Features and Columns · Movies

The Return of 4:3

You know what they say: it’s hip to be square.
First Reformed 4:3 aspect ratio
By  · Published on October 15th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on what makes the aspect ratio 4:3 so visually appealing.

First off, for all my fellow number-challenged folks out there, I hear you: memorizing aspect ratios is tough. So before we go any further, let’s stop and make sure we’re all on the same page. Aspect ratios use two numbers separated by a colon to describe the width (the first number) and height (the second number) of a screen or image.

The aspect ratio of 1.33:1 means that the width of the image in question is 1.33 times the size of its height. Because decimals are confusing, you can write the 1.33:1 as 4:3 instead. It’s the same ratio, just multiplied by three.

The earliest films were presented in a 4:3 ratio. And until the invention of wider formats, 4:3 was the standard definition on television sets. All to say, until new technology came about, 4:3 wasn’t an artistic choice. It was the only way to shoot a movie.

Today, 4:3 is no longer a restrictive standard but a distinct, purposeful choice. And in a cinematic landscape that seemingly keeps getting bigger and bigger in scope (*cough* Dune *cough*), the intimacy, intention, and specificity of 4:3 create a fascinating opposition to the expansionist trend in blockbuster filmmaking.

And as the following video essay suggests, the recent revival of 4:3 is much more than a visual trend for stylish arthouse types or an aesthetic marker for period pieces. Rather, it is an intentional storytelling decision that can tell us a lot about the cinematic lay of the land.

Watch “Why 4:3 Looks So Good”:

Who made this?

This video on the visual appeal of the 4:3 aspect ratio is by Karsten Runquist, a Chicago-based video essayist. You can check out Runquist’s back catalog and subscribe to his channel on YouTube here. You can follow Runquist on Twitter here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.