I am probably the only LRFS member who, in the summer of 1980, saw Mission Galactica – the Cylon Attack in the cinema. Well, it would appear that the BBC is continuing to buy in series in this troubled summer and so the recent TV series, the update of Battlestar Galactica, previously on Sky 1, makes its Freeview debut on BBC 2. I think I’ll give it a whirl! Our regular listings are below (and include two films that the cinematographer Jack Hildyard, a founding member of the BSC, worked on), but can I suggest that, this week, you read the random memories notes first . . . .
HAIL, CAESAR! (2016) Saturday 5 September 4.35-6.40pm Film Four
A typically clever, and entertaining, work from the Coen brothers has Josh Brolin as the studio fixer in 1950s Hollywood and George Clooney as the star of a historical epic.
Z FOR ZACHARIAH (2015) Saturday 5 September 11.00pm-12.30am BBC 1
The source novel was a set text in local schools some years ago: Margot Robbie has survived the apocalypse in a remote valley, but the dynamics change when two strangers arrive . . . .
GINGER & ROSA (2012) Sunday 6 September 12.45-2.10am BBC 1
Writer/director Sally Potter always offers intriguing fare; set in the early 1960s, this is the story of two teenage friends growing to maturity under the threat of nuclear war.
THE MARCH HARE (1956) Sunday 6 September 11.15am-1.25pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
This is a rare, but inconsequential, light drama about horse racing; however, it has a top-notch use of colour and CinemaScope by Jack Hildyard (see next entry, and random notes).
THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957) Sunday 6 September 9.00pm-12.20am TP (Ch 81)
This classic, another multi-award winner from Columbia Pictures, needs little introduction. I include it because Jack Hildyard won an Oscar for his work. This, too, should be showing in CinemaScope!
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946) Monday 7 September 2.30-4.15pm BBC 2
We showed this as a Christmas film a few years ago and it held up beautifully. It has lovely cinematography and performances from David Niven and Kim Hunter, and was the first Royal Film Performance.
JALLIKATTU (2019) Monday 7 September 11.35pm-1.25am Film Four
This is a Freeview première for an Indian drama in which an escaped buffalo triggers a bizarre set of events.
THE SHOOTING (1967) Tuesday 8 September 2.15-4.00pm Channel 31
This existential Western from cult director Monte Hellman isn’t, as some critics have declared it, one of the best, but is always a fascinating exercise. Jack Nicholson and Will (Sugarfoot) Hutchins star.
POOR COW (1967) Tuesday 8 September 10.00-12 midnight Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
In the same year, Ken Loach made his feature debut. Carol White is the teenager without much of a future; Queenie Watts is surprisingly effective as the aunt who is also a prostitute.
THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961) Wednesday 9 September 12 noon-2.00pm TP (Ch 81)
Good British sci-fi films were a little thin on the ground in the 1950s and 60s; this was an honourable exception. Edward Judd and Leo McKern are the journalists reporting on what might be the end of mankind. A simple yellow filter can be very effective! The BFI’s DVD has good extras, by the way.
THE CRUEL SEA (1953) Wednesday 9 September 2.30-4.30pm BBC 2
This classic war film about the Atlantic convoys, remains a favourite of many and the role of ship’s captain was the one with which Jack Hawkins was most associated, thereafter.
CARRY ON SERGEANT (1958) Wednesday 9 September 4.50-6.35pm Film Four
If you are now firmly in nostalgic mood, why not revisit the comedy that kickstarted the Carry Ons? Not all the regulars are present and correct, but it’s fascinating to see the comic style developing.
THE CAINE MUTINY (1954) Thursday 10 September 2.30-4.30pm BBC 2
Mutiny is a superb courtroom drama. A ship’s skipper unravels during the trial of two officers; the performance and character (Bogart as Captain Queeg) have since entered the lexicon of popular culture. A re-imagining, set in the White House, might be even more striking!
THE SMALLEST SHOW ON EARTH (1957) Thursday 10 September 7.15-9.00pm TP (Channel 81)
What a wonderful treat for lovers of single-screen cinemas! Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers are the new owners of the Biijou, whose staff include Peter Sellers and Margaret Rutherford.
GOLDSTONE (2016) Thursday 10 September 10.00-11.45pm BBC 4
Australia produces some great films and television; Aboriginal detective Jay Swan sits comfortably in both mediums. Here he’s looking for a missing Chinese woman – and it’s very good.
IN WHICH WE SERVE (1942) Friday 11 September 2.30-4.20pm BBC 2
When I first saw this classic, some years ago now, I knew of its reputation but was still stunned by its brilliance. Without a doubt, it is one of the best, and most moving, films Britain has produced.
THE VIOLENT MEN (1955) Friday 11 September 2.40-4.30pm Film Four
Rudolph Maté was a fine cinematographer who switched to directing and did good (but not outstanding) work across several genres. This was his best Western and benefits from an excellent cast (Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson and Brian Keith) who give it their all. And it makes excellent use of CinemaScope!! Here’s hoping . . . .
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
When we list the films for each week, we are unable to say, with certainty, if the film being shown is in the correct aspect ratio. Some printed guides, and internet sites, will tell you how it was made; unfortunately, it doesn’t always follow that this will be respected for its TV transmission. I was reminded of this – again – just the other day, when I checked out the opening credits for Hour of the Gun (1967). It was filmed in Panavision, but shown in the academy (pillarbox) ratio with black bars to the side. This means, of course, that the picture as filmed is cropped; it might also mean that the actors look a little ‘odd’. Sometimes the reverse also happens. The TV channel shows an old film and stretches the picture to fit the shape of a modern TV. This might mean that the actors in the foreground look a little too large, or that the horse looks like it has wandered in from Doctor Dolittle!
Before the release of The Robe in 1952, almost all films, from 1906 onwards, were made and projected in the academy ratio that is, 4: 3/1.33: 1 or, in the case of sound films, 1.37: 1. (After talkies came in, extra space was needed for the soundtrack although an academy mask was sometimes used on the camera aperture, to recreate 1.33: 1.) Later, as this happened to be the shape of the old-style TV sets, these films transferred easily for broadcast. And, in the present, most DVDs present pre-1952 films at 1.33: 1.
However, the situation changed dramatically with The Robe, the first film in CinemaScope, because the ratio, in this instance, was 2.55: 1. (There had been earlier experimentation with widescreen processes. In 1930 The Big Trail was filmed in 70mm Grandeur and Billy the Kid in 70mm Realife; both had a ratio of 2: 1.) Crowds flocked to see this new marvel and, henceforth, widescreen was used to entice people away from small, square TV sets (and 3D, in the cinema). A ratio of 2.35:1 became the standard widescreen format for CinemaScope and the other systems that appeared in the US and elsewhere: WarnerScope, RKO-Scope, Hammerscope (England), Tohoscope (Japan), SuperTotalscope (Italy) and so on. Some later ones were even bigger (or wider): MGM Camera 65 was 2.75:1 and this is how the 1959 Ben-Hur should be seen.
This brings us back nicely to films in the cinema, and on television, in 2020. Just about all films are widescreen (unless the director wants the academy effect, as with The Artist, Ida or Cold War) and the standard ratio now is 1.85:1; this fits nicely the modern TV screen of 16 x 9. Anything larger, whether an old film or new should have bands top and bottom (the DVD for the Bond film Spectre clearly says 16: 9 letterbox as it is 2.40: 1). And it can matter. The Alamo (1960) was filmed in Todd-AO; ITV 4 normally shows it to fit the modern screen and the difference between that (especially if the print is a little washed out) and a DVD with better colour is quite marked. When Talking Pictures has shown The Last Valley (1970), it has been in 4: 3 and it looks awful (Todd-AO is2.2: 1) – a great shame, as it remains one of Michael Caine’s best pieces of work.
To conclude – most new films should be fine; old films and TV shows (such as The Avengers) should have black bands to the side; those with larger ratios than 1.85: 1 should have bands to the top and bottom. I will try and do some spot checks to see if this holds up! I must add, too, that my TV is quite a basic model (although I can adjust the aspect ratio for DVDs if I need to). If yours is a more expensive model with cinema mode etc, I am blissfully unaware of what it can do!
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