Mediacinema Blog

William Fox's early foray into widescreen cinema

This short feature from the blu-ray release of Raul Walsh's The Big Trail (1930) illustrates the "Fox Grandeur" system developed by William Fox in the late 1920s. Very few films were shot with this process, including Frank Borzage's Song o' My Heart (of which no Grandeur prints have survived) and Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail, featuring a young John Wayne in his first starring role. Grandeur films, shorts, and newsreels were released for a brief period (1929-1931) in a very few selected theaters, as it required the installation of new 70mm projectors and wider screens. Since production costs and technical challenges seemed to offer nothing more than extra expenses (at a time when exhibitors were still trying to recoup the costs of retrofitting their theaters for sound) the system didn’t gain foothold and was definitively abandoned when the Great Depression wiped out Fox’s financial holdings and he lost control of his business. The new company that was formed in 1935, from the merging of 20th Century and Fox, will approach the widescreen format again 20 years later.



Los Angeles film fetishists (those who enjoy cinema primarily as a spectacle, rather than for its narrative properties) will be thrilled to know that the Arclight theater in Hollywood has put together a retrospective to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Cinerama.
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Unfortunately none of the few films originally shot with this innovative system stands out for aesthetic or narrative qualities. However, I encourage those of you who have never seen a Cinerama film to take advantage of this rare opportunity and flock to the intersection of Sunset and Vine (that’s where the line is probably going to start) to view at least one of these oddities. My recommendation comes with a warning. As Samuel Goldwin once said: “A wide screen just makes a bad film twice as bad.” Since the Cinerama system triplicates the aspect ratio of the frame, you do the math…

Click here for an informative article including hi-res publicity material about This is Cinerama.
Click here for an extensive online archive dedicated to 70mm films.

Note that 2001: A Space Odyssey was not photographed in 3-film-strip Cinerama but in Super Panavision 70 and then “rectified” to simulate the Cinerama format. Click here for more information.


Reframing in the digital era

Kristin Thompson discusses David Fincher’s obsession with stable images and smooth camera movements, as explained in the Blu-Ray extras of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (from Observations on Film Art @

The “Post-Production” section [of the DVD/BD extras] is very informative and interesting. “In the Cutting Room” is fairly technical but makes some fascinating points. I particularly liked the description of how Fincher eliminates reframings and unsteady shots by using the extra image space allowed by newer capture media. (Earlier digital film frames allowed no extra image area outside what would show up on the screen; as the image below indicates, the final frame can be selected from a larger picture.) This desire for a stable image in an era where the “queasi-cam” so often rules points to one distinctive trait in Fincher’s style. It indicates a willingness to actually think through the framing of each individual shot and the purpose for choosing that framing. Steven Spielberg does the same thing. Many don’t.


Editor Angus Wall talks about this advantage of the extra size of the image and how Fincher uses it to stabilize unsteady images. It’s worth quoting at length, and it demonstrates the thoughtful commentary in this particular supplement:

I’ve never seen a movie that was sort of “re-operated” to the extent that this one was. Which I think has an effect on the viewing of the movie. David is really type-A in terms of making the shots very specific. They start in a certain way, they end in a certain way. And the framing, he’s very precise in terms of his composition. He doesn’t like a lot of what you see in 99% of movies, which is very subtle moves where the operator will actually reframe according to how the actor’s moving. David doesn’t like that. Even if there were a lot of those in this film, and before, some of those takes we would have thrown out, because we just wouldn’t have been able to stabilize them to the degree that he likes it. With this, because you have this full raster, this big area around the image, you can take those images and stabilize them, really lock them down. So the movie is really locked down in terms of camera operating. More than any other movie that I can think of.

The smooth glide as the car initially approaches the country house is one example of that utter stability, used to ominous effect in that particular scene.

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