I was surprised to discover that the 1.66 to 1 crop used in the new Criterion Bluray of Paths of Glory feels relatively satisfying. All I can finally say is that it looks “right,” as if 1.66 to 1 was the idea all along. And I sat down with this disc ready to dislike what I might see and totally prepared to complain. But it doesn’t look bad. None of the framings seem cramped or confined.
This is a significant admission for me as I’ve been a 1.33 to 1 aspect ratio purist all my life. I wrote in May 2009 that cropping Dr. Strangelove to 1.66, despite the 1.33 aspect ratio providing acres of luscious head-room, was unfortunate. And I’ve said time and again that the new Psycho Bluray is revisionist vandalism due to Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1960 classic having been cropped to 1.78 in order to fit high-def plasma and LCD screens, despite Psycho having been shown on TV for decades at a perfectly pleasing 1.33 to 1 shape.
A part of me would still prefer to see Stanley Kubrick‘s 1957 anti-war classic opened up to a boxier 1.33 to 1 aspect ratio. 1.33 framings are immaculate in my book because of the Hollywood Elsewhere extra-air-space and room-to-breathe headroom principle — i.e., the more space around and particularly above the actors heads, the more pleasing to the eye.
Criteron’s Bluray mastering is superb. It has grainy textures, but they’re acceptable to my eyes. The detail is improved, of course, and the monochromatic range seems greater than any version I’ve seen before (including 35mm projection). Those mild, mid-range grays seem more vivid and robust. And I love the heightened indications of moisture in the eyes of the soldiers, and the fibres on uniforms and overcoats coming through with greater clarity and relief.
Paths of Glory has never looked or felt as good as this. What a sensual bath this Bluray disc amounts to. Watching it is almost like lying on one of those portable fold-up tables and getting a facial.