Cropping Art -- where is the outrage?

From: Jeff Kreines (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Sep 22 2006 - 10:53:10 PDT

I watched the first two hours of the Ric Burns ANDY WARHOL
documentary program on PBS the other night. I wasn't expecting much
-- just the usual PBS-bland interviews + stock footage + actors
reading letters melange. And that's what it was. There was a little
interesting early history, sure. But that's not what I'm writing about.

The program professes to discuss Warhol's importance as a visual
artist and filmmaker. It shows him to be a very hard worker. And
you see him setting up his Bolex and shooting what some (including
Callie Angell's recent book) refer to as the SCREEN TESTS (though
someone in Mr. Burns' program says that's not what they are called).

Anyway, these films were shot by Mr. Warhol, and framed by him. They
were shot in standard 16mm, and the aspect ratio is 4:3 -- just like
standard NTSC TV. However, although almost all of the original
footage used in Mr. Burns' program is 4:3, Mr. Burns chose to shoot
in HDTV, at a 16:9 aspect ratio. Nothing wrong with that -- as the
image quality of all material old and new will be better than in
standard def.

However, Mr. Burns decided that he was a more important visual artist
than Mr. Warhol. He chose to crop all of Mr. Warhol's films to fit
edge-to-edge in his chosen aspect ratio -- cutting of a significant
amount of the top and/or bottom of the original frames. He could
have chosen to do what any seriously minded archivist would do --
"pillarbox" the image so that it is shown in its entirety with black
bars on the sides. That would have preserved the integrity of the

A couple of recent films dealing with the same issue -- lots of
1960's footage shot 4:3 -- chose simply to make that the aspect ratio
of the entire film, whether or not it was currently trendy. That's
another acceptable solution.

I wonder if any museums would choose to lend out paintings to an
institution that insisted on hanging the paintings behind fixed cut-
outs in a wall, cropping the image? Could one imagine such a museum
existing? Of course not. But this is essentially what happened in
Mr. Burns' TV program.

I was a little too sickened by part one to watch part two, though I
did zip through some of it and saw that the films were again
reformatted to fit Mr. Burn's canvas. (I was, however, amused by the
fact that an interview subject was clearly asked to discuss the film
BLOW JOB without mentioning the film's title. Ah, PBS -- it turns
everyone into self-censoring wimps.) The least PBS could have done
was run a disclaimer pointing out that the excerpts from films shown
in this show are reformatted by the producer of the program, and do
not reflect the original intent of the artist who this TV show is about.

Isn't anyone else outraged by this?

Jeff Kreines
Coosada, Alabama

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.