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In the Age of the Elastic Frame

The Film Book’s Benjamin B writes about what he has dubbed “the elastic frame” and how digital projection has changed cinema’s fixed aspect ratio.

He writes, “In the days of film projection, aspect ratios were defined by pieces of metal. In film cameras the gate is the window that lets light through to the negative. Gates have a slot for sliding hard mattes, thin pieces of metal that narrow the window to a desired aspect ratio. (Hard mattes were more frequent in European cinema than Hollywood, where producers demanded open gates to have the option to do minor reframing). Many (but not all) film prints were also exposed with metal mattes that blocked light, putting black around the intended image frame…There are no metal gates or plates in digital projectors. The projector has a 1.78:1 luminescent area, and the aspect ratio is simply defined by black cropping inside the image. This means that, in theory, the aspect ratio can be changed at any time during the screening, and to any dimensions. The frame has become elastic.”