A little more than a month ago I guessed that the newly restored version of Marlon Brando‘s One-Eyed Jacks (’61), a collaboration between Universal Home Video and Martin Scorsese‘s The Film Foundation, would have its world premiere showing at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Well, this morning it was announced that this digitally reborn Jacks will in fact debut next month on the Cote d’Azur…hooray!
There is unfortunately a semi-tragic aspect to the One-Eyed Jacks restoration. I was informed this morning that it’ll be screened in Cannes and presented on the Bluray within the dreaded 1.85 aspect ratio. The VistaVision negative offered an image area of 1.5:1 and they couldn’t even master it at 1.78:1, which perfectly fits 16 x 9 high-def screens? They had to slice it down even further to 1.85?
My heart is broken. Think of all that luscious top-and-bottom visual information (all of that sky, all those desert vistas, all of those waves off the Monterey coast) thrown into the dumpster!
“We understand your position,” a Universal source confides, “but we feel that 1:85 is more in line with how Paramount intended VistaVision to be shown and [that going with 1.85] requires the least amount of blow-up and loss of image.” The sides of the frames, he means. The restored Jacks will at least deliver left- and right-side visual info that hasn’t been seen in eons, if at all.
The source assures that “the restoration is finishing up and it looks wonderful. I can assure you that the result has been worth the wait.”
The Bluray won’t pop until early fall after a series of post-Cannes screenings that are currently being planned in conjunction with TFF. A showing at Telluride would be nice.
“Proof in VistaVision Pudding,” posted on 7.16.15: In yesterday’s piece about the intention of Universal and Martin Scorsese‘s The Film Foundation to join forces on a 4K restoration of One Eyed Jacks, I stated that the only acceptable aspect ratio for the resulting Bluray will be 1.66:1.
I explained that 8-perf VistaVision, which was Paramount’s “house” process during the burgeoning widescreen days of the mid 1950s, delivered an in-camera aspect ratio of 1.5:1 but was mastered in 1.66:1 from the mid to late ’50s. Others disagreed, claiming the a.r. should be 1.85. This is pure Furmanek, pure fascist reflex. I will maintain to my dying day that 1.85 is too radical for 1950s and early ’60s films — it chops off too much information.
Default full-aperture VistaVision aspect ratio: 1.5:1.
Above, to prove my point, are three images from Cecil B. DeMille‘s The Ten Commandments, which was shot in VistaVision.
The top image shows the full image capture, which is roughly 1.5:1. Notice that Sir Cedric Hardwicke‘s sandaled feet are sitting on top of what looks like a plain wooden box or platform of some kind — obviously not meant to be seen. The second or middle image is a crop I’ve done at an a.r. of 1.66:1. Notice that I’ve gotten rid of the box but with a bit more breathing room above Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston‘s heads. It’s pleasing and airy and not overly cramped. (And without distractions like Hardwicke’s foot rest, most of the 1.66 framings would be much more balanced.) The bottom image, cropped at 1.85, is from the finished film. Notice the lack of breathing room, a cramped feeling. It almost looks like the characters don’t have enough oxygen.
Was it a tragedy that the Ten Commandments Bluray was mastered in 1.85? No, but it was a shame given all the extra luscious detail and breezy headroom that was cleavered off at the top. This is all I’m alluding to when the work on One-Eyed Jacks is done and Universal and The Film Foundation decide on the aspect ratio. Let it breathe, for God’s sake. And if for some reason 1.66 doesn’t work because of too many cables or lights or other elements that can’t be included, crop it at 1.75:1.
But please, please don’t resort to the dreaded 1.85:1. I’m on my knees, begging.