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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Good Things Abounding

There's a new site recently up and running that commands attention of anyone interested in film history and/or screen formats. Bob Furmanek's 3D Film Archive caps his many years at rescuing Hollywood's dimensional past, and readers will relish these accounts of depth features/shorts brought out of seeming oblivion. Furmanek opened my eyes to 3D Myths he dismantles ... I'd been too long falling for several ... and no one is more scrupulous as to facts than he and noted historian Jack Theakston when they micro-study The 3-D Release Of Hondo --- a lot of misconceptions are set straight here. You needn't be a 3-D maven to find fascination at this address. I was deep immersed by Furmanek's recount of a youth discovering 3-D and how he began life pursuit of that unique format. Start perusing 3-D Film Archive and you'll not quit till the deed is done. I'll be going back often as Bob promises further 3-D research to come.

The "jewel box" that contains soundtrack CD's is aptly named in the case of Brigham Young University Film Music Archive's release of the majestic Max Steiner score for Since You Went Away, a double-disc of seemingly every note the maestro composed for David Selznick's wartime masterpiece. I've chased this music back to 70's-era Max Steiner Society (remember them?) cassettes that didn't sound half so crisp as this new release. CD bootlegs did the score no credit either. But BYU has now gotten it right and then some. Steiner's work for SYWA should be as well-remembered as his Gone With The Wind ... certainly this is its melodic equal. Worth a purchase price alone is lavish liner notes by experts in the field James D'Arc (curator of the BYU Music Archive), musicologist Nathan Platte, and past-master at restoring classic scores Ray Faiola, whose work in this field is second to none. Since You Went Away is available from Screen Archives, and speaking of which ...

Twilight Time's Blu-Ray series continues apace with vaulties out of Fox and Columbia rendered in best-ever quality. I was glad they went to higher-def for all offerings. When would these have ever seen release otherwise? Screen Archives distributes the Blu's along with their fine soundtrack inventory. What with all this and Olive's avalanche of Paramount and now Republic titles, there's never been a flusher time to collect. Twilight promises further goodies --- Bing Crosby in High Time is one I particularly look forward to. Will major studios ever implement such a thing as Blu-Ray Movies on Demand? Noticed today that VuDu currently streams 485 pre-1960 titles in High Definition. The ones I've watched look great. Also there's continuing hope of TCM finally going true HD. Can any insider there tip us off?

Finally among books there is a definitive history of RKO from Richard Jewell, foremost authority on that subject and co-author of a previous oversize volume focused on it. RKO Radio Pictures: ATitan Is Born emphasizes corporate history (quite a thicket!) and reveals acreage of data new to me and I suspect anyone who reads this immersing saga. Prof. Jewell takes us just past WWII's beginning, his Volume One of two ending with the upset of Orson Welles and The Magnificent Ambersons. I wish there were history of all major companies so fine as Jewell's of RKO. He's a crack researcher and engagingly narrates those years of seeming non-stop struggle (did any studio have a tougher time just surviving?). By all means, grab this book for a fascinating lowdown.


Blogger Cliff Aliperti said...

Thanks for the news, especially the final bit on RKO. Stuck that baby in my Amazon cart for future purchase ASAP!

1:39 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

I'm with Cliff on that RKO book, except I took it one step further: my Kindle Fire is downloading it even as I type this. Prof. Jewell's name was good enough for me; I consider The RKO Story the best of the "Studio Story" series -- and that's saying something. I'll keep an eye peeled for v. 2 as well; ending this first one with The Magnificent Ambersons (and, presumably, the Charles Koerner coup) is an excellent place to break, but I'm bracing myself for a fall: by the time Howard Hughes shows up in v. 2 I suspect the story will turn pretty depressing.

Thanks for the heads-up on the Since You Went Away CD, too; definitely a keeper, no doubt.

9:03 PM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

Apropos of nothing, "Ace of Space" was probably my favorite post-Fleischer Popeye -- even flat on B&W TV. In the film Bluto is a Ming the Merciless type leading an army of harmless-looking aliens against Earth. Not sure if they were parodying something specific, but there were moments that showed what a reasonably "straight" Popeye adventure might look like.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you, thank you for the heads up on Professor Jewell's new book on RKO!! I added it to my Amazon cart immediately.

Professor Jewell is not only a terrific expert on RKO, he's a heck of a nice guy who was a wonderful professor and mentor to my daughter, who was fortunate to take his course on Westerns. She was quite disappointed she didn't get to take his RKO course before she graduated!

I got Jewell's THE RKO STORY when it came out in the '80s, along with the other "studio" books and agree it's excellent. (Although my favorite in the series is THE MGM STORY.)

Thanks again! I'll be sharing this news in my next link roundup.

Best wishes,

7:19 PM  
Anonymous Lee said...

"Popeye, the Ace of Space" was, if I recall correctly, the only major studio title missing from a 3D film festival I attended several years ago. Warner, who now owns those films, didn't have a 3D print available. I wonder if that's been rectified since? DVD release of the Popeye theatricals seems to have stalled since Warner finished up the black and white titles a few years back. Some of the early Technicolor shorts of the war years and just after were quite good, though I'll be the first to concede that the series had pretty much run out of steam by the 1950s.

5:46 PM  
Anonymous Frank said...

There was an article in my local paper on Blu-Ray awhile back, and George Feltenstein, of Warner Home Video, was quoted as saying that he continues to be frustrated by slow sales of classics on Blu-Ray. There was so much, he said, that he had hoped would be available in the new format by now. He mentioned the Marx Brothers and the Astaire-Rogers pictures. The article said industry analysts cite the problem as being that too many people don't see the increase in quality (going from DVD to Blu-Ray) as being significant enough to repurchase titles they already have in the older format. The conclusion was that most people will purchase a title on Blu-Ray if they don't already own it, but if it's a title they already own on DVD they are inclined to pass it up.

All of which is very frustrating to those of us who love Blu-Ray!

6:20 PM  
Anonymous Bobby said...

Well, Frank, I have to tell you that I'm exactly the kind of person you write about. I don't often purchase Blu-Rays of movies I already have on DVD, for the simple reason that I'd rather spend my home video dollars on movies I don't own. (These days, the Warner Archive seems to be getting most of those dollars.) Like you quoted that article as saying, the improvement in picture quality just isn't great enough to make that big a difference to me. If money were no object it would be different.

9:45 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I also understand the reluctance to keep buying the same movies over and over.

Financially, it's difficult for some to do so, considering the number of times the "new and improved" discs will actually be viewed.

I have some DVDs I bought, as far back as 1998, I haven't watched yet. I know that's my own fault, but ever since the dawn of the home video era (I'm talking Betamax and VHS), buying movies has been an impulse thing. I see something is being released and I tell myself that I have to get that...RIGHT AWAY.

So I had a slew of VHS movies, then laser discs, then DVDs, now Blu-Ray.

So one is stuck with three or four formats of the same movie, which is really silly, and the only thing to do with the old copies are to give them away or throw them away, because the resale value of these things is nil.

I recently began streaming features. Last month I watched over 60 movies. And, at the end of every movie streamed, I told myself that how nice it was that I didn't have to spend the money to buy them and don't have to store them someplace.

DVD sales across the board have slipped considerably, and Blu-Ray hasn't really taken off like it was hoped. Now streaming is biting into DVD sales.

Don't be surprised to see DVDs go the way of CDs in the not-so-distant future.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Jim Harwood said...

John, some of the Vudu HD classic titles are great (Laurel and Hardy anyone?) but where they come up short is with some of the CinemaScope titles. Warner Bros especially is sending them 1.78 pan&scan blowups of the MGM, Warner Bros and RKO libraries. A few I noticed in the past couple of days are IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLDS FAIR. BHOWANI JUNCTION and RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY. All start out in 2.35 (or wider) aspect ratio, then zoom in to 1.78 after the opening credits. Can you imagine paying $20 to buy an HD transfer, only to have 1/3 or more of the image cropped off? There are also some titles from Fox and Universal that are being offered this way, but Warner is the main culprit. Not only shouldn't they be doing it, but I wish Vudu and Netflix would demand the original aspect ratio versions. They do exist.

7:46 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Jim --- I had not noticed those ratio problems with Vudu, but then, I have not watched any of those titles you mentioned. The ones I have seen include "The Rains Of Ranchipur" and "Between Heaven and Hell," within the last couple of weeks, and both were excellent. I'm hoping tomorrow to look at "D-Day, Sixth Of June."

9:52 PM  
Anonymous Joe said...

Vudu and Netflix don't demand the original aspect ratio versions because they believe a majority of their customers want to see their screens completely filled by the picture. No black bars at the top and bottom. That's what I was told in response to my complaints. We've gotten past the days when everything was pan and scanned to 1.33 and have gotten people to accept widescreen, but we're still having to live with compromised widescreen. Two steps forward, one step backward.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Love today's STORM WARNING masthead. Great movie. Love the LUST standee...

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Frank said...


Unfortunately, I can believe that lots of Netflix and Vudu customers want to see their entire widescreen TV filled by the picture, with no black bars visible, based just on the fact that I know of way too many people who keep their widescreen TVs set to stretch and/or squeeze everything to fill the available picture area. Personally, I just cannot watch, for example, a 1.33 picture stretched to fill the entire wide TV screen, but I know of lots of people who do it. It's frustrating to those of us who want to watch movies in their original aspect ratios.


4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a huge blu-ray and DVD buyer, so I tend to lean toward those physical formats, especially since HD streams tend to be a bit lower quality than a Blu-ray image.

Also many streaming services such at Netflix has a real grab-bag of transfers. Some look like old '80s transfers, while there are also some great looking HD streams.

Netflix also has some non anamorphic letterboxed titles with black bars on all 4 sides, so I don't get the assertion that they cater to "filling the screen" they have the full-screen pan & scan prints because that's what the studios game them.

I disagree somewhat to DVD resale ability. While some common discs go for peanuts, I've still been able to get some pretty good prices on many DVDs on eBay and Amazon.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Joe said...

Joseph, all I know is what I was told by Netflix when I complained about widescreen movies being "blown up" to fill the screen. They felt running them like that whenever available satisfied the majority of their customers, who prefer to see their entire screen filled.

7:57 PM  

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