An Old (And Pretty Much Solved) Complaint

Going way back to the early days of the cinema there has been what is known as the widescreen format: A film with its image being wider than it is tall. This format is also called landscape, because it’s the best format for capturing the horizon in nature. And in those early days, there was also a more square format for movies. Both formats were fairly common until Hollywood (and the rest of the world) was plunged into the Great Depression and in the early 1930s movies went to the more square image. It was a move to help limit costs.

Then, in the early 1950s with the American economy booming, televisions became more and more common and Hollywood began to worry it would lose its movie-going audience. Theaters installed air conditioning and some movies experimented with 3D in hopes of pulling people away from their TV sets.

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Another way Hollywood tried to entice movie-goers was to return to the widescreen format with VistaVision and CinemaScope. Using that wider screen, filmmakers made epics even more epic; filling the screens with luscious colors, vast landscapes, and thrilling action. And it worked. People went to see those magnificent spectacles.

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Then a new problem arose. Audiences wanted to see those movies on TV and the networks wanted to show them, but how? Ben-Hur (1959) was certainly not going to fit on a more square-like screen. What could they do?

The solution was to have someone crop the image and move that crop from side to side to shift the focus. The process was called pan and scan. Most people wouldn’t notice, but filmmakers and movie lovers did.

Pan and scan made the images and characters feel too close to the camera. Many films felt claustrophobic. Action scenes became confusing and far less impactful. The use of pan and scan essentially was a re-directing or re-interpretation of the film. The technician doing the cropping had to decide which part of the image to show and which part to leave out. The process changed the films. And absolutely ruined them.

Of course, I didn’t realize this when I was a kid. But even then I would notice that, when one of those epic films would start on TV, the opening with the title and the actors’ names would have black bars across the top and bottom of the image. Once the opening credits were complete the image would then fill the TV screen. Eventually, I understood why. They needed those bars to change the aspect ratio of the screen in order to not have the title and the actors’ names cut off at the sides.

When home video became a thing, most movies, maybe even all, were released in the pan and scan or full screen format. Eventually, filmmakers and movie lovers began to demand widescreen or letterboxed videos and DVDs. They wanted the entire picture, which would give the full and intended vision of the filmmaker. That meant the black bars would stay for the entire movie.

Well, a couple weeks ago I watched the mess of a movie Mackenna’s Gold (1969) on DVD. It came into Nostalgia Zone and I borrowed this favorite from when I was a kid. It is a mess. The producers realized the movie was so confusing they had to rely heavily on a narrator to keep the audiences clued in on what the hell was going on.

It was also in full screen. Ugh.

I was able to grab an image from the internet that shows how this particular shot was supposed to look. I then cropped the image to look the way it appeared in the pan and scan.

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This is how it was supposed to look.
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This is pan and scan.

In a movie as lousy as Mackenna’s Gold it probably isn’t vitally important to see Telly Savalas in the same shot. But, let’s look at a shot from Tombstone (1993). A sometimes silly (I mean just how many bullets does Holliday have in his two six-shooters during the big OK Corral gunfight? 40?), but very rousing and entertaining Western telling the tale of the Earp Brothers’ and Doc Holliday’s battle with the lawless gang known as The Cowboys. The shot (sorry about the poor quality of the image) is from the scene in which Johnny Ringo (Michael Biehn) and Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) meet for the first time.

As you can see in the widescreen shot, the two gunman are intended to be on screen at the same time. This adds to the tension of the scene. We are supposed to see the two interact with each other and we are also meant to see the reactions of the surrounding characters – all at the same time.

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All the actors interacting in this scene is what makes this such a great shot.

A full screen version of this scene would be laughable. In the wide shot, it would have to pan back and forth between Ringo and Holliday. It would be distracting and would kill the impact of the scene.

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Pan and scan would force the scene to…

 

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…cut back and forth between the two characters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think you get the idea.

As the headline of this blog suggests, I realize that we live in great times for film lovers, because our TVs have all gone widescreen. This also means that full screen videos and DVDs are old hat. No one does the pan and scan anymore, so why am I complaining?

Eh. It’s what I do.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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Pods Looking Back: A List of My Favorite Nostalgic Podcasts

You know, I’m no different than anybody else. I start each day and I end each night. (10 points if you get this reference.) And like most everybody else, I listen to podcasts. Comedy podcasts, science podcasts, podcasts on skepticism, podcasts about movies. I even do my own podcast (Dimland Radio – look for it on iTunes) that has a little of all those things and more.

Well, I thought I’d recommend a few of my favorite podcasts that are nostalgic in nature and content. Are you game?

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Just One More Thing: A Podcast About Columbo Hosts Jon Morris and RJ White invite a guest to each show to help them examine an episode of the world’s favorite TV detective: Lt. Columbo. They give their impressions of each show, including the original episodes from the 1970s and the more recent ones from when the rumpled detective returned in 1989 and ran through 2003.

The show is funny and the hosts give plenty of production and background information of this classic murder mystery-solving program. They speculate about the existence of Mrs. Columbo (they’ve even done a review of an episode of the short-lived Mrs. Columbo series), they try to pin-point the moment Columbo catches onto who the murderer is, and they marvel at how the detective out-thinks his suspects as they constantly underestimate him.

RJ tends to excitedly blurt out interruptions of the others during the podcast, but it is part of his charm. The only other drawback I can think of is they actually liked Last Salute To The Commodore.

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Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast & Gilbert and Frank’s Colossal Obsessions Each show, comic genius Gilbert Gottfried is joined by Frank Santopadre as they alternate between the main show and the mini episodes. The main show features a guest, often with one foot in the grave, to talk about the old days of entertainment. The stories get very bawdy and we frequently hear of the strange sexual practices of celebrities of yore, as well as plenty of discussion of the size of Milton Berle’s naughty bit.

The mini episodes have Gilbert and Frank talking about a particular obsession with old movies, TV shows, songs, etc.

Be warned! Gilbert sings on virtually every show. Otherwise, the podcasts are thoroughly entertaining.

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The Greatest Generation No, it’s not about Tom Brokaw’s favorite generation. This podcast is hosted by Benjamin Harrison and Adam Pranica, who admit they are both a little bit embarrassed to be doing a podcast about Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s silly and it’s fun with plenty of dick and fart jokes thrown in.

The hosts watch an episode, going in order, and try to figure out if it was a good show or not. They have running jokes about an inappropriate relationship between Capt. Picard and young Wesley Crusher (the boy?), Cmdr. Riker’s absolute need for sexual consent and his lascivious use of the holodeck, and how Data is way too dangerous to be allowed to remain in Star Fleet. And each host has their pick of a “Drunk Shimoda.” You’ll have to listen to learn what that is.

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You Must Remember This Host Karina Longworth takes listeners on a journey through the “secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood’s first century.” Not as funny as the other podcasts on this list, but this show is well-researched and is endlessly fascinating. The production is very good with Longworth and other voice talent playing parts of the producers, writers, actors, and moguls of old Hollywood.

If you are a fan of old Hollywood and are interested in its history, this should go to the top of your list.

Each of these suggested podcasts use adult language and themes, so they may not be suitable for all listeners. All are available through iTunes.

Packing Peanuts!

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That’s my name. Don’t wear it out!

One of the several podcasts to which I listen has given me a virus. The virus is the observation that Hollywood overuses characters’ names in movies and TV shows. For some reason, scriptwriters feel it necessary to have their characters constantly calling each other by name. Sure, when one character is greeting another or trying to get the attention of another it makes sense, but when you are in conversation with a friend are you constantly saying their name?

“Hey, Dave. Did you watch the Golden Globes last night, Dave? Don’t you, Dave, think it was crazy to award The Martian as the Best Comedy, Dave?”

“Just what to you think you’re doing, Dave?”

Sorry. Slipped into my HAL 9000 impression.

So, since I caught that virus, I have become acutely attuned to noticing name usage.

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“Shhh, Murph. Don’t cry, Murph. Murph, I’ll only be gone, Murph, for most of your life, Murph.”

When I watched Interstellar (2014) I noticed the lead character calls his daughter by her name quite a lot. I counted more than 50 usages of “Murph” in that nearly three hour movie. Now, before you think I’m crazy, I didn’t count the “Murphs” during my first viewing of the film. I counted when I watched it a second time with my wife.

In 1931, Universal’s Dracula was released and it made Bela Lugosi a star. I mention it because during the climax of the film, when John Harker and Professor van Helsing are attempting to rescue Mina Seward (Harker’s and Dracula’s love interest) from the evil vampire’s clutches and to destroy said vampire, Harker calls out “Mina” SEVENTEEN times.

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“Mina! Mina! Mina, Mina!”

OK, that does make sense. He was trying to find her. They weren’t in conversation. What else would he call out? But 17 times in a segment that lasts no more than five minutes?

HBO’s Band of Brothers (2001) has an episode focusing on one private: Albert Blithe. Blithe is having courage under fire problems. He can’t seem to overcome his fear and be able to function in battle. At one point, he temporarily suffers “hysterical blindness”.

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“Say my name! Say it! Say it!”

Blithe doesn’t join the fight on D Day. Blithe doesn’t try very hard to find Blithe’s unit. Blithe gets advice from a couple of Blithe’s superior officers. Blithe can’t get any sleep. Blithe, Blithe, Blithe, Blithe…

See what I did there? That’s pretty much what the episode does. It keeps having characters say “Blithe”. At one point, of all the paratroopers being called into formation, Blithe is the only one singled out by name. “That means you, Blithe!”

I get it. That private is the central focus of this part of the ten part series. You don’t have to say his name more than 25 times in an episode that runs about an hour. I’ve tried to count all the “Blithes”, but a few are obscured by the sounds of battle, so I can’t be more accurate.

Recently, I just watched the Back To The Future trilogy. I had only seen the first one when it was originally released and not again since. And I had never seen the sequels. I was pleasantly surprised to find they are all very entertaining films.

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“Doc? Doc! Doc, where’d the car go? Hey, Doc?!”

Any guesses as to how many times Marty says “Doc” in those three movies?

I don’t know, but I think it’s in the hundreds!

It’s kinda ridiculous.

And now that you’ve read this, I’ve spread the virus to you and you’re gonna start noticing all those names. My apologies.

Oh! Before I sign off. I have a nitpick with Back To The Future Part III.

Marty travels back in time to the 1880s. He meets his great, great grandparents. They are played by Lea Thompson (who also played Marty’s mother in all three films) and Michael J Fox. That was clever having Fox play the great, great grandfather, but hang on a minute…

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Their last name should have been Baines, not McFly.

Lea Thompson played his mother. OK, I can accept she would look very much the same as Marty’s great, great grandmother. And I can accept Seamus McFly looking very much like Marty. But I cannot accept that they were McFlys!

Marty’s mother was a McFly by marriage not blood, so why the hell would she look exactly like great, great grandmother McFly? What kind of incestuous family dynamic have we got going on here?

It’s just a movie. I should really just relax. It’s just a movie. I should really just relax. It’s just a movie…