chapter  8
6 Pages

Widescreen composition and film

As we discussed in the previous chapter, the widescreen format was promoted as a new visual experience. Following on from Cinerama, Twentieth Century Fox introduced CinemaScope, and head of production Darryl Zanuck repeatedly reminded his directors that they should take full advantage of the screen width by staging action all the way across the frame – in his words, ‘keep the people spread out’. He wanted the audience to experience the full width of the new screen shape. Initially it was the technology that was being promoted rather than story or stars. There had been a fashion in Academy ratio black and white films

to stage in depth with tight groups in the foreground and background. The lack of colour film sensitivity, and initially the longer lenses available for CinemaScope, did not allow the same depth-offield for this type of staging and so alternative compositions – the ‘washing line’ staging demanded by Zanuck – were a practical solution as well as a commercial imperative. Anamorphic shorter focal length lenses (standard in black and white production) produced distortion, dizzying swoops in perspective when panned and curved horizon lines. Later, Panavision allowed a wider choice of lenses and colour film sensitivity improved. There was a continuous discussion on what changes were required in

the standard 4:3 visual framing conventions that had developed in cinema since its beginnings. Academy ratio and staging in depth encouraged the spectator to look into the frame; widescreen and staging across the frame required the spectator to scan across the frame. When depth was added to width in widescreen films, the director or cinematographer had to devise ways of directing the attention across the frame and into the frame. The American film director Howard Hawks complained that the audience had too much to look at.