Do you bemoan the fact that televisions ever moved from the old squarish 4:3 aspect ratio to the wider 16:9 HDTV standard? Do you regard my series of blog posts about Constant Image Height home theater with derision? (At least one of our readers sure does.) Do you take videos on your phone in Portrait format? If so, a new cinema art exhibit in Europe may be right up your (very narrow) alley.
For the project called “Vertical Cinema,” a group of artists have created a travelling festival for films photographed in a narrow yet tall aspect ratio, projected onto special screens installed from floor to ceiling in venues such as churches and nightclubs. It’s sort of like IMAX, but more awkward and less immersive. The viewing angle is so severe that some members of the audience need to lie on the floor to look up at the screen.
The intent behind this is to challenge the viewer’s perception of how we consume images, or some such pretentious goal. According to the creators:
“What we usually identify as the indisputable ‘temple of film’, the Cinema, is not really a given, especially not in the realm of experimental cinematic arts. Yet this is somehow sidelined in the process of re-thinking the possibilities of cinematic experience, mostly because the architectural frame is already there, if only as a convention established a long time ago within the theatrical arts. Actually, the history of experimental cinema and the art of the moving image suggests that the space might very well be the crucial aspect of the total audiovisual experience – something one should always question and take into consideration when producing a work for audiovisual, sensory cinema.”
“For the Vertical Cinema project we ‘abandoned’ traditional cinema formats, opting instead for cinematic experiments that are designed for projection in a tall, narrow space. It is not an invitation to leave cinemas – which have been radically transformed over the past decade according to the diktat of the commercial film market – but a provocation to expand the image onto a new axis. This project re-thinks the actual projection space and returns it to the filmmakers. It proposes a future for filmmaking rather than a pessimistic debate over the alleged death of film.”
Yup, sounds like artist-speak to me.
The films commissioned are mostly avant-garde shorts comprised of abstract images, so don’t go expecting Hollywood to adopt this for the next sci-fi blockbuster franchise.
This of course begs the question of why movies ever transitioned from the 1.37:1 Academy Ratio used up through the early 1950s to widescreen in the first place. Skeptics will complain that CinemaScope was designed as a gimmick to lure audiences back to theaters and away from their televisions. Of course it was. What of it? It also happens to be a more natural way for viewers to take in moving pictures. Human beings have evolved with two eyes arranged horizontally on our faces. Our field of vision is naturally wider than tall, and we typically scan our environment from side to side. Projected images that exceed our vertical field of view require us to scan up and down, which is much less comfortable.
Obviously, the artists behind Vertical Cinema aren’t interested in natural or comfortable viewing. The format is designed to be confrontational. However, other than inspiring reactions of, “Huh. That just looks wrong,” I don’t see much point in it.
As far as cinema format gimmicks go, I’d be much more interested in ScreenX.