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Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 1985: Imagine One Of Them Being Yours For $29.95!

Part Two On Extinct Movies Being Here To Stay

One admitted difference, and a big one, is this: None of  vintage bounty is free. Even TCM comes with a price in terms of basic cable or satellite required to get it. The streaming stuff involves a subscription or per-movie rental. You can crib features off You Tube or online elsewhere, but that presupposes you paid for Internet service and hardware/screens to view on. Truly vanished is TV as a free medium, unless you hang an antenna or still use rabbit ears to pull signals (would that even work? It's been so long since I tried). DVD's get mighty expensive when ones you must have are toted up. Before long, the house is filled to rafters and you've not looked at half. It's a good thing rats aren't lured by shiny discs or my digs would be infested.

Some will complain that too many titles remain unavailable. Outside of London After Midnight and Convention City, what are they? Anything that exists is somewhere. Even stuff buried in archives has been run off at some point. Don't recall what John Ford silent it was that was found a year or two ago, but someone offered it to me last week. Maybe such looks lousy or was shot with an I-phone, but it can be got (UPDATE: As demonstration of how accessible such is, I've lately learned that the found Ford is soon out on legit DVD) . A lot of those who say they can't locate something just aren't looking in the right places. For myself, bootlegs are a last resort for pix I need to watch for some reason (assuming there's such thing as real need in this silly pursuit). They're generally not going to look so hot, although ones can surprise you. A guy handed me a plain-wrap of 1931's Graft (pre-Frankenstein Karloff!) at a show and promised a pip, and by jiggers, it proved to be just that.

I don't get logic of my generation having it made forty years ago. Full disclosure obliges recall of pathetic handful of 8/16mm prints I schlepped along to group shows where too much light poured through shade-drawn windows. Picture yourself seated before Kino's Blu-Ray of Sherlock Jr., then imagine a classroom desk in 1972, and me unspooling an 8mm print to freshmen resolved never again to so inflict themselves. Of course, our standards were lower then. How else would I stay at it and be here today? But with current technology at hand, no one need settle for less than best (although again, it comes with costs). There's part of why I maintain more young people enjoy classics than ever before.

Go into many high school/colleges, large enrollment please, and there's a handful of at least occasional watchers, if not devotees. When I most recently did campus shows, and this was for a period between five and twelve years ago, there was steady and often capacity attendance. I made a point of showing not just boilerplate typicals like Casablanca, Singin' In The Rain, etc., but oddballs and obscurities that some in the crowd invariably recognized. Music-and-effect (never called silent) shows always did well. My audience had seen enough on TCM and once-upon-time AMC to grasp the vocabulary of non-talking features, and it wasn't just comedies they'd come to watch. To compare my average audience size with ones that attended during treasured late 60's peak (again, so-called), I consulted with a local friend who oversaw Wake Forest University's (then College) film program forty-five years ago. Wake had one of the best series in the country during the late 60's/70's (The Sopranos' David Chase was a WF student then, and much influenced by it), but according to my contact, their average  attendance was no greater than mine in the 2000's.

I'm admittedly not in  trenches of revival screening today. A lot of you are and thus have better perception of current reality. I just don't believe vintage pix are on any tracks out, more being at fingertips to watch than I'd see in ten more lifetimes. I'm like Joe Besser in the plunging plane who says he can't die yet because he hasn't seen The Eddy Duchin Story. Well, don't lower my curtain yet, for I've not caught The Eddy Duchin Story in HD, even as I'm secure in knowledge it'll stream somewhere provided I live long enough. If old film is headed for tar pits, then book me for a same descent toward greater accessibility plus quality on constant upswing (what better evidence than Criterion's Safety Last?). Classics going extinct? I expect them to get nothing but better.


Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

I used to work at Wake Forest in the 1990s when the library disposed of its aged 16mm collection. I ran some in my home theater before they were gone and they were in sad shape by then.

At least some of them wound up with a lady in the Art Department who took strips out of them and turned them into earrings.

I had a similar experience to others here, growing up in the mountains of NC in the 70s, catching old movies on tv when I could. Anyone else remember the Hitchcock and MGM's that turned up on the "CBS Late Movie" back then?

My local library had a fairly large collection of Blackhawk 8mm prints and that was my introduction to Chaplin, Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. I remember pouring over the Blackhawk catalogue and wishing I could afford the things.

In the 80s, while in college, I got my first VCR and still remember the first two movies I bought - "Touch of Evil" and "A Hard Day's Night". That was before they started doing retail sales of videotapes and I had to order them through a rental store - $50 each.

Now I can grab either one off the shelf in blu-ray editions that blows away the 16mm screenings I saw of them in college.

Just last night, I watched the obscure 1959 Cinemascope disaster "The Sound and the Fury" on blu ray with a friend who remembered seeing it on a local tv station many years ago. His memory of the movie was different - scenes that weren't on this disc and different editing and a different ending. I could find no evidence of an alternative version of the movie - was it faulty memory on my friend's part or was it WFMY that jumbled up the reels or recut the thing for one reason or another.

Despite being miscast and a disaster as a drama, we couldn't stop talking about all the detail in the sets of the decaying Southern mansion and the little town that were brought out by the gorgeous blu-ray transfer.

I'm still waiting on some obscurities like "The Twonky" or several 3d films to get an official release, but I'd say these are the good old days when it comes to classic movies.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Ron Hall said...

Thanks for the opportunity to tell your readers about my new project that relates to Extinct Movies are Better Than Ever.

"The Edgar Kennedy Restoration Project is a joint effort of Ron Hall at Festival Films, the Chudwig Group, Film Chest and Edgar biographer Bill Cassara. We plan to restore to hi-def Edgar's 104 Average Man RKO comedy shorts made from 1931 to 1948 and make them available to television, blu-ray DVD and online streaming. Some will be from 35mm such as Edgar and his family building an airplane in "Thanks Again" (1931) that was never shown on TV in the 1950s.

An original Keystone Kop in 1913, Edgar Kennedy worked with Sennett, Arbuckle, Chaplin, Our Gang, Laurel and Hardy, Ben Turpin and Charlie Chase in the silent era. He acted in dozens of sound films with the Marx Brothers, John Wayne, Doris Day, Preston Sturges, Harold Lloyd, Thelma Todd, Joe E. Brown, Janet Gaynor and the list goes on. If you are not that familiar with Edgar Kennedy, just visit on Facebook and enjoy excerpts from many of his films.

The first phase is to gather Edgar's many fans to and LIKE EDGAR. Likes on Facebook are important to prove the fan support needed to secure funding. Please tell your friends, share our link on your own Facebook home page, link to the FB page if you hae a movie website, write blogs about Edgar. The social media linking fans today can help restore, release, promote and find new fans for vintage movies like the Edgar Kennedy gems. Like Edgar and spread the word!

Further information is at where you can view the complete Edgar short "Hold Your Temper" (1943).

Phase two will be a Kickstarter campaign to secure financing, tentatively planned for mid-August. This social media method of crowd-funding did not exist 5 years ago and yet it can aid film restoration projects. The world changes so quickly while the old films remain the same -- absolutely hilarious! The whole world loves Edgar Kennedy. Here is your chance to LIKE him.

12:00 PM  
Blogger VP81955 said...

So much of this depends upon who holds the material. For example, take the 1931 Paramount programmer "I Take This Woman," starring two cinematic icons, Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard. It was feared lost for decades until a 16mm print was found in the estate of author Mary Roberts Rinehart (whose novel "Lost Ecstasy" was source material for "I Take This Woman"). It's been restored and shown at venues such as Film Forum in New York and the Myrna Loy Center in Helena, Mont. (Cooper's hometown), but has it been issued on DVD? No. Has it been screened on TCM? Again, no.

Perhaps Universal (which controls much pre-1948 Paramount product, though I'm not sure this title is among them) has tied things up or worse, simply doesn't care. Perhaps the people who found and restored the film have no interest in any further distribution or haven't been able to reach a deal. Whatever, most of the large, devoted fan bases of two Hollywood legends have never seen "I Take This Woman," and more's the pity.

1:43 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson explores some major films that remain missing in action:

Perhaps the biggest fly left in the ointment is films that exist, but are locked up for various reasons.

Hearst owns the character of Popeye; Time Warner owns the theatrical cartoons. It took a long time for them to cut a deal for home video rights. Were there years of hard bargaining, or was it just a matter of one or both sides feeling it wasn't worth the bother? I suspect a similar inertia kept the Warner Nancy Drews off the market until a big new movie made it look worthwhile to talk to Nancy's publishers.

The silent Laurel and Hardys are encumbered due to a messy and tragic situation with the American rights holder, even though there's a major restoration project -- unrelated to him -- under way. While the silent shorts are available in various foreign editions, Yankees will probably have to wait until some new entity somehow acquires the rights. The sound shorts and features from Hal Roach were bottled up out of simple ineptitude: Hallmark released a couple of seriously flawed DVDs; the next owner -- which bobbled a complete Little Rascals set -- supposedly there wasn't a market.

Items ranging from the musical movie "Where's Charley?" (somehow hamstrung by an heir to original "Charley's Aunt" playwright) to the campy 60's "Batman" series (Fox production of a Time-Warner property) are blocked by forces that don't seem to affect other adaptations of the same properties. At least two movies of "Charley's Aunt" are legally released and the stage musical is available for production; Fox sells the movie made from the "Batman" TV series.

The focus is usually on items allegedly suppressed by "political correctness", but a lot more is effectively locked away because of money, disinterest or incompetence.

5:56 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

Donald Benson mentioned the sixties "Batman" tv show as MIA on home video.

It's my understanding that what's keeping it out of circulation are the many stars that appeared in "wall climbing" cameos on the show. The producers didn't get formal contracts with the individuals at the time, so new permissions would need to be sought from all the relevant stars and estates, including people like Jerry Lewis.

7:01 PM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

It seems like everything is out there somewhere, but one I've never been able to find anywhere is "Lady in the Iron Mask" (1952)with Louis Hayward and Patricia Medina. It's a Fox film, so one would assume it wouldn't be hard to find, but I can't find it anywhere, despite literally years of looking through ads in every issue of The Big Reel and Movie Collector's World.

A few years ago I went to a collector's show in Chicago and a dealer bragged he could get his hands on any title. I threw that one out to him, and he was puzzled, looked through his list, didn't have it and gave me his contact info. He was bound and determined to find it for me. A few weeks later I received an e-mail from him. He couldn't find it anywhere.

Now having said this, it will probably turn up in the next batch of Fox MODs. But I always wondered if there was some rights issues involved with it.

1:13 PM  
Blogger phillyrich said...

Plenty of films never made available--like "The Joker Is Wild" (1957), never even on vhs.
And the vhs-only list is huge, starting with "History is Made At Night," "Ceiling Zero," "Test Pilot," etc.

10:45 PM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

Thank you, Donald Benson, for explaining the baffling failure of Where's Charley? to hit DVD. I'd been under the impression -- don't know where I got it now -- that Jo Sullivan Loesser (Frank's widow) was holding it up for some reason, but that never made any sense. Some descendant of Brandon Thomas does sound more like it -- though why this dog in the manger couldn't stop, say, Fox's Charley's Aunt with Jack Benny is anybody's guess.

BTW, don't tell that spoilsport descendant, but I picked up a bootleg VHS on eBay some years back. It was from a 16mm Eastman print where the color had shifted to orange, but it seemed to be intact. Even included end of reel leaders and countdowns.

12:40 AM  
Blogger iarla said...

I have "Lady in the iron mask" somewhere - i taped it on VHS off Irish TV in the early eighties. I will look for it, try and make a dvd copy, and you can have it gratis. (If i can find it, and it still plays.) "Flame and the flesh", a Lana Turner starrer made in italy in 1954, is another obscure one, though Kathryn Grayson -of all people- had a nice print. Apparently, she was a collector!

7:19 AM  

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