Five and one-third years ago Woody Allen saved George Stevens‘ Shane from an aspect-ratio slicing that would have rocked the classic cinema universe and resulted in a great hue and cry from the Movie Godz. When all is said and done and the Chalamets of the world have all been put to bed, this is one of the events that will burnish and solidify Allen’s legacy.
On 3.16.13 I revealed that George Stevens, Jr. and Warner Home Entertaiment restoration guy Ned Price were intending to release a Bluray of the classic 1953 western using a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, which would have cleavered the tops and bottoms of the original 1.37 photography by dp Loyal Griggs. I howled and screamed in my usual way, but nothing seemed to change until Allen, the only top-dog, world-class director to step into this fray, shared his opinion on 4.4.13.
On 3.29 I appealed for help from Martin Scorsese in an open letter. On 4.4 I posted the Allen letter. 13 days later Joseph McBride’s letter to Stevens, Jr., deploring WHE’s intention to present the film within a 1.66 a.r., was posted. Later that day Price threw in the towel and announced that WHE’s Shane Bluray would be released in the original 1.37 aspect ratio. I’ve long believed that Allen’s opinion was the crucial factor in rectifying this situation.
Three versions of Shane were included in a 2015 Masters of Cinema Bluray (Griggs’ original 1.37:1 capturing on disc one + 1.66:1 theatrical presentation + an alternate 1.66:1 framing optimized for this ratio, supervised by George Stevens, Jr., on disc two).
Below is Shane‘s bar fight scene in the original 1.37 a.r.; further below is the same scene sliced down to 1.66.
From 4.4.13 HE post, “Woody Allen on Shane Debacle”: “Last last week I wrote to Woody Allen about the Shane aspect-ratio brouhaha. I wrote him in care of his publicist Leslee Dart of 42West. About a half hour ago I received a letter from Woody via Leslee as follows:
“I wanted to add my strenuous objection to putting out an edition of Shane in any format other than the precise original.
“Black bars are much preferable and years before they were acceptable to audiences I always insisted on them for my movie Manhattan rather than giving in to what may be a more commercial but is definitely an artistic degradation of how the movie should look.
“The compromise of putting out two versions, an original and one commercially modified, would certainly not be acceptable to me on a film of mine. While I don’t like the idea of [this compromise happening to] one of America’s Greatest Westerns and one of its finest all-around films, I suppose it’s better than riding roughshod over the original masterpiece and losing it to attempt with version.”
Woody apparently wrote this in some haste and I’m not quite sure how to properly edit the last six words of the last sentence, but I presume he means it’s better to have a dual-aspect-ratio Bluray (containing a 1.66 plus a 1.37 version) than to not have a 1.37 version available at all.
Woody’s last line is directed not at myself but at Warner Home Video and/or Paramount Home Video executives, to wit:
“I hope you will consider this before an irrevocable mistake is made.”