A Complete History of CinemaScope with Film Historian David Bordwell
We've talked at length about aspect ratios before, offering not only their history, but the importance and relevance of each one's aesthetics in filmmaking today. But, another great resource for learning about aspect ratios, or anything film related for that matter, is respected film theorist and historian David Bordwell. His books have been a staple in film schools for a long time, and now he offers an almost hour-long lecture on the history of CinemaScope and how technology affects filmmaking.
David Bordwell's commentaries on the history of film have helped many to grasp the complexities and expansiveness of film history, and watching and hearing a lecture only adds to the experience. This video is a slice of film school. While watching it, I took notes like I was in college all over again -- which helps with the post-graduation depression (mass amounts of Otter Pops help that too.)
Bordwell mixes history, theory, and application in his lecture, so not only will you know when CinemaScope and aspect ratios developed, you'll also know why and how to use them in your films today. He explains in the beginning that new technology creates new possibilities for artists to reshape their medium, like with the advent of sound, because techniques and work routines don't fit perfectly.
So, artists will work to fit their art into the new technology, taking advantage of the new possibilities it offers, forming what Bordwell describes as "not just assimilation, but exploration under constraints." One example he draws is CinemaScope -- a new technology that naturally put dimensional constraints on filmmaking, but also gave filmmakers the opportunity to explore their medium in a way they hadn't before.
So, free up an hour out of your day, grab a pen and pad, and check out the lecture below.
In the lecture, Bordwell goes into detail about how CinemaScope divided filmmakers -- some believing that it was "less" and other's "more." CinemaScope's effects and influences on the aesthetic choices of film are surprisingly far-reaching.
The issue of cropping was seen as a real issue when CinemaScope first came on the scene, because some thought that it was an abstraction of the visual field. But many filmmakers, like those of the French New Wave, used this to their advantage. Jean-Luc Godard used CinemaScope's cropping issue of "decapitation" for his aesthetic benefit in Pierrot le fou, solidifying not only his, but all of the French New Wave's signature cinematic style. Which eventually led to other filmmakers taking advantage of the new aspect ratio and cropping for abstraction. However, CinemaScope was just right when it came to getting an extreme close up of eyes.
Filmmakers were able to get a pretty good amount of depth using it, which gave them an alternative to "clothesline staging" and made their compositions much more complex. It provides more space for moods to breathe -- to allow, say, the silence to linger in the scene Bordwell talks about in The Man Who Never Was.
What do you think about David Bordwell's lecture? What stuck out most to you? Let us know in the comments.