Thursday, January 2, 2014

A bit more on Betty Boop

Happy New Year all! By now you may have realized I sort of view this blog as lawn sculpture: beautifully decomposing into toxic goo with each passing day. But before I allow the elements to take hold again there's still some left over business stuffed in that shoe box with the crumpled bank receipts, pizza menus and 2 for 1 bagel coupons. Wait, 2 for 1 bagels?!

First off is Volume two of The Betty Boop Essential Collection. Thad K, who broke the story of the goof which rendered our Betty with a head more like a pancake, kindly sent along his own transfers reformatted in something closer to their correct aspect ratios. It certainly helped antidote the original problem which was making me kind of crazy. So, for that I hoist my finest roast pigeon to Thad: thank-you for taking pity on my eyeballs!

That said, I would not call these 'fixed aspect ratios'. I noticed, when the above image was posted to Facebook with the heading 'fixed ratios', how narrow Frederic March's face seemed. So, I decided to compare three versions of BETTY BOOP'S PENTHOUSE: The Olive disc I purchased, Thad's redux version (based on a copy he purchased), and the old Republic version from the VHS set I bought years ago. What I discovered were images which were distorting vertically as well as horizontally. If you click the first image below and scroll between the series of three using your mouse wheel you'll see what I mean.




Personally, I don't care: I'm glad to have these cartoons looking closer to their correct aspect ratio than what we got from the first two Olive discs.  Everything I've read from Thad backs up that his disc was only a best guess done as a kindness to fans who were upset by the problem.  So it should be clear that these are not actually fixed ratios. My instinct, totally unverified by anything, is that the Republic set is the closest to showing the proper proportions of the characters, BG's etc. (neither stretched nor squashed) but that the image, as seen above, was cropped randomly to fit Academy Ratio. 

'Poor Cinderella' is a title appearing on Olive's master list of Betty Boop cartoons  appearing in their Essential Collection. However, many others, including the brilliant MYSTERIOUS MOSE, were left off for reasons unknown.

I've noticed some people asking if  the aspect ratio differs only on the pre-code Bettys or whether all of them are effected: a logical question since Fleischers changed formats early in their run.  Personally I didn't notice anything funny on Olive's release of THE FOXY HUNTER (1937, long after Fleischers had standardized their release format) until I scrolled it (as you can do below) with the same frame from the earlier Republic VHS. You will see there is indeed squishing occurring. So it is not a problem exclusive only to the pre-code Bettys.



Dryness is something you have to get used to if you're a Fleischer fan. I was thinking today of the Popeye Laser Disc I purchased at top dollar years prior to WB's Popeye set. The hope was at least it would be less bad than what I had previously. That was dry. Compared to them days (with a recent release of Puppetoons, Thunderbean discs of Gulliver and Eshbaugh on the way and even Betty Boop) we're livin' in a paradise, buckeroo!  Personally I was getting worried the series might stop abruptly at Vol.2. So, the hope is they're quality checking the work this time around. Thad's redux discs are welcome but I would expect better from Vol.3 for which I'll be shelling out actual hard earned cash.  Of course I, like you, would prefer the mammoth no-frills box set of Screen Song cartoons (or Color Classics for that matter) for the binge weekend of a lifetime. 12 cartoons a disc, with months to wait between volumes, is pretty thin. But any action on the part of Paramount to do something beside sit on their gigantic back catalog of cartoons should be greeted with as much enthusiasm as possible. And as I wrote previously, the aspect ratio was the only real problem with the first two volumes and, aside from that, they have never looked or sounded better. So there is something to be enthusiastic about! We now return you to our regularly scheduled test pattern...

The Official Test Pattern of Uncle John's Crazy Town. Please Stand By...

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