I’ve been experimenting with widescreen format in my project and assignment films.
‘Widescreen cinema creates a different visual impact than 1.37 ratio. The screen becomes a band or strip, emphasizing horizontal compositions’ (Bordwell 2017 p.183).
‘By offering more image area, a widescreen format offers bigger challenges about guiding attention than does the 1.37 ratio.’ (Bordwell 2017, p.183).
But how do you compose for wide screen?
Bordwell suggests that while it is an obvious format for sweeping spectacles such as westerns, travelogues, musicals and historical epics, it raises questions about its use for ordinary dramatic conversations and more intimate encounters between characters.
One common solution has been to fill the frame with a face. The wide screen format challenges directors to design more screen-filling compositions. ‘They can’t be as compact as the deep-focus compositions of the 1940s, but they can achieve pictorial force’ (Bordwell 2017, p.183).
But wide screen compositions can build up significant depth, even in a confined space.
Director’s multiply points of interest within the frame – requires care with staging and timing actors’ performances.
Gradation of emphasis
In his essay ‘CinemaScope: Before and After’ (1963), Charles Barr offers some interesting ideas about widescreen film. One of which he calls the gradation of emphasis:
‘The advantage of Scope [the 2.35:1 ratio] over even the wide screen of Hatari![shot in 1.85:1] is that it enables complex scenes to be covered even more naturally: detail can be integrated, and therefore perceived, in a still more realistic way. If I had to sum up its implications I would say that it gives a greater range for gradation of emphasis. . . The 1:1.33 screen is too much of an abstraction, compared with the way we normally see things, to admit easily the detail which can only be really effective if it is perceived qua casual detail’ (Quoted in Bordwell 2008).
Bordwell(1985) argues, when using widescreen format ‘the good director will not flaunt the ratio itself…the composition should enhance the narrative situation. As for participatory freedom, the widescreen allows the viewer to notice nuances of character interaction by virtue of the director’s gradation of emphasis’ (p.18).
Key points for me
- Wide screen format creates a different visual impact than 1.37 ratio.
- It emphasizes horizontal composition.
- Can achieve pictorial force.
- Can contain multiple points of interest within the frame.
- Enables complex scenes to be covered more naturally – integrating detail in a more realistic way.
- Contains a greater range of gradation of emphasis – while the 1.37 screen is too abstract compared to the way we normally see things.
- The widescreen frame offers the viewer an experience in which they can see nuances of character interaction.
List of references
Barr, C. (1963) ‘Cinemascope: Before and After’ Film Quarterly, 16, 4, pp.4-24.
Bordwell, D. (1985) ‘Widescreen Aesthetics and Mise en Scene Criticism’ The Velvet Light Trap Review of Cinema No 21 At: http://www.davidbordwell.net/articles/Bordwell_Velvet%20Light%20Trap_no21_summer1985_118.pdf (Accessed on 19 October 2018).
Bordwell, D. (2008) ‘Gradation of emphasis, starring Glenn Ford’ At: http://www.davidbordwell.net/2008/11/13/gradation_of_emphasis_starring_glenn_ford (Accessed on 19 October 2018).
Bordwell, D. (2017) Film Art New York: McGraw Hill