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Golden sections on the Batleship Pomtempkin


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#1 Joseph Nesbitt

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Posted 06 August 2007 - 10:49 AM

The other day I was reading an article on how to give your shots a 3rd dimension and there was something called the golden mean, so I looked it up. Apperently in the Battleship Pomtempkin this concept was used, surley by Stravinskey's cinematographer whose name i don't remember. But I still am unsure of how to aply this concept, can anyone explain it to me. ( also I have seen and I also own a copy of Battleship Pomtempkin )
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#2 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 06 August 2007 - 03:49 PM

The other day I was reading an article on how to give your shots a 3rd dimension and there was something called the golden mean, so I looked it up. Apperently in the Battleship Pomtempkin this concept was used, surley by Stravinskey's cinematographer whose name i don't remember. But I still am unsure of how to aply this concept, can anyone explain it to me. ( also I have seen and I also own a copy of Battleship Pomtempkin )


Stravinski had a cinematographer? An orchestrator I can see. Prokofiev used one. Shostakovich frowned on this practice since he considered orchestrating the easiest part of composing.

The Golden Mean or Ratio is 1:1.618... I won't go into how it's derived, but it is related to Fibinucci numbers.
It's also called phi & more advanced calculators will have a button for it near the pi button.

In cinematography, one could use the ratio for composing shots. It's about 8/5, so one would place lines, tones and objects to fit this ratio.
But 3rd dimension?

Eisenstein did write about using the ratio for determining the length of scenes in relation to each other.
But off hand can't recall the book and essay.
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#3 Chris Keth

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Posted 06 August 2007 - 03:50 PM

The other day I was reading an article on how to give your shots a 3rd dimension and there was something called the golden mean, so I looked it up. Apperently in the Battleship Pomtempkin this concept was used, surley by Stravinskey's cinematographer whose name i don't remember. But I still am unsure of how to aply this concept, can anyone explain it to me. ( also I have seen and I also own a copy of Battleship Pomtempkin )


I'm not really sure how you mean the golden ratio was used. It's usually a ratio expressed in a rectangle but as far as I know, there has never been a "Golden Mean" (1:1.618) aspect ratio standard.
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#4 Paul Bruening

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Posted 06 August 2007 - 08:49 PM

I read this too in a book penned by Eisenstein. Though, it was twenty-five or more years ago. I know what you're talking about. The Golden Mean is a pretty common element in art and graphic design. Some artists swear by it. But, it is one of those "unprovable" things. I do admit, it is a satisfying method of relating things. Yet, by no means is it a dependable determinant of any kind of artistic success. I looked at Potemkin immediately after reading his book. I couldn't see where the Golden Mean was put into obvious practice. Some have commented that Eisenstein was an artistic bullshit artist and that all of his theories are a crock. I don't really know what to say about him. The Golden Mean is considered a real thing by many and probably wouldn't do your art any particular harm to employ it. Whatever that opinion, in the ocean of opinions, may be worth to you.

I did swipe... excuse me, "homage" his baby carriage scene in a detective feature I made. God, I love ripping off... darn it, "homaging" the greats.
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#5 Joseph Nesbitt

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Posted 06 August 2007 - 09:19 PM

sorry about the name mix up, must not have been paying that much attention to that article to make that mistake, although it isn't proven has anyone actually tried this method and seen anything different? ohh yea and Paul I think Brian De Palma already ripped off, I mean payed a generous homage to Eisensteins Battleship Pomtempkin.
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#6 Paul Bruening

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Posted 06 August 2007 - 09:31 PM

The Parthenon in Greece is built using the Golden Mean as the dominant design ratio. That's probably the most famous use of it. Wikipedia can give you a good idea of its thing. My teachers in art school scoffed at the Golden Mean. I kinda' like it, personally. But, I couldn't tell you if it is as powerful a thing as Eisenstein thought it was.

Yea, I liked the baby carriage scene in The Untouchables. I think it has been used elsewhere . I can't call it up just at this moment. Can anyone else recall a use of it? Didn't Woody use it somewhere?
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 06 August 2007 - 09:47 PM

It's "Battleship Potemkin" (or the Russian title "Bronenosets Potyomkin"), not "Pomtemkin".

The movie is 1.33 : 1 (4x3), not 1.61 : 1 (the Golden Rectangle).

Woody Allen parodied Russian literature and movies in "Love and Death". The statues of lions fall asleep rather than wake up in editing order.

There is a brief homage to the Odessa Steps sequence (besides the long homage in "The Untouchables") in Terry Gilliam's "Brazil", though Gilliam has denied it (during the shoot-out in the Ministry, a janitor is shot and his vacuum cleaner rolls down the steps as the troop advance up them. Or at least, as far as I remember from seeing it a long time ago.)
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#8 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 06 August 2007 - 11:06 PM

The golden ratio is as Dave said 1.16:1 or more precisely the golden ratio = 1.61803399. It was devised by the ancient Greeks and is supposably endowed with mystical powers, the universal ratio found contained within the "Golden Spiral" in all of existence, conch shells, architecture, musical progression ect. and quite a cult has emerged around it. Renaissance painter incorporated the concept into many of their paintings, architecture frequently incorporates it into the design so it's not surprising a group of educated Russian experimental filmmakers in the revolutionary age of "the Lost Generation" would have incorporated this ancient and mystical concepts into their work. Eisenstein's revolutionary fervor no doubt was contagious and the people working on this film probably were looking to unlock a deeper truth hidden within the production. Russia in the early part of the 20th century was perhaps the most experimental place on Earth, Eisenstein revolutionized film editing, Stanislavsky revolutionized acting, Stravinsky revolutionized Ballet, Lenin revolutionized politics ...... OK, well, That one didn't work out too good but you get my point. I think it's a useful tool but I'm always leery of a cult like dedication to any philosophy, it tends to obscure other possibilities. I think it's a good thing to be aware of the "Golden Ratio"but nothing that should be followed with a religious conviction. If, as with the Renaissance painter's, it helps you to compose your frame in the artist astetic you are trying to achieve, great, use it, but if not, use what works for that moment and screw what the Ancient Greeks thought, we're a Hell of a lot more sophisticated than they were and shouldn't limit ourselves to 4000 year old concepts. There is no "right" way to achieve any artistic endeavor, what "right" is what works at any given moment. That's the only philosophy that really works, B)

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 06 August 2007 - 11:09 PM.

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#9 Paul Bruening

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Posted 06 August 2007 - 11:18 PM

Oh, Captain, My Captain,

Rather lovely post you just made, if I may say so.
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#10 Paul Bruening

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Posted 06 August 2007 - 11:36 PM

I should probably go ahead and clear up my goof. I inaccurately used, "Golden Mean" when, "Golden Ratio" was the correct application. I have mixed this up in common practice as often as those around me, as I do with many popular misexpressions (now, darn it, that's a real word). I would like to extend my thanks to other posters for not saying the obvious, like, "Damn, Paul. You really are a dumba__."
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#11 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 06:16 AM

It's "Battleship Potemkin" (or the Russian title "Bronenosets Potyomkin"), not "Pomtemkin".

The movie is 1.33 : 1 (4x3), not 1.61 : 1 (the Golden Rectangle).

Woody Allen parodied Russian literature and movies in "Love and Death". The statues of lions fall asleep rather than wake up in editing order.

There is a brief homage to the Odessa Steps sequence (besides the long homage in "The Untouchables") in Terry Gilliam's "Brazil", though Gilliam has denied it (during the shoot-out in the Ministry, a janitor is shot and his vacuum cleaner rolls down the steps as the troop advance up them. Or at least, as far as I remember from seeing it a long time ago.)



I don't know about this but if there's something powerful about 1.61:1, how did 1.66:1 come to be
utilized when it did?

In hearing on this thread about how some people use the Golden Rectangle, I'm wondering about
something else which, while seemingly less complex or mystical, is talked about a lot by people
I know who went to art school: the rule of thirds. I know people who swear by using it for framing,
and I love framing shots but I never think of the rule of thirds. I've looked it up and seen lots of
examples but it sure seems to me sometimes that the powerful statements, given along with the
examples about how such and such framing is perfectly aligned with this screen division, are simply
arbitary and capricious and could easily be argued in another direction.
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 10:14 AM

Though there were some experiments with widescreen (wider than 1.33) in the Silent Era and early Sound Era, it really didn't take-off until "This is Cinerama" was released in 1952. That was 2.66 : 1. Then CinemaScope came out in 1953 with "The Robe", a format that was supposed to also be 2.66 (2X squeeze on full-aperture 1.33 35mm with separate interlocked sound, ala Cinerama) but became 2.55 : 1 and then 2.35 : 1 (and now 2.39 : 1) due to various reasons dealing with the soundtrack on the film, etc.

So during this period, the studios started creating their own widescreen formats, including simply cropping 1.37 Academy movies top & bottom in the projector gate. The amount of cropping varied, from 1.66, 1.75, to 1.85. Paramount was always pushing for the least wide formats -- they wanted 1.66 to be the matted widescreen projection format for 4-perf 35mm, and they created VistaVision, which was 8-perf 35mm horizontal, whose full aperture is naturally around 1.54-ish, usually composed with some cropping in mind, anywhere from 1.66 to 1.85 to even 2:1, and usually released in reduction prints in standard 4-perf 35mm. Universal pushed heavily for 1.85 to be the standard for matting, and Disney wanted something inbetween, 1.75.

Actually, Eisenstein once said that he thought the best aspect ratio for cinema was a perfect square, since it handled vertical subjects just as well as horizontal subjects.
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#13 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 01:54 PM

The movie is 1.33 : 1 (4x3), not 1.61 : 1 (the Golden Rectangle).


I don't recall which essay, but Eisenstein said he used the golden ratio not visually, but temporally.

One of the major climaxes takes place 5/8ths of the way through the movie.
He could be overreaching there. It seems unlikely that a viewer would actually sense this overly subtle rhythmn.
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#14 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 11:26 PM

Though there were some experiments with widescreen (wider than 1.33) in the Silent Era and early Sound Era, it really didn't take-off until "This is Cinerama" was released in 1952. That was 2.66 : 1. Then CinemaScope came out in 1953 with "The Robe", a format that was supposed to also be 2.66 (2X squeeze on full-aperture 1.33 35mm with separate interlocked sound, ala Cinerama) but became 2.55 : 1 and then 2.35 : 1 (and now 2.39 : 1) due to various reasons dealing with the soundtrack on the film, etc.

So during this period, the studios started creating their own widescreen formats, including simply cropping 1.37 Academy movies top & bottom in the projector gate. The amount of cropping varied, from 1.66, 1.75, to 1.85. Paramount was always pushing for the least wide formats -- they wanted 1.66 to be the matted widescreen projection format for 4-perf 35mm, and they created VistaVision, which was 8-perf 35mm horizontal, whose full aperture is naturally around 1.54-ish, usually composed with some cropping in mind, anywhere from 1.66 to 1.85 to even 2:1, and usually released in reduction prints in standard 4-perf 35mm. Universal pushed heavily for 1.85 to be the standard for matting, and Disney wanted something inbetween, 1.75.

Actually, Eisenstein once said that he thought the best aspect ratio for cinema was a perfect square, since it handled vertical subjects just as well as horizontal subjects.


David, the American wide screen aspect ratio seems to have settled into 1:85 so I guess Universal won out. Was there a reason these different companies preferred those particular aspect ratio, also do you know why the European standard became 1:66? I find that a wide screen gate for my Kinor is 1:66 from the factory and I was a little worried that would be a problem for a film released in the US AND for hiring out for a US production, do you know if my concerns are founded and if I should have a 1:85 gate machined or are we taking semantics here, also is there any artistic reason for using one over the other, like maybe 1:66 lends it's self to a European style of film making better than 1:85? Thanks B)
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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 August 2007 - 09:33 PM

Most movies released in 1.85 are shot with no hard mattes -- they are just composed for 1.85 and the projector mask crops it. So it doesn't matter if your camera has a 1.66 gate since that's a bigger image vertically than 1.85, so it just gets cropped a little more with 1.85 projection.

For example, Super-16 is 1.68 and HD is 1.78, both may be transferred to 35mm with a hard matted image in their aspect ratio -- they just get masked further to 1.85 during projection.

The debate between 1.66 versus 1.85 projection was just one of how much cropping to widescreen could you get away with.
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#16 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 08 August 2007 - 11:06 PM

Do you know why there was a debate between major studios over the wide screen aspect ratios and why 1:85 won out also why the Europeans went to 1:66? Was it because 1:66 was somewhat closer to Academy and Europeans tend to respect certain traditions more so audiences were less likely to embrace a more radical change?
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#17 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 August 2007 - 05:14 AM

Do you know why there was a debate between major studios over the wide screen aspect ratios and why 1:85 won out also why the Europeans went to 1:66? Was it because 1:66 was somewhat closer to Academy and Europeans tend to respect certain traditions more so audiences were less likely to embrace a more radical change?


Like I said, the debate was over how much cropping you could get away with technically and not get too much graininess -- some studios were OK with cropping as much as to 1.85 and others were uncomfortable with it. Same goes in Europe. It just sort of settled over many years to being 1.85 in the U.S. and 1.66 in Europe. I recall an old British Kinematograph article on a panel of U.K. engineers recommending a 1.75 : 1 standard. It's all rather hair-splitting. I think once MGM decided to back a 1.85 standard, that sort of overruled Paramount and their 1.66 preference (and even they weren't consistent on that, judging from their VistaVision titles.)

More than likely studios who preferred 1.66 or 1.75 just had to get used to some theaters showing it with a 1.85 mask, just as some 1.85 movies were shown with a 1.66 mask.

Remember that masking to widescreen was basically a poor-man's widescreen process.

There was also the 2:1 SuperScope process (1.37 Academy cropped to 2:1 and released in Scope prints with a 2:1 matte.) But once 1.85 became more common, producers felt it was cheaper to just shoot that than go through the SuperScope blow-up process.
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#18 David Auner aac

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Posted 09 August 2007 - 06:24 AM

Was it because 1:66 was somewhat closer to Academy and Europeans tend to respect certain traditions more so audiences were less likely to embrace a more radical change?


Hi James,

now that was a really good one! Sorry to tell you but, in my experience, Europeans are way faster in embracing change than Americans. I guess it has to do with long existence of the United States in more or less unchanged form. Here in Europe political changes, e.g., were much more common in the last couple of hundred years. So people tend adopt that changes much more easily because they have done so for ages. Think about it, 65 years ago Germany and France were at war for the umpteenth time. And now? Impossible to even think of such a thing as their ties are much too close to allow war.

I don't want to start a discussion on politics here, but I just had to respond to that theory. No offense to you or any Americans intended. We're talking general public here, not individuals.

So I really doubt that was the case with the decision to go for 1.66. I'd rather think the technical reasons prevailed.

My 2 cents, Dave
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#19 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 09 August 2007 - 02:00 PM

Do you know why there was a debate between major studios over the wide screen aspect ratios and why 1:85 won out also why the Europeans went to 1:66? Was it because 1:66 was somewhat closer to Academy and Europeans tend to respect certain traditions more so audiences were less likely to embrace a more radical change?


1.66:1 is often refered to as the European standard, but Italian nonScope movies were 1.85:1 and were sometimes listed on the posters as Panoramica.
This also was true for most Spanish movies. Italian movies shot in Spain weren't uncommmon. & England went 1.75.

When I was young, most of theaters in my city projected 1.66:1. So when I first saw a movie projected 1.85, I was surprised at how wide it looked.
Italian movies projected 1.66 had the hard mattes showing which gave a slight letterboxing.

The last movie I saw in the Arcade was 'Fitzcarraldo' which had a 1.85 hard matte and was projected 1.66:1.

Incidentaly Universal initially wobbled between 2:1 and 1.85:1.
Variety would list aspect ratios in their reveiws in 53-55.
A good university library ought to have the bound volumes of the Variety reweiws. I don't think they're indexed.
'This Island earth' was 2:1, yet still looks good at 1.33.
One of the few American directors to use 1.85 hard mattes in camera was Robert Aldrich.
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#20 Michael Nash

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Posted 09 August 2007 - 06:08 PM

I'm wondering about something else...: the rule of thirds. I know people who swear by using it for framing,
and I love framing shots but I never think of the rule of thirds. I've looked it up and seen lots of
examples but it sure seems to me sometimes that the powerful statements, given along with the
examples about how such and such framing is perfectly aligned with this screen division, are simply
arbitary and capricious and could easily be argued in another direction.


No, I think you're missing the point. It's the opposite of arbitrary, capricious, and easily argued -- it's part of the basic visual vocabulary of photography, designed to help people understand the structure and meaning of an image, just like the sentence structure we're using. The rule of thirds may have derived from a relatively arbitrary or at best aesthetic standard, but nonetheless has become a fundamental element of our visual language. Looking at it that way, you're actually better served by practicing and understanding how to use this principle, and understand what happens when you don't use it.

Now you can deviate from the basic language if you want to by using another set of rules or by making up your own -- much in the way a poet changes language to express something unique. But just understand that the most common, basic language is the one that most viewers will understand most easily, with the least amount of confusion.

Like any rule, exceptions or deviations tend to stand out and have impact when used within the structure of a language. For example, composing a frame symmetrically suddenly takes on new meaning in the presence of shots composed by thirds. As does any other "grid" pattern, like 1/4's. Practice framing different subjects with a different number of divisions (1/2, 1/3, 1/4), and see what impression or meaning you derive from the images. When you do this you strengthen your visual vocabulary. And the more robust your vocabulary, the more you'll be able to say, and the more effectively you'll be able to communicate.

Incidentally the more divisions you use in your frame, the more complex (and less intuitive) the image becomes. There's kind of a limit to the complexity of composition that people can readily understand, without some extra guidance. For that reason I rarely compose on anything more complex than 1/4.

(BTW, I'll bet you already use the rule of thirds more than you think. Take a look at images you've already shot, and overlay a 1/3 grid over them. I'll bet you'll see that many of your shapes are "weighted" to fall along the 1/3 line. For all but extreme wide and tight shots, it almost always looks best to put a person's eyes 1/3 down from the top of frame. Test it against any frame from any movie or TV show and you'll see what I mean).
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