So it’s been semi-confirmed that the slightly more risque version of Psycho (half-glimpse of Janet Leigh side boob, extra stabbings of Martin Balsam) will be included in Universal Home Video’s forthcoming 4K UHD Alfred Hitchcock box set. Terrific, but it’s not enough. As I explained a couple of weeks ago, the only thing that will deliver serious tumescence will be the boxy (1.37:1) version of Psycho — a version that was shown on TV and pay cable tens of thousands of times during the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. It was only in the mid aughts, or when the influence of Bob Furmanek and the 1.85 fascist cabal began to hold sway, that the idea of only showing a cleavered version of Hitchcock’s 1960 classic became the default go-to. HE believes that aspect ratio crimes should be prosecuted in the Hague, and that Furmanek, no offense, should be defendant #1 in the dock.
Last night I was browsing through some HBO Max films, and was startled to discover that the boxy (1.37:1) version of Stanley Kubrick‘s Full Metal Jacket (’87) is being HD streamed. Which is certainly cause for celebration.
One, I hadn’t watched this version of FMJ since the early aughts, or soon after the release of the 2001 “Kubrick Collection” DVD version, which was mastered in 1.37:1. Two, until last night I’d never seen the boxy version in 1080p HD, as the ’01 DVD was naturally presented in 480p. And three, Kubrick preferred the boxy version to the cleavered 1.85, which is how 99.5% of the home viewing public has seen this Vietnam War classic.
Full Metal Jacket as it currently appears on HBO Max, with a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.
Same scene within the standard 1.85 a.r., which is how almost everyone has seen Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam War classic over the last 15 or 20 years, give or take.
HE is advising all HBO Max subscribers to stream the boxy FMJ as soon as possible before it disappears. Because the sworn enemies of “boxy is beautiful” will be doing everything they can to erase this version, despite the fact that Kubrick personally preferred it.
Seriously, hurry. If I know Bob Furmanek and the 1.85 fascist cabal they’ll soon be hounding HBO Max to swap out the boxy with the 1.85. These guys are fanatics. They hate boxy and will stop at nothing.
Perhaps someone on the HB0 Max tech team made a “mistake” in uploading the boxy version, but it’s a good mistake, trust me.
Consider the following 2008 DVD Talk interview with longtime Kubrick employee and collaborator Leon Vitali, in which he explains Kubrick’s visual aesthetic:
DVD Talk: “One of the areas of greatest debate in the DVD community is about aspect ratios. The two films that people talk about the most in terms of aspect ratio are Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut, maybe because those are the ones that have been seen theatrical by the DVD buying audience. But people will go through [these films] frame by frame and say ‘in the trailer of Eyes Wide Shut, you can see a sign on the street that you can’t see on the full frame video. You can see an extra character.’ So how do you address the differences between the theatrical releases of Eyes Wide Shut and of Full Metal Jacket in the DVD releases?”
Vitali: The original video release of Full Metal Jacket was in the supervised hands and owned by Stanley. The thing about Stanley, he was a photographer. That’s how he started. He had a still photographer’s eye. So when he composed a picture through the camera, he was setting up for what he saw through the camera — the full picture. That was very important to him. It really was. It was an instinct that never ever left him.
Last night I got suckered into sampling HBO Max on a trial basis (no billing until June 5). The fairly immense library melted me down. Five minutes after signing up I decided to watch David Lean‘s Summertime (’55), which I’d never seen in HD before.
A concise story of a 40ish unmarried woman from Ohio (Katharine Hepburn) enjoying her first visit to Venice, Italy, and then falling in love with a covertly married native (Rossano Brazzi), Summertime is a swoony, Technicolor dreamboat dive into the charms (architectural, aromatic, spiritual) of this fabled city.
The cinematography by Jack Hildyard (The Bridge on the River Kwai) is perfectly framed and lighted, and the fleet cutting by Peter Taylor ensures that each shot is perfectly matched or blended with the next.
A cleavered 1.85 image of Summertime vs. the 1.37 version.
But I was especially pleased by the 1.37:1 aspect ratio and all the extra glorious headroom that comes with that. It goes without saying that I was also delighted by the fact that a few years ago 1.85 fascist Bob Furmanek had expressed profound irritation with Summertime‘s boxiness. I’ve read that Lean preferred the 1.37 version over the cleavered 1.85 version, which is what Furmanek and his fascist allies reflexively wanted to see.
Furious, fuming Furmanek = ecstatic HE.
“David Lean professed a preference for the 1.37:1 open matte version, giving it the fairly inarguable aura of authorial intent. Looking at the film, I think it’s pretty obvious why he felt this way. Simply put, the 1.85:1 version of the movie is about people while the 1.37:1 version is about Venice. As a direct result of shooting this movie, Lean fell in love with Venice for the rest of his life. [It seems apparent that] he preferred the version that showed off the city to greater effect for that reason.”
I’ve just bought the very last Amazon copy of a DVD containing a 1.33:1 aspect ratio version of The Sting. Which I’ve never seen in my life. Every time I’ve watched this 1973 George Roy Hill classic it’s always been cropped to 1.85. As the film takes place in 1934 or thereabouts, a boxy aspect ratio (standard Academy ratio back then) is a perfect complement. Acres and acres of extra visual information (tops and bottoms)…I’ve already got the chills. The DVD in question was released in 2010.
Young Frankenstein, which also apes the mood and ambience of the early to mid ’30s, would have been another perfect boxy, especially in high-def. I’m not expecting to see any overhead boom mikes dropping into the frame — that’s a phony disinformation meme circulated by 1.85 fascists.
Note: Comparison shots stolen from DVD Beaver.
Bluray Buff #1: Whoa…Criterion is releasing a new 4K digital restoration Bluray of Some Like It Hot in mid November.
Bluray Buff #2: And how much better looking do you expect it to be? I own a Bluray version that popped a few years ago, and it’s clean, rich and silvery as all get out, and handsome as fuck with rich black levels.
Bluray Buff #1: Criterion’s Bluray will be better.
Bluray Buff #2: In what way?
Bluray Buff #1: You know how all the versions of Some Like It Hot have been masked at 1.66 to 1? Going back to the laser disc days and into DVD and then Bluray, always 1.66? Well, Criterion’s version is going to be cropped at 1.85.
Bluray Buff #2: How’s that better?
Bluray Buff #1: Well, they’ll be slightly trimming the tops and bottoms of each and every shot in the film. We don’t like too much height in our Blurays. Think of it…for the first time in home video history, we’ll have a 1.85 fascist version of Billy Wilder‘s beloved 1959 classic.
Bluray Buff #2: What’s wrong with you, man?
Eight years ago I posted about an unfortunate decision by Universal Home Video to present a Psycho Bluray in 1.85 rather than 1.37. It actually would’ve been great if Universal had decided to present Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film in both aspect ratios a la Criterion’s On The Waterfont Bluray.
Hitch composed in 1.37 to protect the film for TV airings, but also because 1.37 compositions were perfectly balanced and added to the general intrigue for the extra detail. I ran several comparison shots that showed the differences.
The ’50s and early ’60s were transitional times with many suburban and rural theatres continuing to present films within 1.37 and 1.66 aperture plates, despite 1.85 fascists insisting that the 1.37 to 1.85 changeover was absolute and unequivocal beginning in April 1953. Boxy is beautiful, and it will never stop being so.
The recently released Twilight Time and Indicator Blurays of Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s Suddenly Last Summer (’59) are another case in point. It was shot a year before Psycho, and the same dual framing aesthetic applies. Both versions crop Jack Hildyard‘s images down to 1.85, even though the 1.37 framings deliver a great sense of compositional balance, wholeness and breathing room.
There’s no explaining this, of course. Either you understand that the 1.37 image of a kneeling Elizabeth Taylor looking up at some anonymous beach stud is preferable to the 1.85 version, or you don’t. Either you appreciate seeing a little more water at the top of the frame and the buried-in-sand feet of the beach stud, or you don’t. Either you get that the 1.37 version is perfectly framed and balanced and that the 1.85 image is less fulfilling and that God himself prefers the former, or you don’t. And if you don’t…well, I’m sorry you feel that way. But you have no eyes.
The following is a re-wording of an HE piece posted on 7.26.15 and 3.7.12. I’m inspired to re-post after last night’s screening of a Lolita DCP at the Aero Theatre, as part of a general tribute to former Kubrick producer James B. Harris.:
Back in the early ’90s, a boxy version of Stanley Kubrick‘s Lolita was issued on Criterion CAV laser disc. By this I mean a version that was partly presented in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio with occasional 1.66 croppings from time to time.
Dr. Strangelove was also presented this way (1.37/1.66) on an early Columbia-TriStar Home Video DVD, before the 1.85 fascists muscled their way in and started cleavering everything.
Yes, I’m happy that the current Lolita Bluray is cropped at 1.66, but boy, would I love to get hold of a high-def version of that 1992 Criterion laser disc. You think Kubrick didn’t sign off on the boxy Lolita? Of course he did.
Criterion presumably still has access to the original Lolita elements that they created their laser-disc version from. If they were to somehow wangle rights from Warner Home Video and offer a 4K-scanned version of this long-gone version (i.e., varying 1.37 plus 1.66 aspect ratios), I would buy it in a New York minute, and so would a lot of other physical-media freaks, I’m guessing. Or they could offer a streaming version on Filmstruck. Either way it would definitely sell.
I realize that relatively few people out there believe that “boxy is beautiful,” and that an alternating 1.33 and 1.66 version of Lolita means little or nothing to them, but I never bought this disc and never saw it anywhere, not once. And it’s killing me that today’s general fascist mindset (i.e., almost all non-Scope ’50s and ’60s films must conform to the 16 x 9 aspect ratio of high-def screens) makes it all but certain that this version of Lolita will never be exhibited or offered ever again. Unless Criterion changes its mind and makes the effort. I for one would be enormously grateful.
Updated on Saturday, 2.18, at 7 am: Peter — I’ve just had a second look at the screen captures included in Gary W. Tooze‘s DVD Beaver review of Criterion’s 4K-scanned Blow-up Bluray (streeting on 3.28), and I’m feeling a bit foolish. Yesterday [i.e., Friday, 2.17] I wrote that it seemed obvious that Criterion’s decision to go with the dreaded 1.85 aspect ratio meant that extra information has been added to the sides. That may be the case, but the frame comparisons between an old DVD image and the new Criterion Bluray [below] didn’t prove anything as they were of different frames from a shot taken from the back of David Hemmings‘ moving car. Readers pointed this out last night — my bad.
From a domestic DVD released 14 or 15 years ago…something like that.
From Criteron Bluray — not the same shot.
The bottom line remains: The old Criterion organization stated on the back-cover notes for Criterion’s CAV laser disc of Michelangelo Antonioni‘s 1966 classic that the “correct” aspect ratio is 1.66. Why was 1.66 cool back then but not now? Or why not at least go with a 1.75 (which Criterion chose for its Bluray of A Hard Day’s Night) or 1.78 a.r.?
I’ve stated time and again that 1.66 was a kind of default aspect ratio in England from the late ’50s to sometime in the early ’70s. Criterion’s Bluray of John Schlesinger‘s Sunday Bloody Sunday (’71), for one example, is perfectly masked at 1.66. It’s really such a shame. Back around the time of Criterion’s seminal, game-changing On The Waterfront video essay that compared the differences between 1.33 (or 1.37), 1.66 and 1.85, I thought that the case had been made that 1.85 croppings were too extreme and that 1.66 was a much more natural, liberal, eyes-of-God-and-the-universe aspect ratio. But no. 1.85 fascists are still embedded here and there, and I’m very sorry to admit that this pestilence persists.
On top of which Tooze’s observation that Criterion’s 1080p transfer is “darker than the previous DVDs, has warmer skin tones and a film-like thickness” is troubling. In what way is the look of a film enhanced by darkening the palette? Warming the color is okay within limits but why the hell would anyone want to deliver an image that looks like a screening with a dying projector bulb? And who pines for “film-like thickness”?
For the life of me I’ll never understand why the Criterion gremlins have chosen more than a few times to murk things up. The decision to go darker and inkier on Criterion’s Only Angels Have Wings Bluray was appalling — as an owner of a highly appealing Vudu HDX streaming version plus a TCM Bluray, I’ll never watch Criterion’s Bluray version again.
Question #1 — The adding of extra width to Criterion’s Blow-up Bluray may or may not be agreeable, but how do you explain Criterion staffers endorsing a 1.66 a.r. back in the ’90s vs. today’s team going for 1.85? (They couldn’t even compromise with a 1.78 a.r.?) Question #2: What’s with the darkness compulsion? — Jeffrey Wells, HE.
I’m not calling the recently released Barefoot Contessa Bluray (Twilight Time) a problem, much less a mockery of a sham of a sham of a mockery of a sham. I haven’t seen it so what do I know? I know this: Twilight Time‘s decision to mask the film within a whacked-down 1.85:1 aspect ratio rather than the much more pleasant 1.33:1, which offers the usual extra headroom…the decision to do this is truly a shame. Really. A friend of DVD Beaver’s Gary W. Tooze has been quoted as calling this decision “a travesty…I’ve seen it in open matte in Academy ratio and to me it’s balanced perfectly that way. Thank goodness there’s a 1.33:1 DVD.” Yes, the 1.85 fascist view is that a mainstream studio film released on 9.2.54 should be cropped at 1.85, but that’s not what many others feel. Where is the harm in opening up this Joseph L, Mankiewicz film and letting it breathe? None…none whatsoever, and up above the ghost of Contessa dp Jack Cardiff would approve.
Last night I caught a screening of Bullitt at the American Cinematheque Egyptian. I was fearful when I read it would be shown in 35mm, but the print was fairly pristine. (If a wee bit faded.) And I was especiallly pleased that it was being shown in 1.66:1 — the finest non-Scope aspect ratio, the a.r. of the Godz, HE’s own, etc.
If one of the leading 1.85 fascists had been there with me (Bob Furmanek, say, or Pete Apruzzese), they would’ve sat bolt upright and said “whoa, wait a minute…theatres projected mainstream non-Scope studio films exclusively in 1.85 starting in mid-1953, and Bullitt was released in ’68 or 15 years after the big aspect ratio changeover so what is this?”
Bullitt in 1.66:1 as projected last night at the American Cinematheque Egyptian.
Same scene at 1.78:1 as presented on the Warner Home Video Bluray — the richer Bluray colors are par for the course.
I went to the lobby and asked to speak to the projectionist. The manager declined (there must be some ironclad rule about protecting projectionists from the rabble) so I asked if he’d ask the projectionist himself if Bullitt was indeed being shown at 1.66, and if so, why not the allegedly uniform standard of 1.85? I didn’t say “the 1.85 fascist cause hangs in the balance” but that’s what I was thinking. Nor did I say “Bob Furmanek and Pete Apruzzese are going to be very upset if you come back with the wrong answer.”
The manager returned three minutes later and said the projectionist wasn’t in the booth. So I went up to the balcony and noticed an older, cool-looking guy standing near the booth. “Are you the projectionist?” I whispered. ‘Yeah,” he said. “I think it’s really great that you’re showing this in 1.66,” I said. He said that 1.66 was a suggested format or that it looked best that way or something like that. I wanted to give him a hug. Every hateful emotion I’ve felt over the years while dealing with Furmanek, Apruzzese and the rest of those Home Theatre Forum fascists just flew away and were replaced by a feeling of warmth and comradeship.
There’s something about this clip from Full Metal Jacket that is very strange and almost alien-like, or at the very least un-reflective of life on the planet earth. Give up? The entire company is singing on-key — they’re hitting each and every note correctly, and they’re adhering to a steady tempo. Which never, ever happens when any group at a restaurant or party sings “happy birthday.” As I reported last week.
Yes, the image is cropped at 1.37:1, but that’s fine around these parts. As Christmas is a time of great affirmation and rejoicing, there are few things that give me a better feeling than the thought of the dwindling 1.85 fascist crowd (Bob Furmanek, Peter Abbruzzese, et. al.) suffering heart palpitations when they see a boxy image like this one.
Today is Angela Lansbury‘s 91st birthday — born on 10.16.25. So the scheming communist agent mother in The Manchurian Candidate wasn’t shot on that stage in the old Madison Square Garden but went on to a great career on the Broadway stage. Good for her! Lansbury was 36 or 37 when she portrayed the 33-year-old Laurence Harvey‘s mom, Eleanor Shaw Iselin, in that John Frankenheimer classic, which opened on 10.24.62 but was shot, I think, in early ’62. Lansbury has always been the spry, spirited type on stage, but Hollywood began casting her in middle-aged parts when she hit her late 20s and certainly by her early 30s.
Incidentally: In Richard Condon‘s 1959 novel of the same name, Mrs. Iselin has sex with her son Raymond (Harvey’s character). The film omitted this, of course, but the clip below ends with Lansbury giving Harvey a mouth-to-mouth kiss — a clear hint. This was probably the first time that incest was specifically alluded to in a mainstream Hollywood film.