We thought you’d be interested in the comparison we made last week between the BFI’s 2007 restoration of DRACULA (1958) and the opening flashback sequence of DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS. The footage within the “diamond of smoke” optical effect of DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS is top-and-bottom matted at 1.66:1 within the 2.35:1 Techniscope frame (using an identical 1.66:1 centre matte to the BFI’s 2007 restoration). This means that: a) DRACULA (1958) was neither shot nor originally intended to be exhibited at 1.85:1, as if this were the case the flashback footage would have been framed at this ratio, rendering more of the picture visible at left-and-right and requiring less smoke; b) 1.66:1 is definitely a Fisher-sanctioned aspect ratio for DRACULA (1958); c) this still does not except that Fisher originally composed DRACULA (1958) for Academy, as framing the flashback at 1.37:1 would have meant very little width to the insert and even more smoke around the picture as framed in Academy, which would have been extremely narrow within the 2.35:1 Techniscope frame. In any case, the controversy over THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN aspect ratios will be avoided with DRACULA (1958) as the BFI restoration is centre-matted at 1.66:1 and our 2012 restoration of censored footage from the so-called “Japanese reels” (due for UK release on 18th March 2013) integrates such into the BFI’s 2007 version.
NB: The BFI’s 2007 restoration at 1.66:1 has the same amount of picture information top-and-bottom as the 4×3 screengrab, and the same amount left-and-right as the 16×9 screengrab (allowing for a very small margin in each case).
UPDATE 15th November 2012: As some of you have already deduced, we can now confirm for definite that DRACULA (1958) was indeed shot with a 1.66:1 matte in camera. To the best of our knowledge, DRACULA (1958) remains the only Hammer film shot in this way (though in the 60s, prints of Hammer films were sometimes struck with a 1.66:1 hard matte). We know for certain, for example, that THE MUMMY (1959) was shot open aperture full frame 35mm, the same as THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. (The slight extra picture information at the top-and-bottom of the screengrab from the “Japanese reels” is pre the fine matte applied by the BFI when they mastered their 2007 restoration.) As we’ve said before, because we’re basing our 2012 restoration of the censored footage on the BFI’s 2007 restoration, we have always been working on the film in 1.66:1, so there is no question of the film being presented in any ratio other than 1.66:1, in the case of DRACULA (1958) the definitive and sole UK OAR. There is of course still plenty of room for further speculation regarding Terence Fisher’s preferred composition aspect ratio and whether the return to shooting open aperture full frame was connected to Fisher’s preferences, or to an understanding that TV versions were better with more information top-and-bottom than with less information left-and-right.