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Are Vertical Videos the New Frontier of Small Screen Viewing?

In this ongoing era of individual viewing, an interesting discussion has arose over which is the "right" way to watch videos on the small and constantly shrinking screens on our gadgetry of choice.

In a new New York Times piece, tech columnist Farhad Manjoo ushers in the dawn of vertical video watching, that ever-divisive practice that's splitting media consumers into avid groups of landscape loyalists and vertical viewers.

The former faction reached its peak with "Vertical Video Syndrome", a YouTube PSA from the popular puppetry series Glove and Boots that seeks to preserve the very serious sanctity of horizontal viewing with the help of the Muppet-like puppets Mario and Fafa. Manjoo's article arrives at a crucial time in the vertical viewing debate, as more and more video-makers have begun to post vertically-filmed videos, a phenomenon that has, in large part, been eased into acceptance by increased Snapchat user-ship and by numerous online publishers, including Mashable and The Daily Mail, adapting their professional videos to accommodate vertical viewpoints, as well as the viewers who are merely too lazy to flip their iPhones when watching lateral content.

Many, including Manjoo and John Whaley (creator of Vervid, an app created exclusively for tall videos), insist that it's high time to "celebrate videos that match the shape of our bodies," while others, like Glove and Boots puppeteer Vincent Bova, explain that the tradition of horizontal videos aligns with our "horizontal world," where "most action happens from left to right," not perpendicularly. There's also the notion, widely-held, that there's something unmistakably amateurish about the portrait mode quality of most vertical videos.

It's true, most personal vertical videos aren't necessarily capturing anything more creative than, say, bike-riding or makeup-applying. I think many are curious to see if vertical video-making can make its way into the wider filmmaking world, especially considering that plenty of film snobs still feel pretty itchy about watching movies on any screen smaller than a TV. (My most shameful cinephile secret, which I guess won't be a secret any longer, is that I first watched Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life on a dusty, translucent Mac screen in the full light of day, and, trust me, you couldn't be more disgusted with me than I am with myself.) Xavier Dolan's well-publicized decision to film the majority of his Cannes-winning French-Canadian drama Mommy in an iPhone-ready 1:1 aspect ratio was a risky gamble that was applauded by many for its ingenuity and confrontational close-up look, while others, myself included, found the choice a tad too restricting for the already-enclosed narrative at-hand. Maybe action movies might make for an exemplary genre to experiment with verticality; it isn't too difficult to imagine, for example, a mountain-climbing disaster flick being shot upright.

In any case, vertical videos are clearly here to stay, at least so long as Snapchat stays relevant. I'm probably a horizontal purist at heart but I'm intrigued by the possibilities of vertical video. The camera may be narrowing, but the future might be broader than expected.



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