So I’m watching La Ronde, by Max Ophuls, and get a notion that I have had before, and its that the ‘Academy Ratio’, roughly 1.33:1, or 4:3, or the old square box tv sets is the best aspect ratio for most films-or so it would seem.
My question, is this, that if you agree with me that there have been more visually beautiful films shot in the standard ration than the wide-screen ratios, is the beauty inherent to the advantages of the frame’s dimensions, or is it just that there were better DPs and more visual directors in the time before wide-screen became defacto?
Of course there are beautiful films that are shot in 1.85:1, and even 2.3:1, but the wider you get, particularly the super wide ratios, the fewer framing options the director is given. Leone certainly made the best of it, but he put his mark on it, and to copy it, would be pointless, as his use of super-widescreen is his sole property,and an imitator would be spotted right out. 1.85:1 is a good solid ratio, and I think it may be better in a movie house than on a tv set. 1.66:1, what was most common in Europe is a very good ratio, and there were many a great and great looking films shot in this ratio, so no real complaints there.
That leads me to 16:9, or 1.78:1. This ratio is a bit more ‘square’ than the Hollywood 1.85:1 (obviously), it sort of gives us the best of both worlds. Perhaps 1.66:1 would be the best at giving us that, but as an aspiring filmmaker, I think that I would rather just shoot in 1.78:1, so that I never have to worry about my movie being cropped or visually warped by a television set.
Back from my digression, if you believe, like me, that most of the best looking films were shot in 1.33:1, is it because the frame is just better and offers more choices in framing (by way of frames within the almost square frame) or is it just that there were better photographic artists and technicians in the industry at the time that 1.33:1 was king?
maybe it has to do with the studio system.
It only means you need to see better new movies, not just films by “the old masters”.
I think that it has to do with dimensions.
For instance, in a 1.33:1 film, you can shoot a person from the knees to the head, and they will occupy one half of the screen. Or you can shoot them from the waist to the head, and they will occupy the entire screen. Shoot them from head to toe, and they will occupy about a fifth of the screen; the point is that the ratio of screen space taken up by the subject in these different framings are more visually pleasing, than the possibilities offered by other ratios.
Compare to a film in 1.85:1.
please don’t get started another one of your retarded topics. You assume that filmmakers choose to fill the screen in a certain way when there are no rules and correlations to framing the body and aesthetic value.
In 1.85:1, a person shot from knees to head will fill roughly 1/3 of the screen. Waist to head, a little more than half. feet to head, and you are looking at about 1/6 of the screen.
Now, some of these framing possibilities offered by the different ratios may be more advantageous than others; and depending on the kind of film being shot, may be better suited to a certain type of ratio.
I am thinking, though, that my initial preference of 1.33:1 may lie in the fact that it more or less eliminates the need, or urge rather, of a facial close up, because the waist to head shot in a 1.33:1 film fills the entire screen, and essentially gives us a close-up, though not too close, and other parts of the body that could be essential to tell us something about the character’s body language. Or you could go further, and do an extreme facial close-up with other things in the frame, mise en scene, what have you…
If you have ever studied photography or painting at all, or are even a laymen, you have heard of the law of thirds, no?
I never mentioned any politics, I merely pointed out the obvious fact that aspect ratio has no correlation to visual appeal, whatever you mean by that anyway.
Just thinking out loud here…
In 2.35:1, a person shot from knees to head will fill about 1/4 or 1/5 of the screen.
A character shot from waist to head will occupy about 1/4 of the screen, perhaps a little more(lets say 28%)-this is a horrible framing possibility, and more or less renders this shot useless, unless you have 2 or 3 characters on screen at once.
A character shot from feet to head will take up about 1/7 or 1/8 of the screen.
Now this framing does lend it self to tracking shots that shoot the character from feet to head, and give the character some head room, and some room beneath his feet.
In some ways, unless you go the Leone route, this ratio almost forces the director to do away with the extreme close-up, in favor of a breast or shoulder to head close-up in which the character’s shoulders from tip to tip occupy a little more than 2/3 of the screen.
Do you totally disagree with Leonardo’s ideas on proportionality?
Maybe I should have posted this in Garage?
Keep thinking out loud, what your saying makes sense. Particularly youre point about “square” framing and the rule of thirds. For me, 1.3 is simply elegant in a way other aspect ratios aren’t. Classical and impactful.
Why not collect some screen grabs to Illustrate your points and continue this thread in the Garage forum?
Concur ^ …
I would suggest to all filmmakers (and even cinema history students) a book by Pierre Bouleau : THE PAINTER’S SECRET GEOMETRY. It shows the mathematical precision that went into the composition and lines of force in the great classic (and even many modern) paintings. Many of those artworks approximated the 1.33 aspect ratio.
I’m not sure that I agree with the OP premise, but this book will provide evidence to support that case. Bouleau does not base his case on the positions of people’s heads, waists, and legs, but rather on Greek concepts of beauty and mathematics. Perhaps there’s just something especially pleasing about a 4 × 3 frame. Many of the great still life paintings also have that composition, and they don’t usually contain heads, waists, and legs. Another possibility is that we are used to that format from painting and stage productions and that familiarity makes it pleasurable.
On the other hand, I could list dozens of beautifully composed widescreen movies, starting with LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD.
If what Jason is arguing seems so, I think it’s due to habitualization through seeing 1.33 constantly, not only through films made prior to 1952, but television, still photography and painting as much as it is anything inherent to the 1.33 image itself. Although, the fact that you had Ophuls, Welles, Murnau, and many other great filmmakers working in that aspect ratio (or something quite close it) certainly doesn’t do harm to the case in favor of 1.33.
There is a certain symmetry that is appealing in the particular ratio, but personally I can’t really agree with the OP either. This is kind of a belaboured subject that can only be sufficiently conveyed with lots and lots of supporting arguments. Perhaps there is something to the OP’s conclusion, but I need more more convincing.
>>I would suggest to all filmmakers (and even cinema history students) a book by Pierre Bouleau : THE PAINTER’S SECRET GEOMETRY. It shows the mathematical precision that went into the composition and lines of force in the great classic (and even many modern) paintings. Many of those artworks approximated the 1.33 aspect ratio.<<
I don’t know that book, but would it address the Golden Ratio that many painters worked in?
Personally, I find the widescreen formats more appealing. But that’s just my personal taste
@Harry Long: Yes, the book goes into the Golden Ratio and MANY other formulae. I wish I could upload the photos of famous paintings with Bouleau’s lines of force transposed on them.
Here are some reviews of this hard-to-find book (Amazon lists 2 USED copies for $3000 each. I may put MINE up for bid!):
By Gagewyn (United States)
If you got to this page then you are probably already one of the cult following of the legendary Painters Secret Geometry. I read this book in the form of an entire copy xeroxed form a library edition in the late 80s which I borrowed from another art fan. (Trust me I looked for it but it wasn’t for sale anywhere) We both missed the reprint and aren’t I kicking myself for it?
Basically Bouleau goes through many many master works of art and extracts the Golden mean from them. The placement of that figure, the way she is holding the vase in relation to her body – so many elements in the composition of these paintings coincide with mathematic placement its eerie. The concept of extracting Fibonacci numbers and finding geometrical patterns in art is nothing new, but here it is demonstrated over and over and much better than anecdotal evidence.
I have never understood why this book is so hard to get hold of. It has been referenced over and over again since its original publication and was a big influence on art analysis.
Probably you already know this but this is a book you have to have if you are into art history. So the question is do you have the 350 dollars used copies are currently selling for? Trust me all library copies have been stolen by now so reprints or here are your only hope to unravel the painters secret geometry….
By T. Campbell -
This is the art history text we all should have had and didn’t. It is the only book I have found in several years of looking into what has been printed on composition/design in the 2-D arts that actually shows the manner in which artists in a number of Greco-Roman to Western traditions managed their space. It was certainly not the “I’m OK, you’re OK” approach that is so common now. The great ones then, and to a certain degree even now, were very well educated in their traditions, which included mathematics, especially geometry.
Bouleau’s argument, in fact, does not find the “Golden Section” as the sole structural basis for space management over the centuries, but is one tool among many techniques that yielded harmonious spatial divisions that became the abstract structure of images. Though a structure might be geometric, complex or simple, artists found infinite variety in the possibilities, not infrequently of similar structures, over many centuries, styles, fashions, and traditions.
Bouleau carries his argument into the 20th century and shows that respect for geometric spatial division to establish harmony is not dead. It still works, even with completely nonrepresentational art.
This is a stunningly informative look at the visual arts in the European traditions and is the only book I have found that informs me on how the “old masters” and some contemporary masters built their paintings. Geometry was part of their art, and they KNEW their geometry. Interestingly, one of Bouleau’s geometric techniques involves ratios derived from the musical arts.
It is probably a stretch to be able to apply much of this to photographing, my pet passion. What Bouleau reveals here requires deliberative time, not the quick visual assessments necessary in small format photography. But this reviewer asserts that the more a photographer knows about image structure, the more sure he or she is likely to be in using the viewfinder when the time comes.
This is an outstanding book that never should have been taken out of print. That it is says much to me about what is not taught to today’s image makers, either drawing/painting, or photography.
>>Yes, the book goes into the Golden Ratio and MANY other formulae. I wish I could upload the photos of famous paintings with Bouleau’s lines of force transposed on them.<<
One of my books on Maxfield Parrish overlays grids on a few of his paintings (for at least some of his career he built his paintings using the Golden Ratio). I tried to apply it to my own work but could never quite figure out the computations.
Thanks Frank, just what I need, another unattainable work to obsess over finding :)
Well, it must be true, and Jason Trochesset has discovered the secret of the optimal ratio. It’s a damn crying shame that all these great filmmakers didn’t realize what Jason has and wasted their time making films in other ratios.
I think it’s just a matter of taste.
For me, there is nothing more beautiful than a truly masterfully shot scope film.
i was going to mention the golden ratio, 1.6180339887- 1 apparently, but that’s already been done. It’s one thing to have a certain shaped screen, quite another how best to fill it, but worth further investigation… Thanks, Harry and Frank; has this been applied in depth to film study, and viewer aesthetic reaction..?
Mondrian golden rectangle example
“Oskar Barnack and the 3:2 Aspect Ratio
The origins of the aspect ratio of 35mm film can be traced to Oskar Barnack, an employee of Leitz Camera in Germany. Barnack believed the 3:2 aspect ratio to be the ideal choice for his invention, the first 35mm camera ever, dubbed the “Ur-Leica”. After WWI, Barnack convinced his boss, Ernest Leitz II, to begin production of similar cameras. In 1925, Leitz Camera released the first Leica and the rest is history. Why was Oskar Barnack so adamant about the seemingly arbitrary aspect ratio of 3:2? There are many other film formats with different aspect ratios to choose from, but there is something special about the 3:2 aspect ratio—it happens to have the closest proportions to the Golden Rectangle of any other major film format out there, with the sole exception of European widescreen. Perhaps Oskar Barnack had this in mind when he created the 3:2 aspect ratio."
(golden ratio = 3.2- 2, european tv = 16-9, or 1.78-1)
this is an interesting topic, Jason, and to me super widescreen feels stranger, more distinctive and noticeable than say 1.33-1, maybe from tv viewing customs as much as natural aesthetic reactions, but your point about close-ups is also interesting. But it really does depend on the director, and how the widescreen space is used, it can be dull or inventive, The Robe isn’t Leone
Kenji: Yes, even modern non-representational art can use the Golden Section, as Bouleau demonstrates in his book. He even uses another Mondrian example to illustrate that point.
As far as I know, there is not an in-depth application of Pythagoras’s Golden Mean to cinema, except for occasional mentions and examples in cinematography textbooks, where it is often called “the Rule of Thirds.” Still photography and art books use the concept more often, probably because the movie image, well, MOVES and changes with character movement and camera movement and changes composition frequently.
AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER magazine refers to it from time to time (BTW, I have a collection of AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHERs from at least 5 years back. I’d be willing to sell them CHEAP!) Here are a few film books that mention it:
Cinematography: Theory and Practice: Image-making for Cinematographers, Blain Brown (2002).
Filming the Fantastic: A Guide to Visual Effect Cinematography, Mark Sawicki (2007)
Amateur Cinematography, Owen Wheeler (1929)
Implementing HDTV: Television and Film Applications, (1996).
_ A Mathematical History of Division in Extreme and Mean …_, R. Fischler, especially the chapter called “On the Application of the Golden Ratio in the Visual Arts.”
Cinematography: a Guide for Filmmakers and Film Teachers, J. Kris Malkiewicz & M. David Mullen – (2005)
Film Art: An Introduction, David Bordwell & Kristin Thompson (1997 & later editions), especially page 266.
Sacred Geometry: Deciphering the Code, Stephen Skinner (2006). This is really a math book but it makes some reference to geometry in the arts.
I think it was Howard Hawks who was quoted as saying that the widescreen was only good for filming snakes and funerals.
1.33 (or less) is the only natural ratio. All other ratios were forced by money men based on monetary concerns. 1.66 was a Euro compromise, which is why Godard hated it.
Somebody explain to me again how to post pics, and I’ll do some leg work and try and illustrate what I am talking about.