The 'truth' about letterboxing!?!
April 23, 2001 2:56 PM   Subscribe

The 'truth' about letterboxing!?! And I quote: "Lettershlocking will end! Film censorship will be defeated! HDTV will become the Betamax of the late 90's. DVD disks with lettershlocking will become the 8-tracks of the late 90's. FULLSCREEN FOR ME! BAN THE BARS! CANCEL HDTV BEFORE IT BEGINS! LETTERSHLOCKING IS WRONG! IT WILL END!"
posted by feelinglistless (60 comments total)
i thought the anamorphic process was supposed to solve this? please edumicate me!
posted by mapalm at 3:01 PM on April 23, 2001

I thought letterboxing showed more of the picture because you don't "pan-and-scan"
posted by TacoConsumer at 3:06 PM on April 23, 2001

This reminds me of that anti-day running light web site--only more stupid and false.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:08 PM on April 23, 2001

How someone can make the argument that a process whereby the complete film image is shown as intended, instead of being arbitrarily lopped of on either end as with pan and scan and/or "formatted to fit your screen" formats, is considered "censorship" is beyond me. It defies explanation....

Surely this site is a joke, right? No one could really be this stupid, right?
posted by peebo at 3:11 PM on April 23, 2001

I love it when people start their hit counters at 00000000.
posted by dfowler at 3:14 PM on April 23, 2001

It should be fun to watch the counter on that guy's web site go up. It was just at 145...
posted by ParisParamus at 3:15 PM on April 23, 2001

The counter is now at 620.

Granted, I just spent the past two minutes hitting F5...
posted by mrbula at 3:23 PM on April 23, 2001

Give me letterbox or give me a book to read!

I bought a LD player a few years back just so I could watch movies in the original aspect ratio...the next year they started releasing them on VHS :(
posted by Mick at 3:26 PM on April 23, 2001

What's funny is that since July 27, 2000, this site has been in existence, but in the last 15 minutes, 99% of his hits were received... it's kind of an argument of guerrilla trolling to get e-mail addresses for some other purpose?
posted by ParisParamus at 3:26 PM on April 23, 2001

I *REALLY* hope this is a joke.... but people really are this stupid...

Otherways, I know plenty of people who prefer the dreaded pan and scan to letterboxed. I can see why on a smaller tv, but the widescreen aspect ration looks so much better... you actually get to see the whole movie, as the director intended....
posted by andrewraff at 3:30 PM on April 23, 2001


That's all I have to say really, this guy is a complete quack.

Game on...
posted by dincognito at 3:33 PM on April 23, 2001

Counter is probably off, because I saw this site a looong time ago
posted by owillis at 3:34 PM on April 23, 2001

Feelinglistless, just curious: how did you find (locate) this AOL web site?
posted by ParisParamus at 3:35 PM on April 23, 2001

Hit counter now at 717.

Please, god, someone tell me this is a joke!!

My roommate is a movie junkie and has made a special videotape of "full-screen" (i.e. "pan 'n' scan") scenes followed by their widescreen versions, which he from time to time shows to people who don't "get" why "full-screen" isn't better ...

... its amazing how many people out there don't realize they've been missing 50% of what the director shot....

posted by anastasia at 3:36 PM on April 23, 2001

gack ... wish i'd read the comments before wasting my time with that link and rolling the counter to 720

posted by dukejohnson at 3:37 PM on April 23, 2001

I remember seeing this long ago, and I just assumed it was a parody. You guys don't actually think this guy (and it has to be a guy) believes this, do you?
posted by anildash at 3:37 PM on April 23, 2001

Er, sorry, i meant satire, not parody. Did I mention English is my second language?
posted by anildash at 3:38 PM on April 23, 2001

Yes, the text has been around for awhile. As for the counter, if you read the text it says xxx "...have visited this page since July 27, 2000." It doesn't say the site was created on that date. You'll find reference to an earlier date in a paragraph above that and this page linked to it in May of '00.
posted by gluechunk at 3:39 PM on April 23, 2001

Not to worry. This is just another troll site trying to get some attention.

These same arguments were floating around the newsgroup around a year (or two?) ago.

So, yes, the 'letterschlocking is censorship' argument is a troll. However, I do find it distressing to hear how many people REALLY hate widescreen-only DVDs. They would rather 'fill the TV screen' than see the entire picture as the director shot it.

Pan & scan has made me cringe since home video went mainstream in the 80s. Why don't people get it???
posted by Dirjy at 3:40 PM on April 23, 2001

Here's more info about the author.
posted by iceberg273 at 3:41 PM on April 23, 2001

In fact, he says "Email from lettershlockers is no longer answered, as of April 27, 1999". Apparently, it's been around for a while.

Oh, yeah...811.
posted by jpoulos at 3:44 PM on April 23, 2001

I can trace it back to at least February of 1997. I remember laughing at this guy in college (well, at his web site. We've never met).
posted by iceberg273 at 3:50 PM on April 23, 2001

The pan-n-scan of Pulp Fiction converted me to letterbox. The part where Jules shoots "flock-of-seagulls"--it pans so fast I got dizzy. It was just wrong.

Of course, the letterbox of that very scene has a hand waving around on the far left that I don't think was supposed to be there.
posted by smeat at 3:53 PM on April 23, 2001

I remember seeing this spammed on usenet film groups in like 1996. I thought he was a troll, but he's apparently just stupid.

Interesting (sort of) aside: movies' aspect ratios were originally the same as TV's, but in an effort to compete with the new medium, widescreen was developed by chopping off the top and bottom of the frame and simply projecting the image larger. The anamorphic lens developed later squished the image vertically into the square frame, to be expanded later in projection.

So a non-anamorphic pan-and-scan film, by the time it gets to your TV, only shows the very centre of the film frame.
posted by snowmelter at 3:54 PM on April 23, 2001

Decent article about anamorphic transfers and why they're good things.
posted by icathing at 3:55 PM on April 23, 2001

The site is a troll.

Something I found even more amusing: FlikFX Digital Recompositing!!!!@###
posted by rmannion at 3:59 PM on April 23, 2001

That shockbox guy is now aware of this thread...
posted by ParisParamus at 4:08 PM on April 23, 2001

This is the e-mail he just sent me:

we are not trolling. we just don't agree with you. but then I guess you can't acknowledge the fact that someone could disagree with your "superior" wisdom.
I have better things to do than debate you. Further email from you will be regarded as harassment, so don't contact us again.

posted by ParisParamus at 4:11 PM on April 23, 2001

889. Amazing.

I actually found the page through Portal of Evil, which I must also recommend, since it also brought to my attention this (which I simply couldn't bare to save - is composting fun?).

Thing is, some films don't actually get panned and scanned and you do get to see less of the frame on a widescreen edition. Before I get burned as a heretic, should say that widescreen is still better whatever. Let me explain.

There was an illuminating article in Premiere some months ago about the filming of Titanic. Although the SFX shots were created in the widescreen frame, interiors, for example corridor scenes were shot using a square film stock. This meant that when the Cameron prepared the film for full screen for wider distribution video and TV versions he effectively had to re-edit the film again, going through shot by shot reframing everything for 4:3 - this meant that more of the scenery and costumes can be seen at the top and bottom of the frame. Trouble was of course that the SFX shots still had to be panned and scanned and some still look plain awful.

This process seems to be in use all over Hollywood. Frankenheimer even explains (not too well) in his DVD commentary for Ronin how he shot using the square frame technique and then just cropped the bottom of the frame off for the theatrical release. Check the not too great film You've Got Mail. Compare some of the scenes in the making of doc which are in full frame against the film - and you can actually see more of the sets. Who decides the film maker or the studio? Still haven't worked this out, but it only seems to be commercial films so . . .

The downside of all this is that in some case you really arn't getting what the film maker intended. So when you do see that microphone duck into shot on your rental video (Married to the Mob has a real howler) copy it's not because the film maker is incompetent - your just seeing more than he wanted you to see. Alex Cox is particularly pleased to be supervising the transfer of Repoman to DVD - those camera rails were never meant to be there, no matter how much film critics might wet themselves over Cox's post modernity. So now the thing is back in widescreen, we can all concentrate on Emilio Estevez performance.

So yes, widescreen is better - whatever.
posted by feelinglistless at 4:23 PM on April 23, 2001

Just wondering - how did he find out about this 'thread'? Who told, hmm?
posted by feelinglistless at 4:25 PM on April 23, 2001

Did I violate the Mefi Prime Directive?
posted by ParisParamus at 4:29 PM on April 23, 2001

The *only* full-screen version of a widescreen film I've ever seen that was even adequate for viewing was A Bug's Life, and that's because the Pixar folks went back and actually re-composed most shots in the film to better fit into the 4x3 ratio. Another reason why those people are my heroes.

Did you ever see the pan-and-scan Ghostbusters on cable? It's downright disgusting! *Todd hugs his Ghostbusters DVD*
posted by toddshot at 4:32 PM on April 23, 2001

I dunno. But I only posted an hour and a half ago and already the counters up to 904. Hate the think what it's going to be like tomorrow . . . bit worried to be honest . . .
posted by feelinglistless at 4:32 PM on April 23, 2001

Hey, look. For every five serious Mefi threads, there should at least be one silly one, no?
posted by ParisParamus at 4:36 PM on April 23, 2001

The rationale behind some people's dislike for letterbox is that the movie is too small. While I see their point, I've not been able to convince them that in some movies they are missing some very important parts of the movie which are purposely not centered on the screen and in other ones, they are riding a visual rollercoaster. Whatever. No need to overuse the clue-by-four...

Oh, and one more thing, how would he know about this thread? Well, I think I'd notice the infinitely large percentage increase in traffic. Every server log I've seen has a referer. Copy, paste, read, reply. Ta dum...
posted by fooljay at 5:01 PM on April 23, 2001

Jinx, Craydrygu. You own me a coke...
posted by fooljay at 5:02 PM on April 23, 2001


There are many (such as I) who put stuff over the "black bars" on their TV/RPTV/FPTV to enhance the image. Known as mattes, they completely eliminate any trace of light on the "black bar" area and thus enhance the contrast in the existing image.

Of course, one may think, "They're black bars. They're already black." Regardless of the "blackness" of the picture, the TV will still emit light. Simply look at a completely black picture in a dark room or during the night to verify this.

posted by rmannion at 5:04 PM on April 23, 2001

But ryan, could the cover to that Spinal Tap album be much more black?
posted by gluechunk at 5:28 PM on April 23, 2001

i assume this guy is unhappy about the widescreen episodes of er (which were just something they played with during the november sweeps, and stuck with). or the widescreen episodes of babylon 5.

("rebel without a cause" was the movie that i first saw scenes in pan-and-scan vs. letterbox compared. whoever did the pan-and-scan on that movie should be ashamed of themselves.)

posted by jimw at 5:55 PM on April 23, 2001


maybe i should put up a troll on my site; i'd get some sick hits.

anyway, i have a smallish tv, so if i have a choice i pick pan and scan. but i do hate when p&s is really friggin' obvious, like when they do it back and forth in a conversation. i'd rather just watch widescreen if it's gonna look like that.
posted by sugarfish at 6:15 PM on April 23, 2001

"lettershlocking, the vilest evil of all time" Idiot... "lettershlocking" - nice word, idiot... Did you make that up yourself? Idiot... I can see why when DVDs are available why we would want to go back to 80s technology, idiot... idiot... I think he is suffering from brainshlocking
posted by me myself and i at 6:48 PM on April 23, 2001

Another AOL web page written by an apparent moron. Wow. Shocking.
posted by gpowers at 6:54 PM on April 23, 2001

One of my film professors in school told me about one of his students who had written a final paper about how the two different modes of camera work in Chinatown reflected different attitudes towards the characters in the frame. One mode was slow, wide and paced; the other tight and jumpy, moving back and forth between characters outside of the frame. As you've probably guessed, this was entirely due to the pan and scan of the student's videotape. The prof. had a good laugh and worked with the student to get something out of it.
posted by sj at 7:15 PM on April 23, 2001

A friend of mine purchased a DVD player at my behest, and returned it shortly thereafter because it was broken... you guessed it: the first movie(s) he rented was widescreen. I still can't convince him that widescreen isn't "broken".

posted by silusGROK at 8:55 PM on April 23, 2001

See, this is why TV sells.
posted by holgate at 4:36 AM on April 24, 2001

UGH. There is a problem with the transfer to video from film for both "letterbox" and 4:3. I've watched a handful of movies in both formats and you'll notice that you OFTEN see more in the vert direction in the 4:3 than on the letterbox. WHY??? the space is there, whats with the crop? and of course, you see more in the horizontal direction (no doubt) on letterbox than 4:3.

Like someone said above, there's something fishy going on. watch matrix, in both modes, b/c you'll definately see a difference. X-men is a great example too! one we get ride of all 4:3 sets this might not be a problem.

bottom line, which vert setting was the movie intended for? I want to see some pics... hmmm... looks like a task is at hand.. brb. :)
posted by tomplus2 at 6:35 AM on April 24, 2001

The Sopranos is being simulcast on HBO and HBO-Plus in "normal" and "widescreen" formats. I'm pro-widescreen, but WTF?
posted by whuppy at 6:38 AM on April 24, 2001


There is no conspiracy. The phenomenon you describe is dependent on the format the filmmaker shot in. (all you film people correct me if I'm wrong with any of the following information:) Super35, for example, is shot in the 4:3 ratio, and bits of the top and bottom are matted off for the theatrical showing. When it comes time to present it on video, the filmmaker can apply the pan and scan process to the matted film, or simply present the film in "open matte", whereas the entire original frame is used. Note that in cases where visual effects work (particularly computer graphics) went into the film, you'll most likely see that scene pan and scanned as it would be needlessly costly to perform the VFX work on the matted areas. Popular example: Titanic.

Another variation involves the film being shot with anamorphic lenses, with the proper aspect ratio being present without the need for matteing for the theatrical presentation.

posted by rmannion at 7:54 AM on April 24, 2001

You can also attribute "open matte" to why you may see a mic pop into a frame on video :).

posted by rmannion at 7:55 AM on April 24, 2001

2329 everyone. Ryan - thanks for backing up the small essay I wrote further up the thread . . .
posted by feelinglistless at 10:08 AM on April 24, 2001

2670. End the madness.
posted by tranquileye at 12:37 PM on April 24, 2001

3147. Perhaps we should start thinking about getting t-shirts printed . . .
posted by feelinglistless at 2:16 PM on April 24, 2001

What, t-shirts like this one? Will we get to a point where every MeFi thread has its own t-shirt?
posted by Neale at 6:37 PM on April 24, 2001

The letterboxing snobs, er, supporters are absolutely correct. No dispute from me. One little problem, the letterboxed images on my 32" TV screen (25" wide) are at least twice as small as conventional images. I don't know which is worst, much smaller images or those black bars. I was surprised that HBO's Sopranos is mostly in letterbox. So HBO throws a bone to the letterbox crowd, smart move. HBO knows that wide spread letterboxing deployment would be suicidal. I am sure they and their competition have done the research.

Letterboxing is saving me money, as I intend not to buy DVD and those over priced DVD movies. They must cost about $1 to manufacture and sell for $24.99, or thereabouts, plus tax.

What really pisses me off is those TV screen logos, but that is an entirely different kettle of fish. Anybody who likes the TV logos should be shot, or worst.
posted by jimbogolfer at 8:39 PM on April 24, 2001

Actually, I was thinking of a shirt more in the style of the one fashioned on the Linux code for DVDs. But then that might not be such a good idea if you happen to go to an art house cinema wearing it . . . (4015 by the way)
posted by feelinglistless at 12:55 PM on April 25, 2001

Of course, many of us in Europe don't suffer from these weird arguments since... we buy Widescreen TVs anyway! Problem solved. A good deal of regular TV channels are in widescreen now anyway (and quite a few programs are in Surround Sound too).

The US can be a bit slow in picking up on new technologies (cellphones) and I'm not sure whether widescreen will take off there.. it seems you prefer HDTV (but since PAL is better res than NTSC anyway, that's never been a big deal here).

However, widescreen is excellent stuff, and twinned up with a decent digital TV provider, crisp as crackers.
posted by wackybrit at 6:43 PM on April 25, 2001

This is another well done spoof website which a lot of people thought was true (before it was hosted by the widescreen museum.
posted by bregdan at 7:25 PM on April 26, 2001

Hit counter at 13522
posted by riffola at 1:53 PM on February 14, 2002

posted by dash_slot- at 7:56 PM on March 24, 2002

Someone's broken the counter...
posted by feelinglistless at 10:02 AM on May 5, 2002

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