Film aspect ratios are usually discussed by audiovisual enthusiasts (hey, that’s us!) eager to wax lyrical about the look and texture of a particular format. But film formats aren’t just of interest to A/V geeks—they’re relevant to history buffs and film historians, too. In this new 12-minute video essay for his YouTube channel The Royal Ocean Film Society, Andrew Saladino digs into the history of 70mm film and explores how and why the format was developed in the first place. In doing so, he makes a case for the value of 70mm beyond just its aesthetics. That means that even those who aren’t usually into discussions of aspect ratios will still find plenty of fascinating insights into the history of Hollywood in this video.
Saladino begins his story at the tail end of the 1940s, when two major events shook up Hollywood forever. Firstly, the landmark United States v. Paramount Pictures Inc. Supreme Court case broke up the monopoly that film studios had on film distribution and ended the common practice wherein movie studios also owned the theaters that showed their films. Secondly, the rise of television gave the film industry a direct competitor like it had never had before. Both of those events forced the film industry to innovate, which led to the development of new forms of theatrical presentation designed to make going to the movies more special. With that broad historical context established, Saladino’s video then digs into the history of a bunch of different aspect ratio innovations, from the quirky three-strip Cinerama format to the development of anamorphic lens to Mike Todd’s Todd-AO 70mm film format.
Nowadays, the 70mm format is being kept alive by directors like Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Kenneth Branagh, and Saladino makes a strong case for why that’s a great thing. For those who want to hear even more about film formats, this video is actually part of an ongoing series. The Royal Ocean Film Society has previously praised the Super8 and 16mm formats too.
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