Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Greg M. Smith - Chair

Second Advisor

Matthew Bernstein

Third Advisor

Kathy Fuller-Seeley

Fourth Advisor

Jack Boozer

Fifth Advisor

Angelo Restivo


The study of widescreen cinema historically has been under analyzed with regard to aesthetics. This project examines the visual poetics of the wide frame from the silent films of Griffith and Gance to the CinemaScope grandeur of Preminger and Tashlin. Additionally, the roles of auteur and genre are explored as well as the new media possibilities such as letterboxing online content. If cinema’s history can be compared to painting, then prior to 1953, cinema existed as a portrait-only operation with a premium placed on vertical compositions. This is not to say that landscape shots were not possible or that lateral mise-en-scene did not exist. Cinematic texts, with very few exceptions, were composed in only one shape: the almost square Academy Ratio. Before 1953, cinema’s shape is that of portraiture; after 1953 cinema’s shape is landscape. Widescreen filmmaking is not simply an alternative to previous visual representation in cinema because no equivalent exists. Widescreen is quite simply a break from previous stylistic norms because the shape of the frame itself has been drastically reconfigured. With the proliferation of HDTV and widescreen computer monitors, certain aspect ratios that were once regarded as specifically “cinematic” are now commonplace both in the home and in the workplace. This project outlines a project that traces the innovations and aesthetic developments of widescreen aspect ratios from the silent era of D.W Griffith, Buster Keaton and Abel Gance all the way through to current widescreen digital manifestations of web-based media and digital “blanks” such as those created by Pixar. Other chapters include close textual analyses of “experimental” widescreen films of 1930, the development of “norms” for widescreen filmmaking in the early CinemaScope era of the 1950s and examinations of the experimental multi-screen mosaics of 1968 and beyond.


Included in

Communication Commons