Kon Ichikawa’s An Actor’s Revenge (1963) displays a love-hate relationship – a morbid fascination, why not – with the widescreen. Ichikawa seems to be engaged in a wresting match with the widescreen as the ludicrous plot of the film plods on without shame or scruple. The film opens with an expansive shot of an artificial landscape which is revealed to be a stage after the camera pulls out, as though acknowledging its miscalculation that the 2.35:1 ratio will be wide enough to contain the stage. Of course, the stage we see is too big to be contained by anything, leave alone a letterboxed perspective, because, in An Actor’s Revenge, the world itself is an extension of theatre, where roles have to be played, spaces have to be negotiated and a narrative has to be taken to a tragic yet gratifying closure. Ichikawa points not only at this theatricality of the film’s world with double framing and bracketed compositions – a bizarre ploy that nearly makes it seem like a film shot in Academy Ratio is playing within the Scope film we are watching – but also to the inability to take the play of life to a conclusion, to get off the stage, by consistently revealing its unsurpassable edge, wherein a part of the screen just becomes an inaccessible, immobile wasteland. What is startling about An Actor’s Revenge is that, unlike most widescreen pictures, it does not adopt a single, streamlined aesthetic strategy towards the format. Ichikawa and regular DOP Setsuo Kobayashi tussle with the ratio here, being at times charitable towards it, at times critical and, at times, plain indifferent. At times Ichikawa makes judicious use of the screen space, providing a lot of visual data to process, and at times he just disregards this abundance of space, to the point of blacking it out as if trying to get rid of it. During one moment he is in awe of its generosity and during the other he is mocking its inadequacy. As he indulges himself with the dramatic quality of strong horizontals and verticals, he ends up emulating a lot of aspect ratios, wider and smaller. Sometimes he is excited by the visceral effect of a diagonal across an elongated rectangle, sometimes by the pensiveness of a slanted construction in deep space. Sometimes, he is simply being eccentric.
Widescreen as a stage, Wide screen as a storage space, Widescreen as a notice board, Widescreen as an annexe, Widescreen as a scroll, Widescreen as a ruler, Widescreen as a Swiss army knife, Widescreen as insufficient, Widescreen as excess, Widescreen as useless.