There was a screening the other night at Raleigh Studios — the Fairbanks room — of an anamorphic (2.35 to 1) film, except that it started without an anamorphic lens attached, hence the image was horizontally compressed with an aspect ratio of 1.85. I spotted this within a few seconds, of course, and ran out and told the guy in the projection booth, who quickly found another guy who ran into the booth and went “oh, Jesus” and screwed on the right lens and then popped in the right aperture plate.

But the first couple of minutes were screwed up as a result and the delicate starting-off vibe was shattered. I was a projectionist in Connecticut in the late ’70s, and I’m presuming this happened because someone didn’t put the right instructions on the film-can labels that always tell the projectionist which lens to use, and what aperture plate to use, and what the correct aspect ratio should be. Crap happens and life is imperfect, but it went further than that.

The lamp being used for the projector didn’t have enough candle power (i.e., foot lamberts). The careful lighting in the darkish, shadowy scenes in the film we were watching — captured by an absolutely first-rate dp — wasn’t well represented. I’d seen the film once before, and the beautiful values I saw simply weren’t there. The shadowed elements looked murky, muddy.

And the the focus wasn’t even 100%. It was okay, maybe 85% or 90% satisfactory, but I was saying “this isn’t good enough” to myself over and over. I was imagining the filmmakers going to all kinds of trouble to light these scenes just so and then making sure the final master looks exactly right in post, and then a few months later some media people go to see their film at Raleigh and they encounter projection that diminishes all that effort by a good 15% or 20%.

It’s a regrettable fact that movies frequently don’t look as good as they should in mainstream commercial cinemas. But when they’re being shown to editors and journalists they should look as good as they possibly can and should unspool perfectly — no hiccups, speed bumps, “uh-ohs.” Maybe I’m a little pickier than most, I’ll admit that, but still…

This is obviously not about the film that was shown (which I’m not going to disclose), but about an absolute need for the very highest projection standards for media and industry screenings.