Peeve: Wide-screen Movies Broadcast as 4:3

I decided to start a new category of postings I am calling “Peeve” where I get to post some of my peeves and gripes about stuff and things that get under my skin; things that are just not right.

My first one is when television stations broadcast something that should obviously be transmitted in “wide-screen” format in the old—almost dead and buried—4:3 screen format.

Back in the days when we all had 4:3 format ‘square’ screen televisions it was okay that everything was re-filmed and re-formatted so it fit perfectly onto our 4:3 TV screens. But now that the majority of people have 16:9 (or 1.77 aspect ratio) screens it is seriously annoying when a movie that would obviously not have been filmed in the 4:3 ‘square’ format is transmitted in 4:3 format.

After 1953 almost all movies made were wide-screen. They had aspect ratios of either 1.85 (known as Academy Flat) or 2.35 (known as Panavision or Cinemascope). However televisions retained their almost square aspect ratio of 1.33 (4:3) for another 50 years until about 2003 when 16:9 televisions started to really take off.

So in order to show wide-screen movies on square-screened TVs they were re-filmed to 4:3 so that they looked more ‘normal’ on our 4:3 televisions—because then they filled the screen. And in those days it did not matter so much that when we watched “Fistful of Dollars” it had been re-filmed to fit perfectly on our crappy 4:3 format TV screens, even though, obviously, “Fistful of Dollars” was not filmed in 4:3 format.


Above—Fistful of Dollars as filmed.


Above—Fistful of Dollars as seen on TV.

What started me out on this peeve was that the movie West Side Story was on TV today and I thought I might watch it again, not having seen it since it first came out and was shown at the drive-in at my home town.

Now West Side Story was made in 1961 and you can be VERY sure it was not filmed in 4:3 format. But following is a (really bad) photograph of West Side Story on my 16:9 42” Sony Bravia LCD Wide-screen TV.


As you can see it is the 4:3 re-filmed version with black pillars down the sides!! You have got to be kidding me!!

Checking IMDB on the Web I see that West Side Story was filmed in 2.20 aspect ratio. Meaning the width of the frame was 2.2 times the height. And it was filmed on 70mm film. Yet in 2010 they are broadcasting the 4:3 version of it. If this had of been at 2:00 a.m. in the morning then maybe, just maybe, they could have got away with it. But at midday—no way this is okay.

The following two captures from the actual 2.20 aspect ratio movie will give you some idea of how much has been removed from the sides of the 4:3 re-filmed version.



That last capture is from the closing scenes after Tony has been shot.

Needless to say I did not watch more than about 10 minutes of the transmission. I just could not get out of my head how much of the movie that the director intended to be seen by the audience could not be seen; that was chopped-off in the 4:3 re-filming.