Monthly Archives: March 2015

What is… Aspect Ratio?

I haven’t written one of these posts for quite some time so I thought it about time to put that right. Always wondered what aspect ratio is? Here’s your answer…

Aspect ratio is the relationship between the width and height of the image on screen. It is represented by two numbers separated by a colon – the first number is the width of the screen, the second is the height. An example is 4:3, where for every 4 inches (or centimetres or whatever) wide an image was, it would be 3 inches high.

You may also see 4:3 written as 1.33:1, which is just purely stylistic. If the second number is a ‘1’ then some people like to drop it completely, so it would just be 1.33, again just for stylistic reasons.

History

When films first started to be made, they were done so in the above ratio, 4:3, as they were 4 perforations high on a film reel. This altered slightly when sound was introduced onto the reel, making the ratio 1.37:1 rather than 1.33:1. In 1932, this ratio was officially approved by the The Academy, and therefore pretty much the whole of popular film making, and thus was known as the Academy Ratio.

In this famous clip from Casablanca you’ll notice the black bars on either side of the frame, a feature of 4:3 aspect ratio.

The Introduction of Widescreen

Cinema was the be all and end all until televisions started to become a more staple fixture in people’s homes in the 1950s. This made the film studios nervous and they looked for something new to keep the punters coming in.

1952 saw the development of Cinerama which used an aspect ratio of 2.59:1 and need three cameras and three projectors to display the picture on a curved screen. As you might imagine, this wasn’t particularly practical. CinemaScope was another widescreen development with a slightly more narrow 2.35:1 and used only the single camera and projector.

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was filmed in widescreen 2.2:1 – you can see the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen rather than the sides.

When widescreen films were shown on TV (which back then was 4:3 only), the picture either had to be chopped at the sides or squashed down to fit it all in, the latter producing big black bars at the top and bottom, known as letterboxing. Interestingly, when 2001 was first screened on TV by the BBC in the 1980s, they bizarrely inserted fake ‘stars’ on the black bars to fill in the gaps during the outer space sections as they thought audiences would be confused that the picture didn’t fill the whole screen. The effect was apparently very cheap and looked like someone had painted them on.

A technique was also developed called ‘pan and scan’ in which the manufacturer decided which was the most important part of each shot and showed only that, lopping off parts either side. A ‘centre cut’ was also sometimes used, which only showed the middle part of the widescreen image.

Studios started to try and push what they could do, with MGM using 2.76:1 on 70mm film (twice the size of the regular 35mm film) for Ben Hur.

Getting creative

As with many aspects of cinema, directors decided to manipulate aspect ratio for stylistic purposes and used it as a vital part of the film. One of the most recent and effective examples of this is Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest HotelAnderson presented the film in three different aspect ratios, each indicating a different time period.

The film starts off with a prologue displayed in the, now regular, 1.85:1.

Tom Wilkinson in The Grand Budapest Hotel For scenes in the 1960s, Anderson then shifts the aspect ratio to a widescreen format of 2.35:1

F. Murray Abraham and Jude Law in The Grand Budapest Hotel

It then changes again to the Academy Ratio of 1.37:1, and it’s in this ratio that most of the film is displayed.

the-grand-budapest-hotel-movie-poster-6

Interestingly, the change in aspect ratio indicates a journey back in time through cinema, moving from modern day back to how films used to be shown back in the day. Not that I’m old enough to remember that. Even more interesting is that Anderson (or perhaps the studio, or both) actually sent a set of instructions to cinemas about how to properly display the film.

A list of instructions from Wes Anderson about how to properly show The Grand Budapest HotelThe change and use of aspect ratios is something that is constantly in flux. The use of IMAX has changed this again, especially when certain scenes in a film are filmed in the format and other aren’t, with it switching part way through. Some filmmakers for both cinema and TV also employ what’s known as ‘shoot and protect’ where they ensure the most important parts of the scene are shot in the middle so that as little as possible is lost should the aspect ratio not convert to different size screens – from cinema to TV, for instance.

Do you have any opinions on aspect ratio? Prefer one over another? Couldn’t give a flying film reel? Drop me a comment and let me know. If you want to read more in the ‘What is…?’ series, click here.

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Sunday Soundtrack: Be My Baby (The Ronettes)

Be My Baby by The Ronettes featured in the opening credits of Martin Scorsese’s brilliant Mean Streets. Many might actually know it for its use in Dirty Dancing but Mean Streets is better, so there.

If you have any suggestions for future Sunday Soundtracks, leave them in the comments below.

5 Films That Have Better Sex Scenes Than Fifty Shades of Grey

Things are getting a little steamy here with this guest post from my good pal Ruth from the really rather good Crown Rules. Discussion and videos here are of a very adult nature so if you’re a child or prefer to veer away from such talk, heed the warning! If you like a bit of the ol’ slap and tickle, however, do read on…

With a teaser trailer that looked like the world’s weirdest adverts for ties and a novel based on a teen series of Vampire books, Fifty Shades of Grey was never going to win me over. Since the film’s release on Valentine’s Day this year the overwhelming response to the ‘sex’ in it is that the two co-stars have zero on screen sizzle and the woman’s orgasm was, once again, omitted. Being a big fan of female pleasure (particularly my own) I thought it would be helpful for viewers to be exposed to a list of films that got sex scenes totally right. These scenes will leave you flustered, grabbing the sheets and enjoying a bit more ‘me time’ than usual. Let’s take a look at 5 Films That Have Better Sex Scenes than Fifty Shades of Grey and revel in their ecstasy.

Blue Valentine

 

The utter lad that is Ryan Gosling kicked off when Blue Valentine was going to be released without the now infamous oral sex scene. He was outraged that the film was going to receive an adult rating (in America) just because it showed a woman enjoying oral sex. It baffles me just as much as it baffles Gosling that this is still seen as something women should be ashamed of. The clitoris’s only function is pleasure – that is literally all it is – a load of nerve endings. Got an issue with that? Take it up with The Gosling Committee for The Female Orgasm, I’m pretty sure he’s responsible for a few of them anyway.

Young Adult

Charlize Theron in Young Adult

‘Better’ in the context of this post, doesn’t necessarily mean ‘sexier’ and Young Adult is a glowing example of this. This sex scene is realistic. It’s cringe-worthy accurate. I think the scene officially had me when Theron takes off her all-in-one dress and reveals her completely strapless bra. Those bad boys just wiggle there as she tries not to cry. That moment is so tender that it almost made me forget about the great sex scene that followed with Patton Oswalt. It’s raw, vulnerable and a little bit too familiar, what a great bit of film making.

Secretary

This is the Mr Grey you want to be watching. James Spader is a naughty, naughty man in this film and Gyllenhaal needs to stop being so Maggie the whole damn time. They’re so good together it’s like a lesson in on screen chemistry. Never has the pencil skirt been worn better and never has a Lawyer been more intolerable, both of which are big claims to fame. You’ll never hear the lines “Just one scoop of cream potatoes, a slice of butter and four peas” the same way again. Who knew such ordinary food could be made so extraordinary with the power of the female orgasm?

Y Tu Mamá También

The Oscar nominated Spanish film, Y Tu Mamá También, won lots of acclaim for its presentation of sex between two young men and a much older woman. I’ve got a soft spot of Gael García Bernal so anything that has him in it naked for 90% of the film is going to win me over. From the pool diving board masturbation scene to the steamy back car scene this film has sex in many forms, however, it’s the sex that changes the boy’s relationship that really stole my attention. They both kiss in a heated moment and it changes their friendship into something neither is comfortable to recognise. It’s a beautiful moment and something that should be looked at more in sex scenes; the changing moment, the catalyst for something new.

Blue is the Warmest Colour

Blue is the Warmest Colour

Apparently, if you want to portray sex realistically then it helps to have blue in the title. Blue is the Warmest Colour is an honest representation of a gay female relationship and the intensity that comes from your first flush of a new experience. Released only last year this film heralds a new approach to sexual representation in film. Too often gay female relationships are portrayed for a male audience, but in Blue is The Warmest Colour it feels as though a new level of honesty is achieved. It’s a film about finding yourself and discovering what it is you like and love. This is something that is symbolically shared with Fifty Shades of Grey, however, it is Blue is The Warmest Colour that shows the beating heart of this decision making.

Ruth Hartnoll is a full time copywriter, part time queen at www.crownrules.uk and obsessive theatre & poetry enthusiast. She adores animated characters, particularly female, and encourages all women and girls to go and to have lots of naughty fun – if the boys are doing it, we can do it better. Adventure is out there! Follow Ruth on Twitter here and check out her previous article on 7 of her favourite animated female characters.

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