Aspect Ratios in LEMONADE, Pt. 224 May 2016
Hello! I’m wrapping up this (very) brief LEMONADE series by talking about home movies! This is a little bit about aspect ratios but maybe a little bit more about preservation issues with home movies. If you haven’t, its worth catching up in Pt. 1 right here, because this picks up where that aspect ratio context left off.
The first time we see the 4:3 ratio appear, it’s a cropped image during “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” sized down from a wider shot. But shortly after, we also get these close shots of women’s faces during the Malcolm X quote. Bonus facts: this footage was also filmed in 4:3, but on film, and this clip was converted to a magnetic tape format (see the head clog squiggles at the bottom?) and then digitized – an example of three format errors all in one!
So all three of these are the same aspect ratio, but why do we feel differently about them? There’s some added “film grain” in these shots to intentionally give them a home-movies look, unlike the high-contrast black-and-white images of women dancing in a parking garage, which look clean, and constrained only in the context of being interspersed among the similar imagery at a wider ratio. The grain and warmed tones give it an intentional “old artifact” look (think “Instagram filter”). This filtered look comes up again during “All Night.”
But some of the clips of couples during “All Night” have an aspect ratio of 1.77:1, which fills the entire screen.
It’s likely these were shot with the same camera using the same aspect ratio, but with effects and filters added later, as well as the cropping down to 4:3. (Cropping issues aside, I’m not entirely convinced that this isn’t originally filmed on film. The soft darkened edges and occasional errors look pretty legit to me.)
“Daddy Lessons” includes footage of horse-riding and New Orleans family life, given a similar “home movie feel” treatment. Pretty much all of the footage during this song, excluding footage of Beyoncé, are set in this 4:3 format.
But as a bonus within this song, there’s a real home movie of lil Bey, probably recorded on good old-fashioned VHS! Some notes of aging include image ghosting, head clog, contrast too high, and dropout – many outlined in a previous blog post about Formation specifically. But this is a good example of the real concerns for the fragility of magnetic media.
Following Beyoncé’s home movie (Beyoncé and dad) is a clip from Blue Ivy’s home movies (Beyoncé and grandpa), which moves from mid-1980s Standard Definition (and 4:3) to mid-2010s High Definition (and 16:9).
We also get to see some pre-Blue home movies from Beyoncé’s extensive archive during “All Night.”
This is a clip from a video of Beyoncé and Jay-Z celebrating wedding vows with IV tattoos. Blurry, low resolution, standard 4:3. No shade, this was probably either filmed with a MiniDV camera or using a cameraphone (my bet is on cameraphone, Peter thinks MiniDV). Just like many of the following home movies, which are fragile in their own way. Let’s talk about how!
This above clip has overly blown-out white levels. Similar to the problems with VHS (and other forms of magnetic media), it’s hard to get the contrast right. What do you expect, though? It’s not professional-grade – these are images from a consumer-grade camera. That doesn’t matter when you are looking back through your files and trying to find some lemonade-making videos to play at Grandma Hattie’s 90th birthday.
Shout out to Grandma Hattie, though, who seems to be pretty chill with having a cameo on an album that strongly features her grandson Jay-Z being called out as cheating garbage monster. This was probably filmed in an HD aspect ratio (based on other clips from the same event in LEMONADE and lack of other errors more likely to be found in other formats) but cut to 4:3 to again have a “home movies feel.”
While talking home movies, what is with this error? No, seriously, what is this?
This is footage of Tina Knowles and her husband Richard Lawson, taken on their wedding day. Very sweet. But what is this white flash across the screen trying to ruin a happy moment? I have no idea.
In between being pregnant and Blue Ivy being born, the aspect ratio (at least from what they’ve included in LEMONADE) changes from the boxier standard-definition size to something wider and larger: 1.77:1 aspect ratio and HD.
Phone-based cameras comply with commonly-used video aspect ratios but also common still-photography aspect ratios because the camera exists as a multi-tasker, even if the ratio settings change depending on the chosen camera setting.
The above home-movie ratio is the same as the professional-grade video taken below.
This is a high-quality, HD camera shooting at a 1.77:1 aspect ratio. Your home movies probably aren’t gonna look as good as this.
But home movies aren’t always looking good, even if you are a celebrity. What’s going on with Blue Ivy here? Everything is so blocky, the lines aren’t smooth, and the color is off. Blue Ivy was born into the world of lossy compression in digital video.
So baby Beyoncé videos worry about magnetic-media-problems and baby Blue Ivy videos have to deal with digital-compression-consumer-camera-problems. Blue Ivy videos probably go straight into the archive for safe-keeping, which saves them from the turmoil of having to be recovered from outdated devices using outdated software, or other obstacles dealing with obsoleted-but-still-proprietary software, like ancient versions of iTunes. If you created a tiny version of yourself and you are capturing all those tiny-you moments with your phone, this should scare you!
It’s important to think about these problems in relation to our own home movies and our personal digital archives. Beyoncé has more than one full time archivist and supplemental archival help to do this work so her home movies are the highest quality and are given the best care imaginable, right? But they still suffer from errors due to the fragility of all audiovisual media. From the very beginning, at the point of capture, the images are imperfect, landing themselves onto fallible magnetic tape or into proprietary, binary black boxes.