July 22, 2001

Open the Vaults

     If I want to pop in a DVD of The Adventures of Robin Hood this evening, I can't. That's because Robin and his merry men, in the definitive version with Errol Flynn courting Olivia de Havilland, aren't on DVD. Oh, I could resort to desperation and crank up the venerable Pioneer Elite CLD 97 laser disc player and choose between the Criterion or slightly more colorful MGM version of the classic adventure film, but these days my lasers are in such disarray I might have to spend the better part of a feature film looking for Robin. The Adventures of Robin Hood is just one of the classic Errol Flynn flicks still not on DVD. And that's just one of the great MGM and Warner catalog titles now controlled by Warner, a vault filled with incredible film treasures of which few have seen the light of DVD.
    Typical company position appears to be that many of these classic titles are in need of restoration and therefore they are not being released. To suggest that restoration is keeping vaults tightly sealed tight is a bit beyond comprehension. With the latest magical digital wonders of transfer technology, minor miracles are performed on films. North by Northwest, which did not undergo a needed original element restoration, was nevertheless delivered to DVD in a splendid transfer, digitally manipulated to maximize color and detail without sacrifice to artistic integrity.  
     Obviously, there are other motives keeping the classic releases at little more than a trickle. Nobody in their right mind expects major studios to release every gem in their treasure chest in one glorious insane gesture to the hungry movie loving community. There are valid economic concerns. The DVD market place can only absorb so many releases without dust covering the leftovers in sales bins. It happened on laser. Of course, laser never had the popular base DVD has built in a relatively short time. Maybe some brilliant "suit" posited that the majority of DVD users know little of classic Hollywood and need to learn, slowly, what it's all about. Well, maybe there is some truth to that.!
    Classic appetites are being whetted with stunning studio releases of classic Marilyn Monroe films from Fox and MGM. Paramount has treated home theater audiences to the grace of Audrey Hepburn.  Universal continues an ever growing parade of their classic horror catalog and hit a long home run with the release of their Hitchcocks. Warner gifted us with a rapturous A Star is Born, but where oh where are those other Garland films languishing in cold storage and how about the what Warner was all about once upon a time, gangsters. Columbia has released DVDs of Only Angels Have Wings, Gilda, Lady from Shanghai, Lawrence of Arabia and other staples from their vaults. That doesn't mean I am not tired of waiting for On the Waterfront to spin in digital purity. Criterion, long a champion of classic special editions on laser disc is coming across more these days with a mix of releases from Rififi to Mr. Hulot's Holiday and Spartacus. We know that there are plenty of classics in the works. Criterion is working with Universal and the Sturges heirs to bring brilliant Preston Sturges  comedies to DVD. 
We are still getting but a tiny fraction of the huge wealth of Hollywood cinema history on DVD, not to mention foreign films. The majors will no doubt continue to walk classics out with cautious steps. It probably makes good business sense to them, but it doesn't change the fact that there's almost no DVD representation for Tyrone Power, Robert Taylor, Greta Garbo, Lana Turner or Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Susan Hayward. Movie lovers have to do their part too. Go out of your way to purchase the classics. Don't be content to watch them on AMC or Turner Classics. If the sales numbers indicate a willingness to buy black and white, then we will get more precious product.

Links to Rants and Raves by Date

April 6, 2001
 The DVD Package

April 21 2001
Inserts and the Pop-Up Window

June 2, 2001
FBI Warning/Logo Wars



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