Yesterday Bob Furmanek politely declined my aspect-ratio podcast invitation, but he suggested that I get in touch with Jack Theakston, organizer-producer of Capitolfest (August 9th, 10th and 11th in Rome, New York) as well as an archivist, an AMIA member and Furmanek’s associate and partner in aspect ratio research. So I did, and Jack and I kicked it around for about an hour this morning. It’s a knowledgable and stimulating discussion. Recommended.
Last night’s Virtuosos Award Ceremony at the Santa Barbara Film Festival honored six actors who delivered noteworthy 2012 performances — Ginger & Rosa‘s Elle Fanning, Compliance co-star Ann Dowd , The Intouchables‘ Omar Sy, Perks of Being a Wallflower‘s Ezra Miller, Beasts of the Southern Wild‘s Quvenzhane Wallis and Les Miserables‘ Eddie Redmayne.
Ginger and Rosa star Elle Fanning during last night’s Virtuoso Ceremony.
Fanning felt like a surprise to me because she conversed with emcee Dave Karger in a bubbly, giggly, teenage-girlish way. And all this time I’ve been under the impression that she’s old for her age. I know that when the role demands it, Fanning projects soul and depth and maturity. Acting! But she sure was a teenager last night.
Dowd was by far the wittiest guest. If I’m not mistaken I think I spotted Magnolia Pictures’ Eammon Bowles in the audience, offering a little moral support in the wake of that episode in which Dowd decided to pay for her own Compliance-screener mailings when Magnolia said that it made no financial sense because Compliance was a bust for them. Dowd was hanging at the after-party with friend and ally Scott Feinberg. She’s a classy lady, a mensch.
The best moment happened when Karger was speaking to Wallis about something or other, and she made a kind of squeaky sound. Karger asked what what kind of animal she’d just imitated, and Wallis said it was “a donkey…didn’t you get that?” (Publicist Carol Marshall says it was a dolphin noise.) Karger asked her to do it again and Wallis looked at him, shook her head slightly, sighed and said, “It’s not worth it.” Gales of laughter from the audience. This kid is a star!
The eternally weird Miller, 20, leaned forward in the interview seat, hunched forward like a cat about to chase a mouse. I half-expected him to leave the stage on all fours. Miller has Haight-Ashbury hippie hair now, and was wearing a pair of almost shapeless brown serf shoes. And he smiled a lot.
Redmayne may have gotten the biggest applause. (There were a lot of young girls in the audience.) And the French-born Sy (who’s just signed to costar with Bradley Cooper in a Derek Cianfrance film called Chef) managed to be charming and funny despite a limited command of English.
Recently resigned Arizona Congressperson Gabby Giffords delivered the opening statement at today’s Senate gun hearings. Nothing I could write could add to the import of this clip. I can’t imagine a more profound argument against the rank evil of Wayne LaPierre and the NRA gun lobby.
Quentin Tarantino is being honored at Santa Barbara Film Festival this evening. If and when he takes questions, I will ask the following: “If you were presented with a Lars Von Trier-styled filmmaking exercise in which you had to write a film that didn’t use flip, cynical, grindhouse-style, cartoon-panel violence in movies — no handguns, machine guns, samurai swords, grenades or violence of any kind, either naturalistic or ‘in quotes’ — what would your movie be about? What would you come up with? Or would you just throw up your hands?”
A friend made these and sent a few over. He knows I’m grateful but I’ll say it anyway — thanks! I have an idea that less than five people in the world own this T-shirt, and maybe less than two or three. I also have an idea that Glenn Kenny (a fan of Nick Tosches‘ “Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams“) would like to own one.
The kids doing the “drifting” here [go to jump] are assholes, but this is about another form of highway obstruction. I hate it when you’re doing 70 mph on a crowded road when all of a sudden traffic slows and then comes to a halt. Not because of an accident or road construction or the road merging with another. No reason — everything just stops. Then you’re nudging along at 5 or 10 mph, and then a few minutes later traffic starts up and then you’re going 70 again. Why the slowdown? Nobody knows. I really hate it when that happens.
Almost three weeks ago Variety reporter Jeff Sneider got angry about publicist Kelly Bush having supplied an exclusive production story — i.e., Christopher Nolan deciding to direct Interstellar, a Paramount project based on his brother Jonathan’s script — to the Hollywood Reporter‘s Kim Masters instead of himself. Masters filed her story about Interstellar on Wednesday, 1.9, at 6:44 pm, and Sneider filed a terse follow-up version at 6:55 pm.
Sneider expressed harsh words about this to a certain party during Sundance, and somebody complained about Sneider to Variety owner Jay Penske, who was giving Sneider death-ray looks to begin with. In any case Sneider was whacked today for what TheWrap‘s Alexander Kaufman has described as “unprofessional” behavior. This refers to a flash of temper. Sneider tweeted news about the firing this afternoon around 2 pm. Sneider also tweeted that Kaufman got the story wrong by saying it had something to do with Masters beating Sneider on a story about Steven Spielberg indefinitely delaying Robopocalypse.
Sneider is a good and gracious fellow in HE’s book. Best wishes, best of luck, nothing changes.
I’m hereby offering to debate Bob Furmanek and/or Pete Apruzzese and/or C.C. Baxter — anyone who believes in cleavering ’50s and ’60s films down to 1.78 or 1.85 when there’s a full-frame aspect ratio to work with — in a podcast format within a day or so. I’m talking about The Mother of All Aspect-Ratio Battles in an audio format. 30 to 45 minutes. Get in touch and we’ll figure it out.
I’d also like to do a four-way podcast debate between, on one side, myself and at least one other ardent supporter of Zero Dark Thirty and, on the opposing side, two Stalinist scolds who supported the takedown effort and felt it was right and proper to tarnish the film’s rep as having endorsed torture, etc.
I thought I’d post this back-and-forth between myself and Bob Furmanek, which happened yesterday morning (or Monday, 1.28). It shows the difference between the mentality of a neutral-attitude, data-chip statistician vs. that of an emotional film lover like myself. Never the twain shall meet.
It’s interesting because Furmanek has been a noted provider of meticulous research that has convinced certain Bluray distributors to present 1950s-era films within a 1.85-to-1 aspect ratio because this is how films were generally projected starting in mid 1953. The point of contention was a 1.27 HE story called “Historical Precedent,” which concerned the forthcoming Criterion Bluray of On The Waterfront.
Furmanek: In case you’re wondering, On The Waterfront was originally presented theatrically in 1.85:1.
Wells to Furmanek: I’m not wondering about this because it’s common knowledge, thanks to your research. I stated in the piece that OTW was shot with the understanding that it would be shown at 1.85 in urban theatres. Under duress, of course, but Kazan did frame each scene so it would look good within a 1.85 to 1 aspect ratio. But Kazan also composed for TV. Because he knew his film would be shown on the tube down the road, and because he was used to shooting boxy going back to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Remember that WOR TV’s Million Dollar Movie began airing in 1955, or a year after OTW opened. The writing was on the wall.
Back to Furmanek: However, Grover Crisp‘s recommended ratio is 1.66:1. His credentials are exemplary and I respect his opinion.
Wells to Furmanek: Good for Grover, but what do you think, Bob? What do you want? How do you feel? You call yourself a neutralist and a stats man, but do you have a secret yen to see everything cleavered down to 1.85? You say you’re not on a campaign to see naturally boxy (1.33) or at least somewhat spacious 1950s and early ’60s compositions compressed into a 1.85 to 1 space? Who cares what exhibitors and distributors wanted to see in 1954 in order to make films of the day look cooler than television? Who gives a shit? Why should that be a factor in how we see films of the ’50s and early ’60s today?
Are you a boxy-is-beautiful type of guy (like me) or at least a 1.66-is-better-than-1.85 type of guy or what? Or are you strictly a neutral-minded research guy without any aesthetic preference? Because you never explain what you like and why. You never express who you really are.
You’re a very mellow, meticulous and well-mannered guy, Bob, but you seem to be comme ci comme ca about cleavering the tops and bottoms of iconic images, and for the life of me I don’t see why anyone who ostensibly cares about motion pictures would want images chopped down or otherwise reduced.
I am a boxy-is-beautiful guy, and if not that at least a 1.66-is-better-than-1.85 guy, and I’m extremely proud of being that. I say eff what the exhibitors and distributors wanted in 1954. Eff their priorities and their fears and their mid ’50s thinking. I am here now in 2012 and I like fucking breathing room or headroom, and if it’s viewable on the negative I said open it up and let God’s light and space into the frame. I really don’t like that horrible Being John Malkovich feeling of the ceiling pressing down upon actors, of walking around in a bent-over position like Orson Bean and his employees in order to exist within a 1.85 realm. I hate, hate, hate 1.85 fascism. Stop being a stats man, Furmanek, and let your real self out of the box. Who are you? What are you? What kind of a visual realm do you want to live in?
Back to Furmanek: Columbia — as a matter of studio policy — never utilized or recommended 1.66:1 as a presentation ratio. Beginning with principal photography of Miss Sadie Thompson on March 31, 1953, they were 1.85:1 for all non-anamorphic widescreen films.
If you are looking to experience the film as it was seen in first-run theaters around the country, including the world premiere at New York’s Astor Theater on July 28.1954, I would go with 1.85:1. The Astor had re-opened with a new panoramic screen on June 30, 1953.
In the UK, it was probably seen in most major theaters in 1.65:1 which was their widescreen standard at that time of release.
For the record, I have never endorsed an overall non-anamorphic widescreen standard of 1.85:1. I have always recommended honoring the ratio intended by the director and DP which would have been dictated by studio policy at the time of production. That can vary anywhere from 1.65:1 to 2.00:1.
Paramount was the first studio to officially adopt 1.66:1 as their house ratio on March 24, 1953. The only other studios to utilize that ratio domestically were RKO and Republic, both converting to widescreen cinematography in May of 1953.
Paramount retained 1.66:1 as their house ratio until September 21, 1953 when White Christmas began filming in VistaVision and was recommended for 1.85:1.
Sabrina is the odd AR title in Paramount’s output at that time. Wilder initially announced 2.00:1 but settled on 1.75:1 as his preferred ratio when production commenced in New York on September 28, 1953.
In the UK, the initial widescreen ratio was 1.65:1. That remained in effect from June 1953 until late 1954 when it changed to 1.66:1. At that time, the Cinema Exhibitors Association recommended the UK standardization of 1.75:1 which would remain in effect throughout the 1960’s. Documents can be found on this page: http://www.hometheaterforum.com/t/319469/aspect-ratio-research/1140#post_3989270
Every studio had their own policy. For information on Warner Bros, check out http://www.3dfilmarchive.com/dial-m-blu-ray-review
Information on Universal-International can be found here: http://www.3dfilmarchive.com/an-in-depth-look-at-creature-from-the-black-lagoon-1
You might like to know that shorts, cartoons and newsreels were also changed to widescreen composition in 1953: http://www.hometheaterforum.com/t/319469/aspect-ratio-research/720#post_3974959
I hope this answers your questions. If not, please contact me through the website and I’ll be glad to help in any way that I can.
I’m a total fool for Zero Dark Thirty and a fan of Mark Boal‘s original screenplay. I’ve seen the movie five or six times and have read the published screenplay, and there’s no question in my mind that Boal deserves and should win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Last night I began thinking about the competition and I honestly don’t see how anyone can come to a different conclusion. Really.
Zero Dark Thirty producer-screenwriter Mark Boal.
There are only two real choices among the Best Original Screenplay nominees: Boal’s ZD30 and Amour‘s Michael Haneke.
It’s a tribute to Haneke’s film that it feels at once like a naturalistic horror film and a love story combined, but also that it doesn’t feel “written” as much carefully inhabited, framed, edited, scored and performed. It’s less of a script than a haunting visit to a place I never want to go…”in a world where people are old and senility and strokes threaten every waking moment.” It feels like more of a coordinated directing and acting and pigeon-wrangling effort than one measured or defined by lines and scenes…no offense.
I’ve personally had it with Quentin Tarantino‘s “ironic exploitation of grindhouse tropes” routine so I have no respect or allegiance for his Django Unchained screenplay. I admire and respect John Gatins‘ Flight script, but I frankly didn’t care for the ending (Denzel’s pilot, whom I was rooting for, should have lied to the committee and then quit boozing) And Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola‘s Moonrise Kingdom screenplay is refined and wise and tender, but I really think it’s time for Wes to abandon Kidville and start writing movies about guys in their 30s who drink bourbon and read Chuck Klosterman and ride motorcycles.
So it really has to be Boal. The arduous work plus the finished film plus the difficulty of researching and writing it plus the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation and the need to push back on that…there’s really no other choice.
“Merging film with newsy topics…is primarily a matter of balancing the fact-finding with the story-telling to avoid stepping on the obvious landmines,” Boal said in a “Written By” article a few months back. “You don’t want to play fast and loose with history, ever, and yet you don’t want themes to overshadow private emotions. And you don’t want the social to be bigger than the self. Stories about the real world, perhaps more than other types of narrative, lend themselves, I think, to dissolving those dualisms in the crucible of drama.”
The evolution of Zero Dark Thirty obviously began 11 and 1/2 years ago with 9/11. In 2007 Boal began serious research into the “where is Bin Laden?” situation, and it continued into ’09. He interviewed various CIA and special forces guys, and optioned a book. His first failed attempt to produce a “Hunt for Bin Laden” film happened in 2009 . He pitched studios and indies. No takers, all passes
After the Hurt Locker Best Picture Oscar win in 2010 Boal made his second failed attempt to pitch a Bin Laden movie, making the rounds, pitching to financiers — no deals. He took a break, tried writing a studio action script — Triple Frontier — which was hot for awhile but didn’t pan out. Boal went back to Bin Laden.
He made a third attempt at pitching the property (which at that time was about not finding Bin Laden, remember) and finally found success in January 2011 when producer Megan Ellison said okay. And then Osama Bin Laden was killed in May 2011. Which required a major page-one rewrite, on spec, taking about eight or nine months. At the end of the road Sony said yes.
During the shooting of ZD30 there were constant on-set rewrites. Two or three new pages every day. 100 speaking parts. Very complex structure.
During this time Boal was under investigation from the Republicans claiming that ZD30 would be a pro-Obama infomercial. One result is that Boal’s sources were temporarily scared off. I’m told he was constantly on the phone with lawyers during shooting. The legal bills must have been insane.
One point of pride is that nobody got hurt during filming. From a security standpoint ZD30 was a nightmare. Boal never played that card in any Oscar interview but there were real threats, I’m told.
Another is that Boal has ample reason to feel proud of the writing, performance, and the mise-en-scene stuff, which were all shaped and served by director Kathryn Bigelow.
And I’m sure Boal sleeps okay knowing that he kept everyone’s identity secret and didn’t do the cheap thing and exploit what he knows. No details whatsoever, for example, about the real Maya. Boal could have picked up some serious media-horsepower if he’d shared some of that, but he didn’t.
And never once, not even to answer all the charges that were brought against this film, did Boal cough up real information and real sources in order to save his ass or sweeten his rep with Academy voters. I’ll bet serious money that Boal knows stuff that would make Senators Dianne Feinstein, John McCain and Carl Levin spit up their coffee…but doing so would have then cost some good people (including, I gather, one or two in the White House) their careers.
Perhaps it’s time to review stories of other films that survived choppy waters. Gillo Pointecorvo‘s Battle of Algiers wasn’t released in France until five years later. Apocalypse Now was hit with controversy all through production. Ditto Clockwork Orange. Nobody every went after All The President’s Men, which was basically a fiction. (Mark Felt never said “follow the money”) And yet the stories about the extremely difficult and fractious writing of the screenplay so bothered Willliam Goldman he never wrote another topical movie.
In her legendary 10.21.67 review of Bonnie and Clyde, Pauline Kael asked, “How do you make a good movie in this country without being jumped on?” Of course, just because a film gets jumped on doesn’t mean it’s good. But when the writer of Zero Dark Thirty is being investigated by the Senate Intelligence Committee…well, that’s definitely being jumped on. The fact that he wrote a great film is just icing on the cake.
Two days ago on AMC’s “This Week,” ZD30 screenwriter and producer Mark Boal told Martha Raddatz that the current Senate inquiry into the Oscar-nominated movie could discourage the making of similar films in the future. “I think that it could discourage other screenwriters or…writers of any kind from making topical movies, it could discourage studios from releasing them,” Boal said.
“Criticism is fine, and we, I can take criticism onboard…but there is a difference between criticism and investigation. And I think that crosses a line that hasn’t been crossed really since the ’40s, when you talk about government investigating movies.”
News of the decision to investigate Boal and Zero Dark Thirty broke about three weeks ago, and the fact that there hasn’t been any kind of rhetorical pushback from Hollywood creatives strikes me as curious if not…cowardly?
Senate Intelligence Committee to Hollywood: “We don’t like how one of your own gathered what we regard as questionable information and we intend to give him some shit about it. One result is that henceforth it’ll be a little more difficult for the next screenwriter to write a movie about some touchy issue…a movie that’ll require talking to high government sources as well as protecting them from disclosure when the heat is on. How do you guys feel about that?” Hollywood to Senate Intelligence Committee: “Uhm…sure, whatever! If you guys want to drag Mark Boal before your committee, fine! Just don’t, you know…don’t do this to any of us down the road.”
Boal dug into the ZD30 material with the use of first-hand sources, working and kvetching and sweating for four-plus years and refining and re-writing all through principal photography. He created a riveting procedural that was at once thorough and truthful and complex, and was a superb character study. [Read his “Written By” article, published in the Nov.-Dec. issue.] And anyone who’s been reading the particulars knows by now that the “ZD30 endorses torture” rap is reprehensible bullshit and that the Stalinists who pushed this line should be ashamed of themselves.
Has the film industry sent a clear and decisive message to Dianne Feinstein and John McCain‘s Senate Intelligence Committee that “we as a community stand by our own” and “take your inquiry and shove it”? No. But it should.
The issue of leaks of classified data is bullshit anyway. In their letter Senators Feinstein, McCain and Levin said the film was wrong. So if that’s true how can it also be classified?
Zero Dark Thirty has been out for well over a month, and has been investigated for over a year. And yet so far nobody — not one person — has identified a single national security leak in the movie. If they had one, wouldn’t you think they’d announce it to the world?
Remember also that these U.S. Senators asked SONY to change the film because it contradicts their beliefs about history.
At the very, very least the industry now has a second reason to give Boal the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, the first being that ZD30 is a brave and brilliant piece of work on its own.
There’s another line from Kael’s Bonnie and Clyde review that applies. Nothing how Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty‘s film had been attacked by pedestrian-minded critics because “it goes too far” and has “divided audiences”, Kael wrote the following: “Though we may dismiss the attacks with ‘What good movie doesn’t give offense?’, the fact is that it is generally only good movies that provoke attacks.”
An Atlanticwire.com piece called “Why Zero Dark Thirty Crashed Just Outside The Compound” promises a gripping blow-by-blow account about how and why the Oscar potential of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal‘s brilliant hunt-for-Osama-bin-laden film was snuffed out by Washington power-wielders and Hollywood’s Stalinist cabal. Except it doesn’t do that. It just kind of riffs around and offers impressions and loose recall.
Nor does it get into Sony publicity’s standing by silently when the heat was on during the Xmas holidays, and how Sony didn’t, in my view, respond soon or forcefully enough once 2013 began.
But we all watched the takedown happen, and we all have our ideas why leftie essayists worked so hard to bring hurt. ZD30 opted for honest adult ambiguity instead of blunt moral condemnation in its depiction of the torture applied during the Bush years. For the sin of failing to condemn enhanced interrogation with ethical fire and brimstone, the left got out the whip and lashed Biggy-Boal until everyone had gotten the message.
What mainly bugs me about the piece is that author Richard Lawson gets it wrong right off the top when he writes that “earlier this month” — i.e., January — “the conventional wisdom was that Kathryn Bigelow’s hunt-for-Osama bin Laden film was the one to beat.” Nope — not in my realm. It seemed to me that Zero Dark Thirty was bloodied and on the ropes by Christmas Day, and all but dead as a potential Best Picture winner sometime between the first and second week of January.
It began to get beaten up over the torture thing starting in early December. One of the first counter-arguments came from Tom Carson in a 12.11 prospect.org piece called “Zero Dark Thirty‘s Morality Brigade.” I realized things were getting heavy around the time of Andrew O’Hehir‘s favorable Salon review (12.13), which raised the torture issue without condemning the film in the slightest. (O’Hehir actually called it “something close to a masterpiece.”) But then came that damning letter sent by Senators Dianne Feinstein, John McCain and Mark Frenden, which was reported on 12.19. And then Alex Gibney’s 12.21 Huffington Post slam piece (calling the film “fundamentally reckless when it comes to the subject of torture”) fanned the flames.
Mark Bowden‘s 1.2.13 Atlantic article took issue with the haters and presented a thoughtful pro-ZD30 case, but were people even listening at that point? Naomi Wolf‘s Guardian piece comparing Kathryn Bigelow to Leni Reifnstahl was posted on 1.4. By the time David Clennon, Martin Sheen and Ed Asner expressed opposition to the film on or about 1.12, the game was pretty much over.
Indeed, I voiced concerns about what was happening in a 12.24 HE piece called “ZD30 Needs Strong Last-Ditch Defense,” to wit:
“It makes me sick to my stomach to think that a film as masterful as ZD30 can be taken down by a vitriolic ideological mob, but as Samuel Goldwyn might have said if he were here right now, ‘If people want to smear a film, you can’t stop them.’ Except you can stop them, or Sony can, I mean. They can at least try. They might lose, but where is the honor is letting this teardown happen without standing up and explaining in detail how the accusers are dead wrong or wildly off on their own beam?”
From Lawson’s account: “[By early December] Zero Dark was considerably ahead in the awards tally, taking top prizes from the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle, among others. The film was perhaps even better reviewed than Argo, and had the added benefit of being a truly serious film about contemporary geopolitics. Argo is similarly about the Middle East and full of shaky-cam intrigue, but it’s a decidedly lighter film, with long comedy sequences and genial performances by cozily likable actors. It’s serious, but Zero Dark Thirty is more intense, newsier, and undeniably grim. It’s grownup and respectable, in other words. Where Argo is entertainment, Zero Dark is enrichment.
“This dark gravitas elevated ZD30 above other Oscar competitors too, from the way less hokey than it could have been but still kinda hokey Lincoln to the cute but ultimately rather small and slight Silver Linings Playbook. Zero Dark‘s lead actress Jessica Chastain seemed destined for Oscar glory herself, winning more awards than her main competitor, Silver Linings‘ Jennifer Lawrence, and generally being viewed as the deserving heir apparent to an older generation of stately talent — your Streeps, your Langes, your Benings. Just a few weeks ago, Zero Dark Thirty had all that going for it!
“But then Argo won a Golden Globe and the SAG (and the Producers Guild award), and, adding insult to injury, Lawrence snatched the prize from Chastain on both occasions. What’s going on? Well, the truth is, it has probably been over for Zero Dark for a while now.”