>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.

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

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.

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

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.

In the future film historians may look at the 1980-2000 era as "The
Multiplicity Period."


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