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Which image above looks best?  (Before you assume that widescreen is always best, take a look at some picture sets further down this page!)

Widescreen versus Pan-and-Scan: The Choice and the Differences Are Not Clear Cut

Many so-called “pan and scan” versions actually have more picture

This page offers pictorial documentation to support a point made in the court decision of Maljack Productions, Inc., and Batjac Productions, Inc., v. UAV Corp.  The decision is summarized on this web site at https://chart.copyrightdata.com/c10B.html#s014.  The court ruled that so-called “pan and scan” (cropped) versions of widescreen movies are eligible for copyright protection as separate, derivative works.

Offering freeze-frame comparisons of the widescreen and non-widescreen versions of three movies originally shown in theaters in widescreen, this web page makes two points clear:
   (1) The creators of the non-widescreen editions do make creative choices when selecting which portions of a widescreen image will be retained for a “pan and scan” edition.  This is apparent from the fact that when two different re-photographers prepare an edition, the results of each operation are different.  (See the evidence further down this page, where side-by-side comparisons are made of two different non-widescreen versions of McLintock!.)
   (2) Many films that are shown in theaters in widescreen are in fact photographed in the old 1.33:1 standard used in theaters before widescreen and also used for American television before the digital transition.  Still other films are photographed in a compromise ratio that results in minor trimming from the tops and bottoms of the image when the films are shown in theaters.  In both of these cases, the consequence is that people who watch the film on a pre-digital television screen actually see some picture area not seen by people who saw the films in a theater.  (Here, too, this web page provides pictorial evidence of the dropped picture areas.)

McLintock! (1963)

The first part of this page demonstrates how the movie McLintock! (1963) has been reformatted so that it can be shown on 4:3 pre-digital-standard television screens without black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.  There have been at least two cropped versions prepared of the movie, which was originally filmed and released in wide-screen.  In each group of three photos, the top image is a frame from the wide-screen edition.  Below this are two images from the same moment in the film as copied from two different reformatted versions.  The image to the lower-left of the wide-screen illustration is always from the same cropped version as all the other images placed here to the lower-left of the wide-screen edition.  Likewise, the images at the lower-right are all from the same cropped version as each other.  Discerning observers will notice that each cropped version practices ongoing policies as to selection criteria for inclusion and exclusion of portions of the original wide-screen image.
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The two cowpokes on the right make statements of interest to the rancher at left (John Wayne).  In the cropped version at right, the viewer isn’t as clued in that John Wayne is listening, nor that he takes a keen interest.  Those watching the cropped version at left had seen the younger cowpoke earlier in the conversation.

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The widescreen version shows John Wayne and Chill Wills coming up to the door of the store (background of image) while the shopkeeper keeps up a conversation with two women customers already in the store.  In the cropped version at right, when the shopkeeper says “Excuse me” to the two women, the viewer doesn’t yet know it’s because he sees the two men about to enter.

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The young shop-clerk talks to John Wayne about hats while the shopkeeper interjects at times.  In the cropped version at right, the viewer has to react on the basis of his having seen the shopkeeper earlier in the visit.  In the cropped version at left, the new framing awkwardly cuts out part of both John Wayne and the shopkeeper.

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The young shop clerk addresses some self-pitying remarks to John Wayne, but the viewer of the cropped version at right doesn’t see Wayne’s reaction, nor that he is preoccupied in reading a letter he hadn’t expected to receive.

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The trio of images immediately above and the three images immediately below are all from the same shot of the movie.  John Wayne is having a bitter conversation with his estranged wife (Maureen O’Hara).  In the first trio, Maureen O’Hara delivers a caustic remark about Wayne as a husband.  After further exchange, John Wayne responds with a plea that she accept his positive feelings about their daughter.  (Wayne’s remark is captured in the second represented by the second trio.)  The cropped version at right maintains framing on Maureen O’Hara, even as she is only listening.  The cropped version at left cuts back and forth from speaker to speaker.  This creates dueling shots of shorter duration, where in the widescreen version there was no cutting away while this part of the conversation is ongoing. The editor of the cropped version at left always shows the person speaking, even though at times this meant showing the side of John Wayne’s face and the back of his head, with no person’s full face visible.
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Maureen O’Hara is introduced to her husband’s new hired hand (played by Patrick Wayne, the real-life son of his acting co-hort).

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Chill Wills welcomes back into the house Maureen O’Hara.   As with the shot immediately above, each of the cropped versions reflects a different decision as to whether to show just two or all three characters.

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Maureen O’Hara reacts conceitedly to husband John Wayne’s statement that she is overly concerned with “social prominence.”  Only one of these two cropped versions retains the look on Chill Will’s face that communicates to the audience the extent of the shock he could tell that the remark made on O’Hara.

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O’Hara meets the newly-hired cook (Yvonne DeCarlo), whom O’Hara castigates with remarks indicating that she sees the cook as a wily husband-stealer.  The cropped version at right doesn’t preserve John Wayne dismissive expression about these accusations.

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Maureen O’Hara verbally browbeats the saloon girl (Mari Blanchard) who merely observed the chess game that O’Hara’s husband was playing.

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After O’Hara faints, the shopkeeper gently awakens her.   As with many shots where the vital characters couldn’t fit into the cropped frame, one version kept centered the most important character (here it’s O’Hara), whereas the other version pushed that character to the side so that another character could be substantially included.

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Wayne’s and O’Hara’s daughter (Stephanie Powers) returns from college.  After accepting the cheerful welcomes of her parents and several old-time friends, she is happy to meet up with Chill Wills.  Viewers of the cropped version at left heard Wills’s voice but did not see him.

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Stephanie Powers listens as her father expresses his love for her through a succession of statements about the choice of a proper husband, the limitations of inheritance she can expect of him, and his undying love and concern for her.  Although she says nothing, her solemn face reports that his words are accepted as his tribute to her.  Viewers of the cropped version at right might have assumed she fled, if not physically then perhaps emotionally.  These viewers merely heard Wayne (seemingly) drone while seeing no movement but stirrings of his cheeks which went into motion in pace with his speaking.

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Patrick Wayne gets up from the table to look upon the distracting people elsewhere in the home.  In the cropped version at left, the editor put the focus on the casual actions of John Wayne, which won’t have any further importance to the development of this scene.

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How many people to keep in the shot?  Should the person who is most active be framed nearer the center?  Jerry Van Dyke sees an opportunity to play banjo for the residents in the home he is visiting, even if Maureen O’Hara finds the hour too late to embark on a new activity.

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Jerry Van Dyke says he didn’t mean offense to John Wayne.

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Jerry Van Dyke’s horse has bolted (Van Dyke’s left hand holds the reins which are all he has been left with).  Stephanie Powers suggests to her father that her family’s horse-drawn carriage be used to transport Van Dyke to his destination, with Stephanie accompanying him.  Van Dyke is being discussed, so it was appropriate that he was left in the cropped version at left.  The editor of the cropped version at right enlarged a small portion of the original image, cutting out more people than the reduced frame size demanded.  Notice that Stephanie has been cut off above the waist whereas in the original she was framed at her knees.

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Stephanie Powers unconvincingly insists that Patrick Wayne “impugned my honor.”  While wording her statements to her father, she looks at the man she says is unmannered.  Whom she is looking at is not obvious in the cropped version at right.

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What does a young lady deserve once she has been exposed as a liar whose manipulations could have had drastic consequences on the young man she maligned?  Why, spankings, of course!  Patrick Wayne administers justice.   The editor of the cropped version at right did the young lady its own injustice.   By reframing the image to eliminate her head, this version turns the young lady into an object.  The punishment accorded her was not intended to rob her of her humanity.  The cropped version at left respects her in this regard.

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Yvonne DeCarlo is confounded that John Wayne asks that they both drink a toast to the governor.  She doesn’t want to be so discourteous as to refuse, yet she sees that Wayne is drank so many toasts in the preceding hours that he has become capricious about the honorees of his imbibing.  In the cropped version at right, the editor enlarged the image of DeCarlo rather than attempting to get in a mere piece of Wayne or accepting an abundance of background.

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After hesitantly drinking with Wayne, Yvonne tries to tell him unexpected news.  One cropped version shows the person talking (although the audience sees just the back of her head), while the other chose to show the person listening (although he hardly moves).

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Maureen O’Hara is momentarily silent before summoning within herself the strength and words to ask the governor (Robert Lowery) a question in response to his unsettling remark.  (His words to her were in the previous shot, where the audience saw his face as he spoke.)

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Patrick Wayne tells John Wayne that he will be marrying the elder man’s daughter—“with your permission.”  Only one of the cropped versions shows the to-be bride’s ecstatic gleam.

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John Wayne barges into the hotel room where his wife has taken refuge.  The cropped version at left attempts to represent both people in the room by showing part of the mirror, but the result is that at one point there is no person in the frame.  (The door is closed as the shot begins, and remains so until John Wayne kicks away this barrier.)

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The shopkeeper is thrilled that John Wayne is paddling the errant wife.  (The blur of Wayne’s hand is visible in the widescreen image.)   No, this is not a different point-of-view of the spanking scene reproduced here earlier—This film has two scenes of a woman’s bottom getting swatted by the man in her life.  The shopkeeper’s exclaiming “My father would be proud” is a brief interjection in the fabric of an incident where the principal event is the spanking.   In both cropped versions, this focus is lost momentarily, although the sounds and context continue to indicate that this retaliation is ongoing.

Elsewhere in one of the cropped versions, there are a small number of shots in which the re-editor scanned the image as the shot progressed.  In these instances, the viewer sees an artificial pan shot of the setting.  (Artificial is the best term in that all objects in the scene appear two-dimensional, not showing any new side detail as the objects move from left to right (or vice-versa) in the shot.)  It is from such new cinematographic manifestations that the term “pan and scan” is applied to reformatted versions of widescreen movies.

However, in most cases (as with the shots selected above), re-editors maintain the same reframing from the beginning of a shot to its end.  For this reason, the term “cropped version” is more accurate than “pan and scan.”

To illustrate “pan and scan” on this web page, two shots from McLintock! are reproduced below, each shot in both the widescreen version and a “pan and scan” version.  The default settings for these flash videos are for them not to play, so click on the four stills below to activate the video.  (There is no sound on these clips.)

Note: to control the videos so that the two versions of one shot play in synchronization, you can click on an image to pause and click again to resume.


House on Haunted Hill (1958)

Although released in widescreen, House on Haunted Hill was filmed in the older 1.33:1 aspect ratio and was cropped for its primary theatrical engagements.  Those who saw the film on television saw more of the image area than had those who exerted the effort to see it earlier with larger audiences in darkened auditoriums.

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The cut-off point for the image on the widescreen version seems awkward.   It doesn’t frame the subject at a point which seem natural as a dividing line.

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The wife’s champagne glass is hardly visible in the widescreen image, and attention is not drawn to it by the woman’s hand.  Vincent Price’s hairline is not as well-framed as it is in the 1.33:1 image.

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The widescreen image doesn’t reveal the wife as wearing anything other than the fabric which covers her shoulders.  Viewers of the 1.33:1 image see that she has on a low-cut gown.

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This shot of a group of five people cuts off each of the middle three at odd places.  With the three forced to the bottom of the screen, a sense is left of the wasted space at the top.  In the 1.33:1 image, the faces (particularly that of the seated woman) appear in the center horizontal strip, which makes the composition more pleasing to the eye.

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This group shot trims the widescreen frameline too close to where the action is.  The heads are equally well-positioned in both versions.

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Don’t the two people seem better fitted into the frame in the more-square-shaped image?

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A little first aid is administered to Richard Long.  He seems a foreground detail in the widescreen image, where the lines and curves of the other subjects don’t point attention in his direction.

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Carolyn Craig’s waist helps to frame the 1.33:1 image.

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In the 1.33:1 image, the line from the wife’s arm to her hairbrush helps to bring attention to that part of the frame when her husband’s hand reaches to the back of her neck.  In the widescreen image, the fact of Vincent Price’s arm being so low in the image (his arm practically straddles the bottom frameline) makes his motion almost blend into the frameline.  Viewers are caught offguard when the wife’s head is pulled back because there previously wasn’t sufficient attention drawn to her neck.  (The many viewers whose line-of-sight was partially blocked by the backs of the heads of the people in front of them likely missed even more of the limited foreshadowing which remained in the widescreen presentation.)

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Carolyn Craig is horrified by a severed head.  The widescreen image is centered on her nose rather than her twisted mouth.

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When Carolyn Craig is caught captive from behind, the assailant’s hands are not as fully shown in the widescreen version.

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Richard Long comforts the young woman by holding her delicate arms.   Viewers of the widescreen version would see only Vincent Price as impressing his cold-emotion hands on the misfortunate-prone lass.  Those who watch the 1.33:1 version better understand that she is experiencing conflicting messages through her sense of touch.

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The 1.33:1 image is better framed by means of the diagonals formed by the bend in the woman’s arm, which thereby draw attention (in turn) to her neck, mouth and worried eyes.

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Viewers of the widescreen image don’t see Richard Long’s cigarette but do see the clouds of smoke rising from his wrist.

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The group is awkwardly huddled in the lower right and full left side of the widescreen image.  In the 1.33:1 image, the carpet area beneath the legs helps give the characters the dignity of being fully in frame and of sufficient importance that they are not made to sink into void.

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Drippings from a ceiling alarm the wife.  The 1.33:1 image lets her hand be fully-enough shown that the viewer can more instantaneously identify them as such.

The Pajama Game (1957)

The Pajama Game was shot in a process which was a compromise between widescreen (typically 1.85:1) and old-standard (generally 1.33:1).  The widescreen prints cut off picture area at the top and bottom of the frame, and the old-standard-aspect-ratio prints excluded picture information from the left and right sides.   Paramount shot most of its widescreen releases of the 1950s in this way, calling the process VistaVision.  This Warner Bros. release followed that lead.

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John Raitt arrives at the clothing factory where he seeks work.  In the old-standard-size version, viewers see him straightening his tie.  Those attending theaters saw his collar in motion but did not see his hands manuever there.

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The widescreen version presents a beautifully-composed image of the entry-way to the factor.  The old-standard-aspect version has too much empty space.

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Again, the widescreen image is exquisitely composed.  The side objects in the old-standard-aspect image do not lead the viewer’s eyes to the important subjects (the people at center).  The woman’s tush at left is awkwardly sliced off the side of the old-standard-aspect version.

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The widescreen image has an arresting design for making the title stand out, even as it allows its far right side to contain a “bonus” area to display some of what will figure into the forthcoming story.  The old-standard-aspect version has equal amounts of space around the title on the top, left and bottom sides, yet the title seems to have been placed into the frame as an afterthought.

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Accountant Carol Haney meets the new supervisor.  Both versions have extraneous space, yet the old-standard-aspect version seems better suited for grouping three people in somewhat-close proximity.

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The widescreen image is nicely designed to place the people’s heads in a half-arc pattern.  The old-standard-aspect image annoying cuts off some of the woman on the right, leaving apparent that there is exclusion of picture information.   Notice that in the widescreen image, the diagonal of that woman’s arm leads directly to the bottom-right corner of the screen.

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The old-standard-aspect image better isolates the two workers, and also benefits by not forcing the viewer to notice that the top box is cut off when it travels up through the top of the screen.  Nonetheless, the old-standard-aspect version has too much empty space above the “Shipping Dept” sign whereas the widescreen image is nicely composed to have the same amount of space above that sign as there is separating the bottom of the sign from the higher worker’s cap.  The widescreen image has an excess of space to the left of the cap-wearing worker, yet the fact that the poster on the wall is shown in full somewhat compensates for this, its high placement on the wall forcing the eye to look diagonally down-right past the door panes and toward the workers.

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The widescreen image has empty space at right, yet the old-standard-aspect version has an abundance at the top.

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The old-standard-aspect image allows us to see enough of John Raitt’s legs that we can see that he is crouching.  The two men are nicely centered in the image, with the view-lines falling from his back leading the eye to a lower-left corner that has equal amounts of empty space on both the left and bottom sides.  By contrast, the widescreen image is jumble of disparately-shaped extraneous spaces.

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Doris Day fields a question about a disgruntled worker’s presumed injury, reporting that it more accurately could be called a bruise.  The widescreen image positions the people (factory workers on break) in a triangle fit into the stair-rail at right, which descends into the right edge of the screen leaving no doubt that it continues to where it will join the trajectory of the bottom frameline.  No one seems excluded at the bottom left.  By contrast, the old-standard-aspect image eliminates a piece of the triangle corner that the eye unconsciously seeks.  The fact that no one is actually cut out is not apparent.

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Doris Day can cut “to size” the new man, this singer reports.   The ensemble numbers of this film are nicely composed in the widescreen version.   By contrast, the old-standard-aspect version has a haphazard arrangement.

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Two people thrown together by chance.  Doris Day literally bumps into John Raitt when she has lost her balance.  The widescreen image emphasizes distance between them, trimming them at random spots on their torsos, leaving too much space at the left side.  The old-standard-aspect image gives each of the two people equal importance insofar as how much private space each enjoys.  (This equality reflects their importance in the story.)  The old-standard-aspect image also has a more pleasing cut-off point at bottom.

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Reta Shaw empties her purse to buy a ticket for the picnic.  The old-standard-aspect image has a nice, arc-like composition, with small and even amounts of empty space distributed around the edges of image.  By contrast, the widescreen version almost demands to be shorn of much of its left side and of the envelope on the right.

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Carol Haney argues with her sometime-boyfriend, a foreman at the factory.   The old-standard-aspect image accomodates the three people without incorporating extraneous area.  The widescreen image isn’t so fortunate.

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When two people are on screen, a old-standard-screen image shows why painters of canvases throughout the centuries have preferred the “golden rectangle” which is only a little wider than it is tall.  The widescreen image awkwardly trims the seated man’s legs at the bottom while adding mere distraction at the sides.

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Once again, Reta Shaw counsels Eddie Foy Jr.  She is suggesting he “Picture This” as she lays out a potential romantic complication in their song I’ll Never Be Jealous Again.  The old-standard-aspect image manages even amounts of space on the left, top and right sides, and arranges for Eddie’s left arm to create a line-of-sight leading directly from the lower right corner.  The widescreen image has empty space in the right-most 10% of the frame, and its left-most third is empty too.

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Two people stare with the realization that they are attracted to each other.  The old-standard-aspect image is intimate.  The widescreen image puts John Raitt off to the side while Doris Day is not centered yet not in a neutral side-bay either.

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Partygoers bail from the cars which brought them.  Each image has something not in the other.  The lower-left is the most active part of the frame in both.  The very top of the old-standard-aspect and the right-most 5% of the widescreen are both acutely barren.

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Doris Day warns John Raitt that once he gets to know her, he may find her “cold hearted” and “hard boiled.”  Neither image has a decided advantage.

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As Doris Day leaves the site where she has just volunteered for and experienced having knives thrown within an inch of her, John Raitt castigates her as “impetuous.”  The widescreen image leaves in the whole of one of those knives and the outline where the volunteer had stood.  The old-standard-aspect image leaves in less than half of this, also trimming half of the woman at left.  The extra room above the character’s heads does not make this image as pleasing as the widescreen one, either.

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John Raitt and Doris Day dance in the rapture of Once-a-Year Day (the song sung by or danced to by most of the cast at this point of the film).  Both images are nicely done, with the widescreen seemingly the preferable owing to the lesser amount of space at the bottom, which helps accentuate the dance steps.

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Picnickers thrill to the vibe as they jump toward the foreground singing Once-a-Year Day.  The umbrella in the lower-right corner of the widescreen image helps focus the viewer’s eye on that location as the dancers proceed ever nearer that area.

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Carol Haney entices John Raitt to go with her to Hernando’s Hideaway.  Once again, two people better occupy the space of a “golden triangle” than they do the space which affords vast emptiness when there aren’t others near enough to share it.

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As with previous group shots, the widescreen is better arranged.  The silent character at left is slightly cut off in the old-standard-aspect version.  The man with the active hands at right makes it in, yet is deprived of the comfort zone of space that he enjoys in the widescreen version.

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No question that the widescreen version is better.  The characters with into an arc-like pattern.  No one is cut off.  The overhanging lamp in the widescreen provides gentle guidelines to bring the eye from the people on the left to the two on the right.

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Yet another group shot where the widescreen version accomodates all parties ideally.

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No one here is cropped from either version.  Nonetheless, the sense of isolation between the two people who find themselves on “opposite sides” (specifically, regarding office politics) is better expressed in the widescreen version.   Despite the greater percentage of screen distance separating the people in the old-standard-aspect version, the space at the sides in the widescreen version helps to define the personal boundaries.

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The widescreen is wonderfully composed, the old-standard-aspect looks accidental.  The borders of the mirror in the widescreen version bring the viewer’s eyes to the corner of the mirror, to the sad face of the forelorn Doris Day singing “Hey, There,” after which the top edge of the mirror points directly to the top of head of the “real” Doris.

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Although all three people fit into each framing, and in both cases the composition expresses the edgy feelings of the characters, the widescreen has advantages in its composition: in only the widescreen, Doris’s back forms a diagonal which joins into a triangle at the lower-left corner.

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Another group shot which works better in widescreen.


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