I suppose it’s something we take for granted, that cinema is presented in widescreen. Over its history, film production practice has stretched ratios wider and wider with the intention of better immersing the viewer; quite literally wrapping them within the image. However, ‘Vertical Cinema’, recently exhibited as part of the Leeds International Film Festival, aims to challenge this in exploring the effect of film designed for and projected in portrait. Brought from the Netherlands for its UK debut, the installation was assembled at Left Bank Leeds, a recommissioned church/arts venue tall enough to house the somewhat monolithic vertical screen and custom-built 35mm projection system it requires.
We took our seats, the lights faded, and it was at this moment that I realised that I actually had no concept of what was actually going to be shown. I can only add that a good twenty-four hours later I am just as clueless. The programme comprised of ten, purpose commissioned audio/visual pieces, nearly all of which were heavily motion graphics and audio based; intended as a ‘sensory experience’ rather than narrative-based short films (as I had assumed).
The pieces were certainly nothing if not captivating – like catchy songs but in pictures. The looming vertical screen seemed to transform into a doorway to another, chaotic and psychedelic dimension – an effect certainly compounded by being projected above the alter of a church.
As truly unique and mind-boggling as the experience was, I did leave feeling there must be more to explore in this medium. Considering the new age of smartphone videography we’re actually beginning to mass-produce portrait video without effective means for its public presentation, something I feel this type of installation could address. We capture the world primarily in portrait images, why do we only choose to tell our stories through landscape ones?
Image: Vertical Cinema