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Are art house movies viable on DVD?


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#1 of 21 Ali B

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Posted September 20 2001 - 10:43 PM

Having bought a DVD player in order to broaden my cinematic exposure (and it's worked - my English & Film degree starts Monday!) I have increasingly been buying films that could be described as art house and/or foreign. However, it seems to me that in the US, there really are very few companies consistantly releasing this sort of material to DVD. Criterion only occassionally releases modern art house movies now, instead preferring to concentrate on older material. New Yorker films has the rights to a vast library of films, and yet insists on releasing the worst DVDs available at a trickle of a pace. Kino has a similar policy to Criterion, in that more recent art house films are rarely released, and the major studios seem entirely unwilling to release these movies.

My question is, for films that are not licensed for VHS (and so presumably DVD) or those which are tied up in New Yorker's catalogue, what is there that we can do? I really don't want to see appalling DVDs from New Yorker of some of my favourite films, and with other companies unwilling to release such material where do we go to get them? In a way I'm lucky in that I live in the UK, where I can be regularily appeased by Artificial Eyes output, along with French companies like MK2. Surely Taste of Cherry must have sold well for Criterion? Perhaps this is a question to bring up at the forthcoming chat!

You would have thought that art house movie buyers would also be DVD player owners, since it is often the more intellectual approach to art house films that fuels the need for documentaries, commentaries etc. which are a fairly unique feature of DVDs.

Your thoughts are appreciated Posted Image


ali

#2 of 21 Hendrik

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Posted September 21 2001 - 12:09 AM

...well, here's one disc that would/could/should be of interest to lovers of (non-American) cinema:
http://www.dvdfr.com...he.php3?id=4281

...a double-feature DVD on the French films-sans-frontières label of two Luis Buñuel movies from this director's Mexican period:

* El (1952)

* The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (Ensayo de un crimen /1955)

- original Spanish mono sound
- the disc's menu allows you to select French or English subtitles on the fly
- extras (French only) include a Buñuel filmography and a short essay
- Amaray-type case...

...although of French origin, the disc is NTSC-encoded, not PAL, and appears to be a 'Region 0' disc to boot (no region logo on packaging or disc)...

...both films look and sound excellent!

Q.E.D.

. . . Posted Image . . .



[Edited last by Hendrik on September 21, 2001 at 07:21 AM]

#3 of 21 Hendrik

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Posted September 21 2001 - 12:18 AM

...just remembered... another French DVD that is 'all-region'
and NTSC-encoded and features optional English subtitles
is Marcel Carné's 1937 comedy Drôle de Drame :
http://www.dvdfr.com...che.php3?id=468

. . . Posted Image . . .


#4 of 21 SteveGon

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Posted September 21 2001 - 01:40 AM

I would assume it all comes down to money - art house films just aren't going to sell as well as blockbuster-type movies. Posted Image


------------------
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#5 of 21 Michael Reuben

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Posted September 21 2001 - 02:24 AM

quote:
However, it seems to me that in the US, there really are very few companies consistantly releasing this sort of material to DVD. [/quote] Unless you're defining "art house film" very narrowly, I don't think this is an accurate statement. Many critically acclaimed smaller films never receive major distribution in the U.S. and only become available to a broader audience on DVD (or, sadly, VHS). Examples from recent years, off the top of my head, include:

You Can Count on Me
The Five Senses
Metroland
Boys Don't Cry
Requiem for a Dream
startup.com
Tumbleweeds
The House of Mirth
Love's Labour's Lost
Titus
(in a magnificent special edition)

I would also characterize Memento, which is currently a top-selling DVD, as an art house film. No studio was willing to distribute it; it ended up with a wider distribution solely through word of mouth.

There are a number of art house films that played here recently or are still playing that I fully expect will come to DVD within the next year, and that will be the first chance that most people have to see them. They include:

Happy Accidents
Session 9
L.I.E.
Lisa Picard Is Famous


I agree that the situation with catalogue titles is much more of a problem, but that's true of mainstream stuff as well.

M.

[Edited last by Michael Reuben on September 21, 2001 at 09:56 AM]
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#6 of 21 Glenn Overholt

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Posted September 21 2001 - 02:43 AM

I am waiting for the day when we can get DVDOD. Yes, on demand. We can ask for this or that movie, or assorted TV episodes, pay a price and get them cut just for us.

Don't hold your breath, though. It is going to take awhile.

Glenn

#7 of 21 Derek Miner

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Posted September 21 2001 - 02:54 AM

There was a survey or analysis I read somewhere recently where the sales of movie genres were compared on VHS and DVD. Sales of foreign or art house movies were almost completely (over 80 percent of sales, if I recall) a DVD market. This would lead me to believe that before long, you won't see this type of movie get a "VHS only" release.

As far as "modern" art house fare, I wouldn't expect Criterion to be putting those out anyway. Here in the US, contemporary foreign or art films end up going through larger companies (Paramount Classics, Miramax, Fine Line Features, Sony Pictures Classics) that have ties to studios or larger home video distributors.

Sometimes the independent stuff gets out in the market, but you have to search high and low for it. I couldn't find a retail store that stocked the spoof Psycho Beach Party, so I had to order it online.

Ali, since you live in England, isn't it a little easier to get access to "foreign" films by ordering from their original country of release?

= Derek =

[Edited last by Derek Miner on September 21, 2001 at 09:55 AM]
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#8 of 21 Ali B

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Posted September 21 2001 - 03:40 AM

Sometimes it is easier to buy them from their country of release, but if they are on DVD there then most of the time they don't feature the all important English subtitles.

I guess my definition of art house is a lot narrower than some of yours - I regard films like Requiem for a Dream as largely mainstream titles. My original rant was directed towards companies who own the rights to titles and then sit on them. It is a shame that titles such as Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us is stuck in no-DVD limbo (it has just received it's VHS release over here). It *is* getting better - R2 UK and Europe is getting a lot of films which probably won't see the light of day elsewhere (Blackboards comes to mind here), despite in some cases having people who are now major Hollywood stars in them (The Governess with Minnie Driver, for example).

Surely the people who buy the classics of cinema are also interested in films with a similar scope that are produced today?

#9 of 21 Michael Reuben

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Posted September 21 2001 - 03:55 AM

Quote:
I guess my definition of art house is a lot narrower than some of yours - I regard films like Requiem for a Dream as largely mainstream titles.
Understood, but what are your criteria? What makes Requiem a "mainstream title", whereas something else is considered "art house"?

FYI, at its widest release in the United States, Requiem played on a grand total of 93 screens. Think about it: That's 93 screens for the entire U.S. Its U.S. box office was slightly less than that for The Governess, which appears to qualify for you as an "art film".

M.
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#10 of 21 Jason Seaver

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Posted September 21 2001 - 04:58 AM

Quote:
What makes Requiem a "mainstream title", whereas something else is considered "art house"?
Well, there are levels to this sort of thing. Requiem did star fairly well-known actors, was (I think) financed by its distributor, and that studio (Artisan) is sort of an in-between-level one: They're not a multimedia powerhouse like Warner or Buena Vista, but they're also not the likes of Lot 47, New Yorker or Strand. They're kind of where Miramax was ten years ago.

I wouldn't go so far as to call Requiem mainstream in terms of subject matter. In terms of the structure behind the making and marketing of the movie, though, it is closer to the mainstream than something like Acts Of Worship.
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#11 of 21 Michael Reuben

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Posted September 21 2001 - 05:12 AM

quote:
Well, there are levels to this sort of thing. [/quote] That was where I was heading, but I was curious to see where Ali draws the levels. That's why I didn't stick to a single example. It just happens that Requiem is the only one he chose to comment on.

Every time I open this thread, I think of yet other "art house" films that made it to DVD. Image recently released Judy Berlin, which got only the barest distribution through Shooting Gallery/IFC, even though it was Madeleine Kahn's last film.

Miramax presents an interesting problem. They're part of the massive Disney empire, so I suspect that, by some people's definition, nothing they release today could be considered an "art house" film. And yet many of their releases continue to follow the art house pattern: a handful of screens, a large amount of critical ink way out of proportion to the likelihood of the public actually finding the film in a theater, and then a video release. Recent examples include Guinevere, The Yards and the Ethan Hawke Hamlet, all of which appeared on DVD. To me, these are "art house" releases, but maybe they're just not obscure enough for some folks. Posted Image

The question asked by this thread is whether "art house movies" are viable on DVD. I'm curious to know how the person who posed the question defines his terms, because from where I sit the answer is an obvious yes. Not all of the ones you might want to see get released, but they're certainly viable.

M.

[Edited last by Michael Reuben on September 21, 2001 at 12:20 PM]
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#12 of 21 Jason Seaver

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Posted September 21 2001 - 06:06 AM

To a certain extent, I've always drawn the line between "studio" and "independent" films at where the initial money comes from - studio films are paid for by the distributor, while the filmmakers raise money for independent films. (I'll leave aside "mainstream" and "art-house" because I hate the term "art-house" and because the border between the two shifts too quickly) Sure, this results in arguments when I tell people that Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace is an independent film and The English Patient isn't, but arguments are a natural result of unspecific terminology. I'm not exactly comfortable calling Cutthroat Island and independent movie, either. Posted Image

Miramax, the other "boutique" studio branches (Sony Pictures Classics, Paramount Classics, Fox Searchlight, Fine Line, United Artists, Universal Focus), and the in-between studios (Artisan, USA, Lions Gate) make it tougher by both producing movies and acquiring them.

As to whether boutique films are viable on DVD - if it can get a 35mm release, it can get a DVD release; DVD prep and replication can't be much worse expensive than what it costs to get 35mm prints to theaters. I'm always pleasantly surprised when I do a search of the past week's announcements on Image and see that the likes of The Sticky Fingers Of Time or Two Ninas or Judy Berlin has made it onto DVD.

I do think, though, that the small distributors - the likes of Strand, New Yorker, et al - are having trouble adjusting to the purely sell-through model of DVD. The number of copies that rental shops order has likely not gone up that much, but the amount of money those sales brings them must be cut by two-thirds. Since they're not likely to get much in the way of sales at Best Buy or Suncoast, and DVD prep costs are higher than for VHS, they're in a bit of a pickle.

That's probably why you see movies like Psycho Beach Party and Judy Berlin going for $35 for feature sets the major studios would charge $10 less for. But I do think the smaller distributors will figure it out, eventually.
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#13 of 21 andrew markworthy

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Posted September 21 2001 - 06:17 AM

I would have thought that there would be a reasonable market for art house movies if they were made R0 so they could be easily distributed. By definition, 'classic' art (be it books, movies, music, or whatever) only ever appeals to a minority (e.g. Beethoven or Mozart appealed largely to highbrows even in their own day), but the important point is that they will *always* appeal to a minority across the ages. In other words, a small but significant market will always be there, compared with the boom and bust of most pop artists.

However, the state of the market in R2 is pretty deplorable. There were a lot of French DVDs of classic movies released a while ago, but with no English or other subtitles (great, the UK misses out on DVD extras to put on half the languages of Europe, but our nearest neighbour can't reciprocate). It looks as if Brit companies are beginning to wake up, and in recent months I've acquired e.g. A Boute de Souffle, Les Quatre Cents Coups, and La Dolce Vita. Plus, it looks as if a lot of the Bergman movies are coming out in R2.

Incidentally, if anyone hasn't already bought it, do buy Bergman's Cries and Whispers on DVD - a superb disc.

#14 of 21 Dick

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Posted September 21 2001 - 06:30 AM

THE WICKER MAN is truly an "art house" movie, but happened to develop a cult following, and received a nice release from Anchor Bay, but this company might have released it anyway. Without the cult out there to back a film, probably it would not surface on DVD by a major studio. Anchor Bay really is - even more so than Criterion - the last bastion for such movies.

#15 of 21 Jason Seaver

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Posted September 21 2001 - 07:32 AM

Quote:
I would have thought that there would be a reasonable market for art house movies if they were made R0 so they could be easily distributed.
Contract-wise, region coding may actually be more important for boutique movies than for big mainstream movies. A multinational company like Sony or Universal will tend to keep all the world-wide rights in-house, but an independent film often sells theatrical/TV/video rights off piecemeal; Region 0 discs may not be practical.
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#16 of 21 CamiloCamacho

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Posted September 21 2001 - 12:19 PM

Thank you very much for the info on the Buñuel DVD´s. Anyone has actually see the disc?, how is the video quality?, it´s a huge improvement over the VHS versions?

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#17 of 21 Hendrik

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Posted September 21 2001 - 01:04 PM

...ahh... reread the last sentence of my post...

(note that any good DVD transfer is, by definition, better than even a good VHS transfer - if for no other reason than that a well-made DVD offers considerably higher resolution than a VHS --or even S-VHS-- copy can provide!)

...and, yes! I own both the Buñuel and the Carné DVDs - and wouldn't have recommended them here if they were not good discs...

...another R0 (but PAL-encoded!) Buñuel disc in my 'collection' is a fine, anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer of Viridiana , again on the films sans frontières label - this disc only has optional French subtitles, no English ones...

. . . ! . . .




[Edited last by Hendrik on September 21, 2001 at 08:19 PM]

#18 of 21 Ali B

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Posted September 22 2001 - 02:15 AM

God, I really should have defined that better Posted Image

I think the thing that defines art house more than anything else is whetehr or not it is played in a multiplex type cinema. While I have no idea how big US cinemas are in general, near me there are a handful of 2-3 screen cinemas, with a longer drive heralding 3 huge multiplex cinemas. Some of these multiplexes *do* show 'independent' films in that there is a large Indian population locally, and so a lot of Bollywood is shown. Films like Requiem for a Dream and Boy's Don't Cry all got (albeit limited) runs at my local multiplex, while a foreign film such as Gohatto (Cannes prestige and all) got only a 5 day run a very small cinema.

I guess a refinement of my original question is - if a film is only financially viable in a small cinema for 5 days, then does that necessarily make it unviable on DVD?

There have been a number of articles in the excellent BFI produced Sight & Sound bemaoning the lack of viability of the art house film outside of London. I think the interesting test will be, in R2 at least, a film like Blackboards. It received a 5 day run at the same local cinema, and has subsequently been released on DVD. I guess you could draw comparisons with films such as Show Me Love in R1.

Re: no English subs on French DVDs. I think this is often part of a licensing deal. Many of the UK R2 discs are intended as the only disc for Europe, and so hence the 20 odd subtitles languages on discs like 007. French discs appear to be somewhat different (titles like Rosetta aside) - often they are licensed purely for the French market, and so presumably carry with them a significantly lower licensing cost.

#19 of 21 Michael S Estes

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Posted September 22 2001 - 02:26 AM

I think I am far more confident about the future of watching serious films with good transfers than you,Ali. With the inevitable lowering of DVD production costs, added to the increased, worldwide saturation of DVD players, all film viewers with specialized tastes will be served by an increasing number of "boutique" companies that buy the rights from production companies such as New Yorker, and produce exceptional versions priced for an audience that appreciates those increased production values. Incidentally, my New Yorker copy of Imamura's The Eel is fine. Not exceptional, but watchable. When I bought the Widesight HK version of Flowers of Shanghai I was grateful just to have this film. Now I also have the Winstar disc, and am very appreciative of the great transfer. Both of these films are recent, serious films.
I truly believe that as the market matures, even independent filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage will be able to profitably produce good DVDs of their films. Most members of this forum might not be willing to pay a large amount for a box set, but I would. I suspect there are enough of people with similar tastes in the world to make this possible.

#20 of 21 Hendrik

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Posted September 24 2001 - 08:22 PM

"...I think the thing that defines art house more than anything else is whetehr or not it is played in a multiplex type cinema... "

...that is a skewed definition, too! since it depends on where (i.e. in which country) you live... I mean, how many French movies are shown in first-run cinemas in the USA (or the UK, for that matter)?

...I understand that, for instance, Dobermann and Les Visiteurs (1 & 2) and Les Rivières pourpres were pretty huge hits in France, as well as in other French-speaking parts of the world - were any of these ever shown in major UK or US cinemas? ...don't think so... does that make them 'art house' movies? ...well... ahh... umm...

. . . Posted Image . . .


[Edited last by Hendrik on September 25, 2001 at 03:24 AM]





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