much of Robert Richardson's best work was in anamorphic: "JFK", "Snow Falling on Cedars", "The Doors", "Nixon", etc.

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I'd also add that purely from a technical standpoint, anamorphic uses nearly twice as much negative area as Super-35 cropped to 2.40. The anamorphic projection format uses more print area than the 1.85 projection format.

 

Well-shot 35mm anamorphic photography, such as Wally Pfister's work on the Batman movies, will generally look finer-grained and more detailed than Super-35 photography cropped and blown-up to 2.40, as well as compared to standard 1.85 photography.

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David,

I'm surprised you bit. This guy is a troll. He has two posts and already he's calling anamorphic a silly gimmick. Please dude, as David pointed out, some of the greatest films in the world were shot on anamorphic by some of the greatest cinematographers in the world. You obviously have no clue as to what you are talking about.

Edited by Tom Jensen

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Guest stevie wara

I had the chance to see "The 400 Blows" again on TCM awhile back, and thankfully, it was broadcast letterboxed. The distortions in this dyaliscoped film were quite apparent. Some of the pans looked as though they had been shot through a wavy piece of glass, which of course they were not. I wouldn't want to argue though that this film is great for having been shot in scope. I'd rather think how stunning it is despite having been shot in scope. That is to say, I don't think 2.40 (and an optically poor iteration of 2.40 at that) helps this film.

 

Truffaut was so brilliant. I love his films. He had already lashed out against the "cinema de papa" when his chance arrived to turn "The 400 Blows". He may have even been capable of a yet wider format had it been available to him. I wonder if all of that dyaliscope real estate ever even hit the French screens, or if a good deal of it was left to fall on the curtains.

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Anamorphic is such a silly format. I really don't very much care for it.

:blink:

 

I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone here who agrees with you (except maybe Thomas James, who I guess would prefer to only shoot 3D 48fps VistaVision ;)). The unique look of anamorphic distortion, the increased depth compression for the same field-of-view, the flares, the sheer width of the frame, all make it very attractive IMHO.

 

At the moment, I can only think of one example of a feature film where the format actually worked. If I tried very hard I might find two. If my life depended on it I might possibly find three.

Just a few:

 

Last Year at Marienbad

Yojimbo

The Apartment

Klute

Manhattan

Jaws

Alien

Blade Runner

Scarface

Amadeus

The Road Warrior

Raiders of the Lost Ark

The Empire Strikes Back

Ghostbusters

Big Trouble in Little China

JFK

The Thin Red Line

Bringing Out the Dead

Rushmore

 

So you think these films would have been just as amazing in flat 1.85? Really?!

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Anamorphic is such a silly format. I really don't very much care for it. At the moment, I can only think of one example of a feature film where the format actually worked. If I tried very hard I might find two. If my life depended on it I might possibly find three.

 

 

Firstly, HILARIOUS.

 

Secondly, I/we don't know you, and who knows, you could be a filmmaking genius who has a nearly divine understanding of appropriate format, frame composition, lens choice and lighting. But I'll give the benefit of the doubt. You think of all the superior cinematographers who have utilized the scope format, have achieved astounding visual results and have used the format to drive the story rather than distract us from the story, that YOU yourself are the one to judge? Your opinion sounds ignorant and uneducated. Watch some more films.

 

I'm usually not this passionate in the forums...and comments from random unknowns don't usually erk me, but yours did. Congrats.

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Firstly, HILARIOUS.

 

Secondly, I/we don't know you, and who knows, you could be a filmmaking genius who has a nearly divine understanding of appropriate format, frame composition, lens choice and lighting. But I'll give the benefit of the doubt. You think of all the superior cinematographers who have utilized the scope format, have achieved astounding visual results and have used the format to drive the story rather than distract us from the story, that YOU yourself are the one to judge? Your opinion sounds ignorant and uneducated. Watch some more films.

 

I'm usually not this passionate in the forums...and comments from random unknowns don't usually erk me, but yours did. Congrats.

 

JB,

I'm just curious as to the one film, maybe two if he thinks really hard, that was appropriate for anamorphic. I'm dieing to know.

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JB,

I'm just curious as to the one film, maybe two if he thinks really hard, that was appropriate for anamorphic. I'm dieing to know.

 

Probably "Armageddon", if he thought really hard "BMX Bandits", and if his life depended on it "ABBA the movie"

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Ravi, are new 4:3 pan-and-scan copies even being made anymore?

 

I don't think *anyone* worries about 4:3 copies in preparing theatrical movies these days, although unfortunately, it has reared its ugly head again now that television has gone back to a stupid center-weighted extraction from teh center of a 16:9 frame.

 

I think scope is a tough sell with S35 DIs looking quite good. They have more grain if they come from film, but either way, the results are soft regardless of what you're shooting with if you are coming from a 2K.

 

 

SOT, I wish they'd use 4-perf. on all release prints prints now that you can easily resize files digitally, and just start using anamorphic lenses of a different focal length to fill up a "flat" screen size.

 

If you think about it, save the expense of buying a new lens, flat prints cost $400-500 just in the black areas between the frame.

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Guest stevie wara
So you think these films would have been just as amazing in flat 1.85? Really?!

 

 

Hi,

 

I haven't seen all the films that you listed but, for those that I have, I wouldn't necessarily agree that they are all amazing. I wouldn't break down and cry if, for example, the very last print of "Ghostbusters" was accidently recycled and lost to this world.

 

Now as for "Blade Runner", well there you have me. What a beautifully photographed film. What beautiful lighting by Jordan Cronenweth. I think the 2.40 works better for me here because of the futuristic aspect of the film and its synthetic themes and designs. 2.40 feels synthetic.

 

But generally, in most other films, the 2.40 strikes me as odd. It's as if the cinematographer is spending most of his or her time compensating for an overly wide screen. It's as if every framing is a forced compromise. A modern closeup in 2.40 routinely consists of cropping off half of the subject's head. It's so violent.

 

I should probably be clearer in that it's not so much the anamorphic process that bothers me as it is the final aspect ratio. I think that less wide aspect ratios give the cinematographer expanded compositional possibilities. Even 1.85 seems a bit too wide.

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With the ubiquity of HDTVs and letterboxed DVD/Blu-ray transfers (at least in some countries), are producers and filmmakers less concerned with the 4:3 versions of their films, and hence, they feel more comfortable shooting anamorphic?

 

Maybe somewhat less. The latest from Nielsen is that about 40% of the TV audience has at least one 16:9 set. But that means that 60% are exclusively 4:3, and many of the rest still watch their older NTSC sets in bedrooms, basements, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

-- J.S.

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But generally, in most other films, the 2.40 strikes me as odd. It's as if the cinematographer is spending most of his or her time compensating for an overly wide screen. It's as if every framing is a forced compromise. A modern closeup in 2.40 routinely consists of cropping off half of the subject's head. It's so violent.

 

Violent?

 

I should probably be clearer in that it's not so much the anamorphic process that bothers me as it is the final aspect ratio. I think that less wide aspect ratios give the cinematographer expanded compositional possibilities. Even 1.85 seems a bit too wide.

 

Here's a lengthy article discussing Hong Kong and Japanese scope movies:

 

http://www.davidbordwell.net/essays/shaw.php

 

Here's an extract discussing the use of expanded compositional possibilities by the Japanese:

 

Even the straightforward scenes tend to rely more on low angles, more outré visual effects, and staging in depth, even if not all planes can be well-focused. In these ways Inoue’s visual style leans a bit toward the prototypical Japanese use of anamorphic widescreen, which tends to be more varied and flashy than that elsewhere in Asia, or indeed in Western countries.

 

A distinctively Japanese treatment of widescreen, then, was imported to Hong Kong but toned down. The process is apparent in another genre that emerged in the mid-1960s, the spy film. The Japanese had already begun imitating the James Bond series when Hong Kong studios followed suit with The Golden Buddha (1966) and Angel with the Iron Fists (1967). Two early entries in the cycle, The Black Falcon (1967) and Interpol 009 (1967) were made by the imported Japanese directors Furukawa Takumi and Nakahira Koh, both leaning heavily on their hits back home. Other spy adventures followed, from MP & GI and other studios as well as from Shaws. As the cycle faded, Shaws’ émigré directors moved toward the crime thriller, in such films as Diary of a Lady-Killer (Nakahira, 1969), A Cause to Kill (Murayama Mitsuo, 1970), and The Lady Professional (Akinori Matsuo, 1971).

 

Again, the mise-en-scène of these genres gets the inflated Movietown treatment, at once lavish and tacky. The cavernous lairs of Mabuse-like villains are rendered as vast sets, brilliantly lit and throbbing with saturated primary colors. These master criminals worry more about interior decoration than world domination.

 

 

 

Angel with the Iron Fists (1967): A huge Movietown set becomes a master criminal’s headquarters.

Compared with the other genres I’ve mentioned, though, the spy films and thrillers tend to have flashier camerawork. They take advantage of Run Run Shaw’s decision during the building of Movietown to rely on post-dubbing rather than direct sound. Freed from worrying about microphone placement, the director gains flexibility of camera position. In the Japanese émigrés’ films, entire scenes may be handled in low angles, and many shots offer canted framings. The compositions often make bold use of architecture, slicing the visual field into modules and spreading the action out to the very edges of the frame.

 

 

 

Partitional framing in The Black Falcon (1967).

 

 

Black Falcon: Extreme edge framing for suspense in the anamorphic format.

In particular, the Japanese fondness for partially blocked action, what I’ve called elsewhere a “game of vision” that teases us with important story information shifting in and out of visibility, is occasionally seen in the spy films as well.19 In addition, the cutting in these genres tends to be somewhat more rapid than in the costume pictures and musicals, with average shot lengths in the five- to seven-second range.

 

Three examples suggest the ingenuity that occasionally emerges from these formula pieces. In Interpol 009 (1967), Nakahira Koh creates a game of vision when agent 009 is jailed. The other prisoners are clustered around him in the middle distance, leaving a gap that reveals his face.

 

 

 

As the men pull a bit away from him, they open up an area in the distance that a guard can step into, summoning the hero to leave.

 

 

 

Instead of cutting, Nakahira sustains the shot by having the agent leave the cell, bidding farewell to the others from a tiny slice of space in the distance.

 

 

 

As Japanese directors often do, Nakahira has pulled the action into ever-smaller zones of depth and obliged us to follow slight changes within quasi-geometrical patterns.

 

Murayama’s A Cause to Kill (1970) centers on a woman who sets up her cheating husband to be murdered, only to find that the husband has killed the hitman. It is a frank plagiarism of Dial M for Murder, complete with a cunning police inspector and byplay with latchkeys. It’s also strongly Japanese in its stylization, from abstractly composed high angles to aggressive foreground planes.

 

 

 

A parking lot becomes a geometrical pattern (A Cause to Kill).

 

 

A telltale briefcase looms in front of us while characters argue in the distance.

A florid game with a lampshade suggests that Murayama had been watching The Ipcress File (or maybe Godard’s Contempt).

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most striking flourishes comes when the accused man’s lover is shown sitting down in the bedroom while the cop checks the wife’s handbag for the latchkey. An off-center shot of the wife sitting down by a chair is abruptly cut off by a stark close-up in which the handbag occupies the chair’s spot and the detective lunges forward to seize it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Achieving this sort of visual accent through tight framing and graphically matched cutting is common across the history of Japanese cinema and is quite unlike what we find in most Shaw productions, even other spy films made by Chinese filmmakers.

 

The same sort of stylization emerges in the set-pieces of The Lady Professional (1971). By now, it’s apparent, directors had the continuously variable focal lengths afforded by zoom lenses, and director Akinori embraces extremes of rack-focus and distortion to achieve shock effects. We watch a bowling match from inside the pin array: The player rolls the ball and we shift focus to a huge close-up of a pin before it falls over.

 

 

[

 

 

A dying man flails at the camera, his hand enlarged out of all measure.

 

 

 

A killing at the bowling alley is rendered in an even more bizarre way. Offscreen the bowler is shot, and blood drips onto the electronic scoreboard.

 

 

 

We then get a huge close-up of the bloodstain spreading on the scoring panel.

 

 

 

Cut to a shot of the victim slumping as a woman shrieks; the composition makes the violence hard to detect.

 

 

 

He falls forward dead, into a grotesquely distended close-up.

 

 

 

This last shot seems to have been filmed in the 1.33 format and printed in anamorphic proportions!

 

Just as the huangmei and wenyi genres motivated a solemn approach to cinematography, the suspense and violence of thrillers justify an exaggerated treatment, along with some startling experimentation. But I’d argue that the most vigorous innovations occurred in another genre that, retooled in the mid-1960s, pushed the others out of the spotlight.

 

Sorry about the illustrations, they are in the link.

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It's the difficulty of composing within such a widescreen shape that makes it interesting -- it's more "modernist" because it is harder to balance the frame following classical guidelines, typified by the Golden Rectangle (1.61 : 1).

 

Instead you can play with more modern art notions of negative space and visual imbalance. When you understand this, you can create interesting compositions that use the awkwardness of the wide frame for an emotional or symbolic effect, like to create feelings of loneliness, separation or distance from others, etc. Even in a close-up, the large area of space around the actor can be used as negative space -- you feel the "weight" of all that emptiness off to one side.

 

You see this in Gordon Willis' use of the 2.40 frame like in "The Parallax View", "Paper Chase", or "Manhattan":

 

parallaxview1.jpg

 

parallaxview4.jpg

 

parallaxview5.jpg

 

parallaxview6.jpg

 

parallaxview7.jpg

 

paperchase9.jpg

 

paperchase10.jpg

 

manhattan1.jpg

 

manhattan3.jpg

 

manhattan4.jpg

 

Beyond the interesting compositional effects that are possible, there is also the practical advantage of being able to hold two people in the same frame but in a tighter shot, there is the ability to surround an actor with more of the space of the location even in a close-up.

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