Thursday, June 2, 2011

Francis Ford Coppola on "Academy Aperture"

Wide screen aspect ratios are all the rage these days. Broadcast television had adopted the 16:9 aspect ratio (although cable operators hack the ends of the frame in SD retransmission, referring to the process as "center cut".) Cable guys notwithstanding, even cheap consumer camcorders default to the wider frame.

In his commentary track included in the DVD release of his film, One From The Heart director Francis Ford Coppola explains his decision to shoot the film in the boxier 4:3 aspect ratio:

"I conceived the film to really revive and bring back so-called 'Academy Aperture' or the 1.33 format. This golden shape of a square basically or a slight rectangle. Not this sort of flat wide screen. But a shot that enables you to photograph human beings where you see her face. You see her shoulders. You see her hands. You cut her at the low waist.

In the opening of One From The Heart, Francis Ford Coppola echoes Orson Welles' traveling camera through a neon sign made famous in Citizen Kane. In the DVD commentary, Coppola mentions that his father, Carmine enjoined him to "steal from the best."

"In a movie today, they would be squeezed down into a panorama which means you couldn’t show the torso and the hands. As you probably know the theater owners at the time of the ‘50’s in a kind of reaction of movies would be different than television just projected the movies and cut the tops and the bottoms off. They didn’t care if they ruined the composition that the film was made in. Just to be able to say that it was wide screen. You know because it wasn’t just the same aspect ratio of television. But more like Cinemascope and all those systems they were trying to use in the ‘50’s to woo people away from their television sets.

So I wanted to make this movie in the classic format that you see. Because it was such a prefect one, a beautiful one for the film and had been used from the beginning of cinema. From the silent – all the great silent films all through the classics of our heritage are all shot in this shape, this shaped screen. And of course after a while, when the filmmakers realized that the theater owners wanted to cut the tops and bottoms off, they began to compose the frame with a lot of air on the top and bottom so they could cut it off and it wouldn’t ruin their movie.

It’s such, I think, a joy to work in 1.33. If I had my way I would do many pictures in this kind of a format.

Of course if you’re making Gone With The Wind or some sort of epic story that was going to have a million Napoleonic soldiers on the field, or like Spartacus then you would want to have wide screen. So then you could have a choice and the audience would have the benefit of the filmmaker having some choice. "

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