Growing Up Pan and Scan


[NOTE: certain term pairs, like “format” and “aspect ratio” or “pan and scan” and “full screen” may be used interchangeably below. I know there are technical differences between the terms, but I think my meaning is clear.]

Recently, I’ve been doing some research into the history of film formats. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what formats appeared at what times, what aspect ratios result from what formats, when the term “anamorphic” applies, and exactly what the physical film might look like for some of these formats. There’s an easy to understand (but jam-packed) video about some of this (well, mostly aspect ratio) that I highly recommend.

This research led me to the realization that, as someone born in the mid-80s, I was raised on pan and scan movies. This shouldn’t have come as a shock, but it got me thinking: if most of my original exposure to movies, during my formative years, was on television in a pan and scan or cropped presentation, what effect has that had on my ability to understand film form? Am I irreparably damaged by my inferior native visual language? Am I doomed to be the Salieri who’s passion for the art of film can never equal that of those lucky Mozarts who were “born” into film appreciation through countless hours in actual movie theaters? Or, horror of horrors, is some teenaged movie geek who has never lived without a 16:9 widescreen TV, who has never handled a clunky VHS tape, who has never had to beware of accidentally purchasing the inexplicable “Full Screen Edition” of a DVD, going to be more qualified than I am to understand film simply because of when he or she was born? And the most terrifying implication of all: Is an entire generation unable to truly appreciate film on the proper level due to growing up under the malicious tyranny of pan and scan?!

I don’t suppose it’s as dire as all of that, but it’s worth examining. Continue reading