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June 2000, Week 2


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
"Shari L. Rosenblum" <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 12 Jun 2000 16:16:05 EDT
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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dw writes to my:
> >In an artistic composition, however, is it not for the artist to
>  >determine what content can be thrown away?  To decide
>  >what makes up his artistic frame and how the balance is
>  >achieved?  I'm not sure it is advisable to evaluate the effectiveness
>  >of artistic expression on the basis of its "noticeable impact"
>  >on first-time viewers and disinterested layfolks.
>  Quite a lot of "artistic" expression there.

And still not enough to make the point, I guess.

>  But filmmakers -- especially Hollywood ones -- are not just artists.
>  They're commercial artists.

A distinction without difference.  Few are the artists whose works we
admire who were not in tow to some patron royal or rich -- who did not
find the necessity of worldly comforts a compelling argument for
compromise between their muses and their final product.

I therefore think it the oddest of arguments, despite its commonplace,
that artistic effort and commercial ends are somehow irreconcilable.

In this case, however, it is not only odd, but off the point.
You argue against the practicality of filmmakers'
shooting for widescreen -- but no one here has argued
for it.

What I have argued is that if a director -- fully cognizant or not of
secondary market demands -- chooses a certain perspective
for his film, it is disrespectful to the filmmaker and his audience
-- indeed to the concept of film as art (hence my insistence above) --
to claim that a market-substituted perspective is equally good or better
and that there is no value in making available the artist's original vision.

>  More specifically, producers of a marketable
>  product. And as such they must consider its success in all markets.
>  Something they never had to worry about before the 1980s.

True enough.  And yet, there are filmmakers -- those you've named and
those named by others -- who continue to have as their first choice
the widescreen perspective.  This is a strong argument *for* supporting
respect for their choice, not -- as you seem to be maintaining -- against

In other words, despite what you point out as the obvious economic
advantages in avoiding the more expensive anamorphic shooting, these
filmmakers continue to favor underappeciated aesthetic demands over
(overstated) pragmatic ones.   On what grounds might anyone dismiss
that choice as unworthy of respect?

Certainly you would agree that to use an artist's concessions to his
patron as an argument against the primacy of his actual artistic
choice is an anti-aesthetic position, would you not?

>  We may like to think they stayed visual purists, and dedicated masters of
>  art -- slaves to the god known as "widescreen" -- but they work in a very
>  expensive industry that rarely tolerates such stubborn pretensions.

Again, off the point of our discussion, in which there has been absolutely
no demand that any filmmaker shoot in any particular ratio.  The only
demand at issue here is that the ratio the filmmaker chooses be respected
-- at least by those who claim to respect filmmaking as an art -- and be
made available.

>  Spielberg, Kubrick and Woody Allen are some American filmmakers with the
>  rare clout to insist only letter-box versions of their "art" be released.

The question is not -- and never has been -- whether the
filmmakers should be left to defend against the bastardization
of their art, but whether those of us who respect the art of
filmmaking should sit back and allow the negation and neglect of
their original vision.

The argument I have understood you to make -- that little is lost in the
reformatting of a large majority of films -- or that the variants between
the filming ratio and the video viewing one are of little impact -- sounds to
me a legitimation of that negation and neglect.

>  Spielberg did it with ALWAYS. Allen did it with MANHATTAN. And Kubrick....
>  well, in actuality he made only one "widescreen" film and that was in 1968.
>  He preferred having his films released on "full frame" video anyway, which
>  is why the recent DVD release of The Stanley Kubrick Collection is almost
>  all in that format. Meanwhile Spielberg and Allen know better than to touch
>  an anamorphic lens again.
>  They know -- and accept -- the one thing most of us hate to acknowledge;
>  that many film viewers (or "disinterested layfolks") are more interested in
>  story and characters. Not visual composition. The heathens who hate
>  letter-box. Hate it (even filmmakers such as William Friedkin have been
>  known to utter such blasphemy). So... filmmakers either resort to less
>  extreme aspect ratios, or tolerate pan-and-scan. It just makes good
>  business sense now that films can make more money on video, TV and
>  satellite than theatres.

That they are made to tolerate pan-and-scan is, I submit, a shame
on us.  But again, you argue against something not at issue.

Everyone seems to be perfectly happy to recognize and respect the
market demand for easy-viewing bastardizations (as I have
acknowledged the usefulness and market value of Reader's Digest
condensations, audiobook abridgments, and might even add
novelizations of Shakespeare and postcard reproductions of
Van Gogh and Ver Meer).  What I do not accept, and believe we
should actively stand against, is the denial of the greater worth of
-- and the argument against making available -- the artists' full and
original vision.

>  The upside to all this is that tolerance to "letter-box" is increasing. As
>  DVD increases in popularity -- a format that releases almost all titles in
>  their original theatrical format -- and TVs get wider (if we can afford
>  them) we can look forward to a return to an era when filmmakers made films
>  for the one venue they were originally intended -- the cinema house.

And more to the point of this discussion, let it be a time when films
are made available as their creators originally intended them -- even, or
even especially, in this "multiplicity period" -- whatever the secondary
market demand on them for later.

Shari L. Rosenblum

Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite