There was a brief period in the 2000s when it looks like cinephiles were finally converting everyone to the right way of thinking when it came to viewing films. We were moving away from pan-and-scan VHS and towards widescreen DVDs, which lined up nicely with all the new widescreen TVs people were buying.
Unfortunately, as fellow writer Russ Fischer has pointed out in the past, “we won the battle but lost the war.” People who don’t understand movies think that the film should simply fill the frame no matter what, and they don’t understand that aspect ratios are both a result of historical trends and artistic decisions. Netflix is notorious for distorting movies to make sure that the image fills the frame, but that’s not necessarily how every film is supposed to be viewed. Sometimes there should be black bars on the sides, either vertically or horizontally.
Now filmmaker Xavier Dolan has stepped up [via EW] and written an open letter condemning Netflix U.K. for changing the 1:1 aspect ratio on his movie Mommy. Dolan explains that there was one scene where the frame temporarily expands to 1.85:1, which has an emotional intent for his film. “By forcing a permanent pillar-box on my movie,” writes Dolan, “you’ve shut down the emotional capacity of that scene, disregarded the narratively-crucial sentiment of social oppression elicited by this ratio, and you’ve made the end credits look cropped.”
Dolan viciously criticizes Netflix for not consulting him or the distributor for changing the aspect ratio, and closes the letter by saying, “You can crop and tweak your own shows if you want, but don’t touch my film. Take it as is, or remove it. People are cleverer than you think.”
It would be nice to think that other directors will step up in the same way, but it seems like when it comes to the home viewing experience, most people don’t really notice aspect ratio or frame rate, which is a real shame.
Netflix U.K. has yet to respond. You can read the full text of Dolan’s letter below.
— Xavier Dolan (@XDolan) January 4, 2016