High Fidelity Widescreen Cinema
: VistaVision Film Production and Style in Britain and the USA

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


In the 1950s, widescreen cinema transcended industry standards of aspect ratio and film size on an international scale. Since 2010, scholars have increasingly attended to widescreen cinema’s multiple formats and global production contexts. New studies depart from the traditional critical focus on Hollywood’s CinemaScope film directors. Scholarship in this widening field therefore requires a high degree of flexibility in order to detect transnational and collaborative influences on production and style, with the potential to incorporate untapped research methods and case study formats such as VistaVision.

Using a large 35mm/8 perf. film negative and the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (width to height), VistaVision encouraged stylistic techniques associated with shot width, height, depth and sharp texture. This thesis examines influences on the production and style of VistaVision films in Britain and the USA at multiple historiographic levels, encompassing the international/national, film studios, stylistic trends, individual productions, and the creative agents who shaped film space (including studio managers, engineers, film producers, directors, cinematographers and set designers). Responding to the ‘new film history’ and production studies, my historical-textual account of VistaVision is supported by a wide variety of films, trade periodicals and archival sources from Britain and the USA.

The thesis expands on current analyses of widescreen films by comparing new shot scale/length data and the role of different formats, genres, national contexts, and compositional aesthetics in overlooked widescreen films. My multi-level account of VistaVision film production and style also shows the methodological value of focusing on film formats, which intersect with industrial structure, agency, creative process and transnational exchange. The thesis concludes by considering VistaVision’s historical significance for later trends in wide frame/large format filmmaking, including IMAX.
Date of Award23 Jan 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SponsorsArts and Humanities Research Council
SupervisorSarah C J Street (Supervisor) & Helen Hanson (Supervisor)

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