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"Nah, you don't wanna buy a widescreen tape.
You need a widescreen TV for that."
- Idiotic customer overheard near the Widescreen section at Suncoast

Letterboxed (or "widescreen") videotapes are definitely catching on as more and more people get educated as to the difference between a movie screen and a TV screen (basically the diff between a square and a rectangle; it's a very simple geometrical concept). Which surprises me all the more when I continue to hear dumb-ass uninformed opinions about letterboxing.

"The black bars are too distracting."

Oh? And seeing half the picture, or watching the frame electronically pan and scan back and forth -- that isn't distracting? It is to me. I still remember trying to watch PULP FICTION when it first came out on pan-and-scan video. When Jules shot Flock of Seagulls on the couch, and the frame rapidly panned to include the shooter and shootee in what's supposed to be a static shot, I yanked the tape out. I physically couldn't watch any more of it.

I knew things were going to be bad when the tape cut back and forth between Jules and Vincent during that long scene in the elevator (another scene designed to unfold in one long static shot without cuts, thank you...). But the Jules/Flock of Seagulls scene was too much for a boy of my delicate sensibility. Not Jules' violence, but the violence done to the composition. So anyway, you ain't s'posed to look at the black bars. Look at the picture.

"You get less picture."

No you don't, you get the whole picture instead of half of it, you ign'ant-ass dumb motherfucker! True, the picture doesn't fill the whole TV screen, which gives the impression of a smaller image, which it is (see below). But what would you rather have: a big incomplete image or a smaller complete image? The way I see it, people who rent or buy pan-and-scan videos are getting shafted, because they're paying full price for half the movie.

"It's too small. I can't see it on my TV screen."

Understandable: I myself have an 11-inch (screen, that is) in my sanctum. Useful for watching BUFFY or whatever else is actually worth watching on corporate furniture, but I cringe at the thought of watching PULP FICTION on it. I'd have to sit two inches from the screen. Which is why God invented big-screen TVs, which is what you really need, not "widescreen TVs," you fuckin' idiot at Suncoast, whoever you are. Actually, widescreen TVs are in development and may be available soon. Some DVDs are actually programmed (as one of their options) to play on widescreen TVs. This suggests that the technology is forthcoming. But really you don't need a widescreen TV, just a big one. 30" or bigger will do you fine.

Since I started watching letterboxed tapes, lasers, and DVDs, nothing else will do. Once you go letterbox, you can't go back. And it's possible to go to new levels of analosity. Some vintage movies shot in 1.33 ratio (the ratio of TV screens) are "windowboxed" -- surrounded by a black frame on all four sides -- to preserve the whole image against the overscanning that occurs on all TV screens, where you lose a quarter-inch or so of the image off each side of the screen. Then there's "zoomboxing," in which a 2.35 film is matted as 2.35, but the image is enlarged to make it more readable on smaller screens, so you end up losing some of the edges of the image....

And then there's the case of the letterboxed tape of UNFORGIVEN, a 2.35 film matted at 1.85 and electronically squeezed to fit, causing absurd distortions of the image. Now, Clint Eastwood is tall, but he ain't seven feet tall.

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