The Complete History of Kinema #3

Let’s see, well, we’re skipping golden age Hollywood, neo-realism and a few other things…

Interesting that George Stevens sued to try and prevent TV stations inserting ads into A PLACE IN THE SUN, and Otto Preminger sued to try and stop them cropping his films (which really do lose absolutely everything when viewed in the wrong ratio, almost uniquely in my view). I’d like to be able to say that Bert I. Gordon sued to prevent Elvira introducing his films, but that would be untrue, in a factual sense. But, in a deeper, poetic sense, very true indeed.

19 Responses to “The Complete History of Kinema #3”

  1. Arthur S. Says:

    Had Otto Preminger won his case, he could have established a legal precedent for directorial authorship in the States, thereby preventing any need for the latter-day director’s cut edition. This way legally the director would have final cut.

    On TV you have a galaxy of multiple versions, sex scenes removed, violence muted and swear words looped with blank space.

    It was Woody Allen by the way who managed to set a precedent for a letterbox display of his movie. He insisted that MANHATTAN be shown in ‘Scope format whenever broadcasted and it’s maintained even today.

  2. david wingrove Says:

    Perhaps the greatest victim of pan-and-scanning is Richard Fleischer. One of the all-time masters of widescreen, he’s been written off as a hack by people who have never seen his films in the proper ratio.

    THE GIRL IN THE RED VELVET SWING, THE VIKINGS, COMPULSION, BARABBAS, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, THE BOSTON STRANGLER, CHE…all of these are superb in ‘Scope and rubbish in the wrong format.

  3. Just looking at The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing yesterday on the FOX cable movies channel.


    It’s quite something, with a teriffic performance by the late, and much-missed Farley Granger, plus Joan Collins several bodies ago. Would make a great double-feature with Chabrol’s sensational update A Girl Cut in Two

  4. That’s such a weird case, there’s yet to be a movie as bizarre as the historical record…

    I think by the time Fleischer was making Red Sonja he was maybe a little bit of a hack. But he doesn’t seem to have taken the job too seriously, which was wise. His 40s noir work is stunning, and some of those 50s, 60s & 70s jobs are really terrific. 10 Rillington Place is truly disturbing, and a great argument against the death penalty.

    I remember when UK TV started showing films letterboxed at 16X9: suddenly a bunch of hitherto sloppy-looking films acquired a new dimension. Preminger still looked terrible though, he needs his full widescreen.

  5. Mr. Wingrove, you forgot to mention Fleischer’s masterpiece, Mandingo — the only honest film about American racism.

  6. I’m coming out as a Fleischer fan right here and now.

  7. Randy Cook Says:

    Oh, how I love Jay Robinson. His Caligula is still too big when reproduced 1 inch high. THAT’S an achievement.

  8. Fleischer’s career choices are so odd though. In the late 60s he veered from The Fantastic Voyage to The Boston Strangler-both really well made films. At the same time he made Doctor Dolittle and Che
    He seemed to care less as he got older, maybe it was the projects. But then his last movie Million Dollar Mystery is really energetically directed

    With Mandingo I always wondered what brought Fleisher to the project? It’s a great film, but it has no prescedent in mainstream Hollywood. Also how much credit should go to the novel and the screenwriter Norman Wexler (Joe, Serpico)?

  9. david wingrove Says:

    David E – I agree with you totally that MANDINGO is Fleischer’s masterpiece. I left it out only because it’s not one of his super-widescreen Cinemascope films, but a more standard 1:85-1.

    Hence it’s not so easily ruined by pan-and-scanning – although showing it in any but the original ratio would of course be unforgivable. Being the fervent Fleischer fan that I am, I had to limit my list somehow. Still, it hurt to leave MANDINGO out, so thanks for giving it a mention.

  10. One more top-tier Fleischer film that must be seen in ‘scope – SOYLENT GREEN – a wonderful sci-fi noir critique of corporate capitalism, and a consideration of the “slavery” theme (lower classes as “furniture,” or worse, *food* for the priviliged) that is developed further in MANDINGO.

  11. Jay Robinson is also teriffic as the beauty shop owner whose son is killed in Vietnam in Shampoo

  12. Robinson is in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but I don’t recall him at all — maybe he’s surrounded by so much ham he becomes invisible.

    I wonder if Fleischer had a real love of SF/fantasy — he certainly returned to it often enough. With such august parentage he must have sucked in surrealism with his mother’s milk. He veers between that and true crime stories, with anything and everything in between.

    Wish I could land a copy of Million Dollar Mystery! I’m saving Amityville 3D for the second 3D Week here on Shadowplay.

  13. judydean Says:

    Just as bad as pan and scan is the habit that some TV channels have adopted of stretching classic ratio films to fill widescreen TVs. We watched My Darling Clementine, recorded off Film4, the other night and even Henry Fonda looked short and squat.

  14. Are you sure you have your set set up correctly? I’ve seen a lot of squeezed or cropped clips in documentaries where they want to make everything conform to one aspect ratio, but haven’t seen anything misbroadcast that way on Film4 (although there was a long period where Telewest, due to some inscrutable error nobody on their helpdesk could understand, showed all their 1:1.33 films squashed to about 1:1.

  15. david wingrove Says:

    Just to second Judy’s point …I’ve tried to watch both HUMAN DESIRE and MONKEY BUSINESS on Film 4, but given up in disgust because they were stretched into some ghastly attempt at wide-screen that made everyone in the cast look like a Munchkin!

    It’s my impression that many people in charge of film programming on TV know less than nothing about aspect ratios. Surely film exhibition by any medium should be an officially recognized profession, with standards and qualifications all its own?

    AMITYVILLE 3-D is actually not bad at all. Rubbish, of course, but spectacularly well made – far more so than a lot of late Fleischer!

  16. judydean Says:

    Well, I thought we had got our system set up correctly. We certainly spent enough time with the Set-Up section of our family-bible sized manual when we first got it. But my technical assistant has promised to look at it again.

  17. Well, I *think* then the problem is one of human error/ignorance by somebody at Film4, rather than deliberate policy.

    Watched a wretched documentary on The Arabian Nights on BBC4 last night, with clips from both versions of The Thief of Bagdad cropped top and bottom to fit a 16X9 ratio.

  18. John Seal Says:

    It’s not too late…both Elvira and Mr. B.I.G. are still alive. Somebody call Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe right away!

  19. Mr BIG is on Facebook, people! There’s a guy you want to friend right away. I mean, you want him on your side, right?

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