Philadelphia- and Washington D.C.-area movie geeks are delirious that Comcast has ramped up its On-Demand movie library from about 2,000 to 11,000 titles. As Flickgrrl blogged a few weeks ago, previously hard-to-see films such as the pre-Code Barbara Stanwyck flick Baby Face (1933) are now available through this augmented cable feature. Here's a link to the titles now available, which include Oscar winner All About Eve (1950) Jean-Luc Godard classic's sci-fi-noir Alphaville (1965), George Lucas' breakthrough American Graffitti (1973) and Denzel Washington's directorial debut Antwone Fisher ( 2002), all essentials in the film canon. And those are just a handful of the A's on the voluminous alpha list.
The current interface is not the easiest to navigate, but it does sort the films by genre, by actor, by director and by decade, enabling flickheads and cinephiles alike to catch up on missed titles and revisit old favorites as well as comparatively recent releases.
Purists should beware that some widescreen titles such as John Huston's spectacular The Man Who Would Be King (1975) are available only in panned-and-scanned prints. For the layman: After 1952, many movies were made in widescreen processes such as CinemaScope and VistaVision, where the ratio of the screen is a panoramic 16:9. Prior to that, all movies were in the 4:3 ratio, the dimensions of pre-HD television sets. The difference between widescreen and standard screen is the difference between letterbox and breadbox. In order to fit letterboxed movies into the breadbox, technicians cut off the sides, leaving the image like Leonardo's Last Supper with six apostles eliminated.
For the devout such as Flickgrrl, this is desecration. For agnostics such as Husband of Flickgrrl, it's no biggie. Still, while we watched the amputated The Man Who Would Be King, Husband lost thread of the plot a few times because the visuals advancing the narrative had been eliminated. Leaving it to Flickgrrl to explain details lost when the technicians accomodated the rectangular block to the squarish frame.
Comcast execs Diana Kerekes and Jay Kreiling, respectively vice-president of entertainment services and vice-president of video services, explain why On-Demand titles such as The Man Who Would Be King aren't currently available in their original letterbox format. "Not all customers who have HD boxes have HD screens," says Kreiling, and those who still have the old breadbox sets complain about letterbox movies that have black bars above and below the image. They eant to see the movie full screen.
"We want to offer our customers the best-quality product," says Kerekes. "We may go back and offer our customers widescreen alternatives in the future."