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October 1999, Week 4


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Leo Enticknap <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 24 Oct 1999 18:50:46 -0700
text/plain (87 lines)
At 09:55 24/10/99 +0100, Richard Davies wrote:

>In London back in the late 70s and early 80s the cans of film containing
>BARRY LYNDON would arrive at cinemas with instructions that the film was
to>be projected at the 'continental' ratio of 1:66. Kubrick would often send
>one of his people to check a screening and a letter of reprimand would
>follow if it was being shown 1:88.

That's a far cry from what happens now - cans typically only state whether
the film is 'flat' or 'scope' - symptomatic of the fact that most
multiplexes support only one spherical ratio, i.e. 1:1.85.  We pride
ourselves in presenting films in their correct ratio whenever possible, and
so I train projectionists to differentiate between 'flat' ratios according
to the following rules:

1.  If the film was made before 1954, then it's 1:1.33, UNLESS it is a film
in the 'early sound special' ratio of 1:1.15 made between 1927 and 1932.
If it's a print with scope-like frames but not anamorphic and the dates
fit, then use this ratio.  Cinemas which do not have a plate and lens for
1:1.15 should use a 1:1.33 plate with a scope lens - the difference in
aperture height is only 0.003 inches.

2.  If it's Russian and not scope, then it's 1:1.33 - they still use the
Academy Ratio.

3.  If it's a Dogma 95 film, then it's 1:1.33.

4.  If it's a television production copied onto film for cinema release
(e.g. EAST SIDE STORY) then it's almost certainly 1:1.33, unless it was
originated on Super 16, in which case it's 1:1.66 (this is the closest
ratio we support to HDTV - 1:1.75 is the ideal but the number of films
intended to be shown in this ratio is so small that we don't support it).

7.  For modern continental films, the French still use 1:1.66, whilst the
Germans and Italians invariably use 1:1.85.  You need to do a print
examination on anything from any other European country where the ratio
isn't stated.

8.  If it's a Hollywood or British film made since 1954 and it's not scope,
then it's almost certainly 1:1.85, but you do get the odd one which looks
better in 1:1.66.  If in doubt, examine the print carefully.


1.  Look for hard masks.  The apertures on a release print can vary between
effects shots, digital, mattes, live action &c., because modern release
prints are almost always made on continuous printers as opposed to step
ones.  Any experienced projectionist will be able to tell the difference
between a 1:1.66 hard mask and a 1:1.85 hard mask by eye, but if in any
doubt, hold the relavent aperture plate against the frame being examined
WITH THE FILM BEHIND IT, so you can see where the border is.

2.  If there are no conclusive hard masks on a print, look at the opening
title sequence to see where the writing is positioned.  If there are unused
areas at the top and bottom of the frame this indicates that the film is
widescreen.  Now hold up a plate against a frame to ascertain the exact ratio.

3.  If this doesn't work, look at some medium close-up action.  If the
actor's head stops roughly half-way up a full-height frame, then assume
1:1.85.  If it goes two-thirds of the way up (i.e. it is level with the
third perforation out of four), assume 1:1.66.  Any higher and it's 1:1.33.

4.  On failing all of the above, use the tallest ratio you think will do
and watch out for boom mikes appearing on screen during the first show.  If
you spot any, go one ratio wider for the next show.

Of course none of this faffing about would be necessary if distributors
simply labelled their cans and leaders with the ratio they want their films
to be shown in.

Incidentally, EYES WIDE SHUT came with a note from Warner Bros (a copy in
each of the 9 cans!) stating that it was 1:1.85.  It was the first
Hollywood film from a major distributor (i.e. not a re-release) I can
remember getting which actually gave the aspect ratio.


Leo Enticknap
Projection and Sound Engineer
City Screen Cinemas Ltd., London, UK
[log in to unmask]

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