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Technical Notes

To help you understand the Technical Stuff in the individual movie listings.


N/A means information not available to Mr. Toy.

People listed in italics live or once lived on the Monterey Peninsula.

Year indicates the year the movie was released in theaters, not the year of filming.

Film is 35mm unless otherwise noted or listed as n/a.

    -B&W means the movie was filmed in black & white.

    -Color refers to standard color movie film, usually Eastmancolor. Studio tradenames, if any, for the Eastmancolor process are listed in parenthesis (Warnercolor, DeLuxe, or Metrocolor). Older Eastmancolor negatives have been known to fade badly after as little as 10 years.

    -Technicolor is listed as a separate process because it uses three black and white negatives filmed through three primary-color filters. When it is printed, the three negatives are combined by passing light through three color filters again to create a color image in the final print. Since black and white film is virtually immune to fading, perfect Technicolor prints can, theoretically, be made indefinitely from the same negatives.  The Technicolor process was phased out in the latter half of the 1970s mainly due to its high cost.

Aspect ratio refers to the proportions of the width to the height of the picture. Prior to 1953, most movies were made with an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37 to 1, meaning that the picture was 1.37 times as wide as it was tall. This is the almost identical to the old style standard TV screen, which is 1.33:1.

In late 1953 widescreen formats came into common use. This created some problems when they were later presented on television and home video. To fit a standard TV screen they were severely cropped. Technicians would "pan and scan" the image in futile effort to include as much of the action as possible, but it often left actors completely out of a shot. Modern widescreen TVs generally provide a better fit, but have not completely solved this problem, as you will see below, so many videos are presented in "widescreen" or "letterbox" format to preserve the original cinematic composition. These videos are uncropped or sometimes minimally cropped, but do not fill your screen vertically.

Here is an explanation of the most common formats and how they may be adapted  for TV viewing:

    1.33:1 / 1.37:1 - This was the standard up through 1953. The ratio is often expressed in whole numbers as 4:3, but it is the exact same thing (4 divided by 3 equals 1.33). Silent films were filmed at 1.33:1. It was changed to 1.37:1 when sound was introduced and the format needed to be modified slightly to accommodate the soundtrack. This ratio is the same as an old-style standard TV screen.  When viewed on a modern widescreen TV you should see black bars on each side of the screen.  If you don't see the bars the image may have been distorted by stretching it to fill the screen.  This makes actors look fat and turns circles into ovals.  There is a button on your TV remote which can be used to adjust the image to the correct proportions. Depending on the manufacturer this button may be labeled as aspect, ratio, size, or something similar.

    1.66:1 - This was a common format for foreign films. It was also used in the US in the 1950s under trade names such as VistaVision, which could be cropped vertically and shown in theaters at 1:85:1 (preferred) or go as wide as 2:1. Films in this format can usually be safely cropped horizontally and shown at 1.33:1.

    1.78:1 (aka 16:9) - This is the format for modern widescreen TVs.

    1.85:1 - This has been the "flat" (non-anamorphic) standard since the mid 1950s. It is so close to the modern widescreen TV ratio that any cropping to fit is negligible. However, about 25% of the image is cropped out for viewing on an old-style TV.

    2.2:1 - The common format for 70mm films. The most familiar trade names for this format are Todd-AO and Super Panavision. You lose about 19% of the image when cropped to fill a modern widescreen TV.  Letterbox format preserves the full image.

    2.35:1 - Introduced in late 1953, this format is known by various trade names such as Cinemascope and Panavision. Some early Cinemascope films were shot at 2.55:1, and many in recent years at 2.4:1. It's the most common format for major blockbusters, and most of the big musicals of the '50s and '60s. The format is often referred to simply as "scope" by folks in the movie industry. It is an "anamorphic" format, so called because the image is actually compressed into a standard 1.33:1 film frame. If you look at the film itself the picture  looks like it has been squished from the sides. A special anamorphic lens is used on the projector to stretch the image to its full width. About 25%  of the image is lost if it is cropped to fill a widescreen TV, while letterbox format preserves the full image.

Sound is also rather complicated. A variety of formats have evolved over the years, but the capabilities of individual theatres and home video systems varies greatly.

So-called "silent" films were never really silent. They were intended to be accompanied by live music. In the largest big city theaters this might involve a full orchestra. Small town theaters usually had only a piano, occasionally with a violin player alongside. However, most theaters of the silent era were equipped with a theater organ, which enabled a single musician to have a full range of instruments, including percussion and sound effects, at his fingertips. The better quality videos of silent films feature an organ or orchestral soundtrack composed specially for the film and recorded in stereo. Cheap videos typically insert generic music that is not synchronized with the action.

Experiments in sound actually began as early as 1896 when a presentation was made in Berlin using phonographic discs synchronized with the film. Over the next 30 years years a number of short films and newsreels were made with sound, but none had widespread exhibition. Sound finally become commercially successful in 1927 when Warner Bros. introduced a sound on disc system called Vitaphone for the first "talkies." The following year Fox studios offered the first "sound on film" process which they called Movietone. Soon after, Warners abandoned the disc format in favor of sound on film. By the middle of 1930 silent films had been phased out.

Stereo sound first came along in 1935 when the silent film Napoleon (1927) was reissued with a new soundtrack for a special engagement in Paris. Films with stereo sound were produced in the U.S. beginning in 1940. "Stereo" in a film listing refers to basic two-channel stereo.

Disney Studios developed the first "surround" stereo in 1941 for Fantasia, but Fantasound, as the system was called, was installed in only a handful of theaters. In the early 1970s Dolby Laboratories developed an economical method of encoding four channels of stereo information onto a standard two-channel stereo soundtrack. Theaters equipped with special decoders could present Dolby Stereo offering right, left, center and surround channels with relative ease. A later version, Dolby SR offered greater sound clarity, less noise, and a wider frequency range. Many theaters now offer digital sound with as many as six channels.

Many "home theater" sound systems are now available at modest cost which duplicate these formats in your living room. The first such systems were known  as Dolby Pro-Logic, which is essentially the same as the original four-channel Dolby Stereo, modified slightly to accommodate the limitations of a home system. Dolby Stereo is encoded on most Hi-Fi stereo video tapes. Dolby Stereo or Dolby Digital is encoded on most DVD and Blu-ray discs for use with the appropriate home systems.