The Wide, Wide West


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The wide wide west_iconThe Wide, Wide West

Image from the film River of No Return.

Established in 1889, the standard format of 35mm film with an image aspect ratio of 1.33:1 was not seriously challenged until Twentieth Century Fox’s invention of CinemaScope (initially 2.55:1, later 2.35:1) in the early 1950s. As with previous widescreen processes (e.g., Fox’s Grandeur process two decades earlier), Fox and other studios deemed the panoramic expanse of widescreen formats especially well-suited to Westerns. Their emphasis on widescreen formats in the 1950s undoubtedly contributed to a renaissance of the Western genre.

Widescreen cinema was novel. Like other cinematic novelties, not all filmmakers used widescreen aspect ratios to artistic effect. This series presents four splendid examples of widescreen Westerns. River of No Return is a masterclass in horizontal composition. Ride Lonesome and Ride the High Country demonstrate how effectively widescreen can be used to situate narrative in environment. Finally, Man of the West is the supreme example of The Wide, Wide West. Special thanks to Michael Trosset.

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