Vandalism of Art: Pan and Scan Rant Revisited

“Vandalism of art refers to intentional damage of an artwork.” (Wikipedia)

Pan and scan is a method for cropping a film (most typically at the sides). One goal was to “refit” a widescreen image to viewing on the square television set of yore. Even then, unnecessary and heinous. People will learn that the dark top and bottom borders are the true borders and you are not missing anything–unlike pan and scan where you are missing whatever someone (not the director nor even anyone associated with the film at all) deems to be less important and chooses to lop off.

Why are we still being subjected to movies that have been butchered by pan and scan? This is an atrocity and clear vandalism on the visual art of film. It hides much of the story thereby changing the story. Depending on the original format the director has chosen for his film pan and scan loses between 45 and 75 percent of the image planned by the director and cinematographer! Examples of films suffering 75% image loss: Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia.

Yes, I’m “up in arms” about this once again as last night we noticed that one of the movie channels we get was going to be showing The House of Flying Daggers, 2004, directed by Yimou Zhang, cinematographer Ziaoding Zhao. This movie was among several highlighted in Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film: An Odyssey, Episode 12 — “Fight the Power: Protest in Film, The 1980s: Moviemaking and Protest – Around the World”. We remembered really enjoying this film and were excited to see it again so tuned in. But oh foul! The dreaded “This film has been adjusted to better fit your television screen”. What? In the words of Steve Goodman “Don’t do me any favors, anymore.” We couldn’t bear to watch it, even during the opening scenes we were painfully aware of what was missing. If you are familiar with Zhang’s and Zhou’s work you’ll know what a mockery this is.

I’ve cobbled together a few examples of what kind of loss we would have seen had we chosen to watch House of Flying Daggers In spite of the pan and scan:

Ziyi Zhang posed with sword in "House of Flying Daggers"

Director’s vision

Face only view of Ziyi Zhang full pose missing, example of pan and scan loss

Possible pan and scan view, no hands!

Two swordsmen facing off in "House of Flying Daggers"Two swordsmen facing off in "House of Flying Daggers" Director’s vision[/caption]
vs. one of these:
Partial profile of two swordsmen facing off in "House of Flying Daggers", example of loss with pan and scan

Possible pan and scan view

Swordsman on left, example of pan and scan loss

Possible pan and scan view, single swordsman

Single swordsman example of pan and scan loss

Possible pan and scan view single swordsman

I encourage you to refuse to watch anything panned and scanned and take a look at this short with comments from several famous directors and vivid visual examples of image and story loss: Turner Classic Movies: Letterbox

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