Thursday, May 11, 2006

Why DVD Rules Over VHS

Writing about the upcoming Dirty Harry re-release extravaganza reminded me of the best thing to come out of the digital video revolution: letterboxing. Or more specifically, widescreen; or even more specifically, my friend Bill.

In the early eighties, Santa Cruz was used for location shots in SUDDEN IMPACT, the fourth Dirty Harry movie. It's a nice lookin' town. As I understand it, Eastwood wanted the Sondra Locke character to always be in the frame with bodies of water. Maybe it evoked her seething emotions, or her eternal feminine, or her moist freshness. Beats me. So a lot of locals were recruited for extras. I got to spend a night in the distance of a shot, populating a boardwalk. I didn't wind up in the movie at all, but I made out with another extra afterwards.

Bill, on the other hand, DID make it into the movie. There is a scene where Harry crashes a mobsters birthday party and Bill, who was college age but looked twice that, snagged a featured extra role as a guy handing a present to a Mafia chief. He was in the far right corner of the frame, and we all applauded at the screening.

But when it came out on video, Bill was gone. He was in the edge that was chopped off when movies are reformatted to fill the screen. You think we were angry? Talk to Martin Scorsese about pan-and-scan. For years I resented this, and I also resented a gag from BUCKAROO BANZAI, in which a shot is held for a reaction by Perfect Tommy which never made it to the TV cut, so you're looking at nothing for an extra few seconds. Blue Blaze Irregulars like myself are detail-oriented; we have to be in case Buckaroo is in trouble. Seconds count!

But letterboxing (or even better, really wide TVs) puts that stuff back in. The only reason TV was square in the first place was because it mimicked the shape of movies. Movies got wide to compete better with TV, and TV took years to catch up. Now that it is, movies will probably, finally, go to an all 3D format. But that's another story.

The important thing is at last I'll be able to enjoy the sight of Bill's nubile bald head.

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