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Robert Harris on The Bits - 12/22/04 column - OFFICIAL THREAD

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#1 of 47 OFFLINE   Bill Hunt

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Posted December 22 2004 - 07:23 AM

Afternoon everyone! The Digital Bits is very pleased today to bring you Robert Harris' year-end edition of his Yellow Layer Failure column. In this installment, Robert looks at the year in review in terms of classic film restoration work on DVD. He ranks the Hollywood studios on the quality of their classic DVD releases. Here's the link:

Robert Harris' latest Yellow Layer Failure column

As always, click on the link to read Robert's comments and then come on back here to this official thread at the HTF to discuss, give feedback, ask questions of Robert and sound off as you will. From everyone at The Digital Bits, a very Happy Holidays to all of you!
Bill Hunt, Editor
The Digital Bits

#2 of 47 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx


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Posted December 22 2004 - 08:08 AM

Merry Christmas

Once again another superb article on classic films.

No surprises as to the no 1 then.

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#3 of 47 OFFLINE   Doug Wallen

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Posted December 22 2004 - 08:52 AM

Who else could have been number one?Posted Image

Thanks for the column.

Merry Christmas to Robert Harris and the Digital Bits for providing top-notch information all year long.

Thanks guys.
 "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own."


#4 of 47 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted December 22 2004 - 10:27 AM

Great summary of the studios handling classics... Warner seems to have their classics and DVD's handled by people who love movies. I think this is the key to putting out great DVD's, as well as taking care of the films. They're especially great, to me, for the excellent 2-disc SE of Around the World in 80 Days. I don't think any other studio would have given the "worst" Best Picture winner such great treatment. Of course, I wonder how many people thought the film was bad, judging only from the murky pan & scan and mono audio version on VHS, TV, and laserdisc. Also, one of the big surprises was their DVD of the 1990 Mel Gibson/Franco Zefferelli version of Hamlet. I picked it up mainly as a study aid for my World Literature class, but I was really pleased by the excellent video quality and over an hour of supplements. While the DVD isn't outstanding, outside of the excellent video/audio on the film, Looney Tunes: Back in Action was also a fun release. Warner didn't really make a lot of money in theaters, but I'd hope that more people discovered this movie on DVD. On other studios, I think Universal deserves a tiny bit of praise for the Marx Bros. set. While it's a pale shadow of Warner's Marx set, the films themselves look wonderful, without a bunch of digital "fixing." MGM's Pink Panther collection also is great, even if it seems to be an overture to the wishy-washy remake coming next year. The Pink Panther looked stunning, which can probably be credited to the high-res Technirama process it was filmed in.

#5 of 47 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted December 22 2004 - 01:24 PM

Great article and I think I agree with the standings. I was personally VERY happy with Universal this year. We got some great westerns, great noirs, 24 Abbott and Costello movies, two Ma and Pa sets, Marx, W.C. Fields, Francis box set, Airport box, Smokey box with a new transfer for the first film plus THE NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY. Not to mention the return of the Universal Horrors.

#6 of 47 OFFLINE   Steve...O



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Posted December 22 2004 - 03:15 PM

Another great RAH article. Thank you. Micheal Elliott already posted the essence of what I was going to. I give Universal great credit for making affordable collections of A&C/Kettles/Francis/Fields etc. available. In my view, they would have been competing with Disney for 5th place. Hopefully they keep these collections coming in 2005. I know that HTF is no longer offering a "Studio of the Year" award, but if they did Warners would win hands down and deservedly so. Steve
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#7 of 47 OFFLINE   Roger Rollins

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Posted December 22 2004 - 03:48 PM

Bravo again to Mr. Harris for an astute, objective & informative article. I agree with his comments on all counts...especially in his praise for Paramount and the peerless work of WB. Warner certainly blew everyone out of the water this year by a long shot. Now we have 2005 to look forward to where already we have amazing things to look forward to from the #1 studio. Just the Warner Gangster collection has me dizzy with anticipation. Thank you to Mr. Harris and to the Bits and HTF for sharing this terrific article with us all. Hopefully the studios at the bottom will be motivated to do better work in the future.

#8 of 47 OFFLINE   Will Krupp

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Posted December 23 2004 - 01:40 AM

Truer words were never spoken Patrick!! Thank you again, Mr. Harris....as always! Merry Christmas to all!

#9 of 47 OFFLINE   Michel_Hafner


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Posted December 23 2004 - 05:59 AM

I'm rather out of touch with the mentioned titles since I don't invest in DVDs anymore. I wait for the HD. I had a chance to watch the beginning of "Death in Venice", though. I was underwhelmed. Edge enhancement and digital scratch removal (presumably) out of control in the first 5 minutes is a bad sign.

#10 of 47 OFFLINE   PaulBigelow


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Posted December 23 2004 - 02:23 PM

Excellent year end summary. With "King Kong" coming out next year (with any luck), no doubt Warner is working mightily to hold on to that number one position.
Best regards,

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#11 of 47 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden



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Posted December 23 2004 - 04:43 PM

I also think Universal was a little under-represented in listing their titles, but I don't necessarily disagree with their ranking in the list.

Other Universal releases of note (some mentioned above by others) included the various series sets for Ma & Pa Kettle, Abbot & Costello, Deanna Durbin, and Francis the Talking Mule as well as the The Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields box sets. They also packaged together some of their films and sequels into low-priced "Franchise Collections" including the American Grafitti, Airport, Conan, and Smokey and the Bandit films.

They also went to the trouble of clearing up the messy music rights issues in order to release some of their 80s teen fare in their original forms incluing 16 Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science.

They seemed to be allergic to newly-produced value-added extras, though.Posted Image
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#12 of 47 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted December 24 2004 - 01:26 AM

While several of the Uni DVD packages flew beneath my end of year radar, my overall problem with them (although well priced) is the lack of anything special to go along with them. Both Deanna Durbin and Mr. O'Connor's friend Francis, literally kept the studio going during the some very low periods. Ma and Pa Kettle was a gift which came out of the 1947 Egg and I. It was a nice low budget series which continued from 1949 - 55 with seven additional films. At street price is it worth $3.75 a title? Absolutely! That's one of the nice things about Universal. They price their product fairly. But a documentary would have been nice, but it would have had to come from someone other than Laurent Bouzereau, as the series is fresh out of easily available live talking heads. Possibly I'm asking too much, but I'd like to see a bit more effort and enthusiasm, as opposed to packaging several shortish features on a few discs and getting them to market. The "Legacy" concept was something coined at the studio about a dozen years ago, and it's a good concept. Re-packaging the horror films as such was nice, but they'd virtually all be previously available, and some in better versions. The Marx Brothers also deserved more than being stuck in a box. I don't count the additioinal material with that set as anything of real value, and it certainly wasn't a challenge to create. The Airport series missed the large format technical point of the original film and released it as a 35mm production, while I continue to see something odd about the transfer of A '75. Again, I guess what disturbs me is the overall lack of enthusiasm and any apparent real love or appreciation of film. But that's not why studios stay in business. I also noted "anniversary" editions, with the old transfers (not that there was anything wrong with the old transfers) of Dazed and Confused and Fast Times... I actually purchaed a copy of Fast Times, thinking it was something new. Why not leave this already released product on the shelves, go on to something new and make it special? All of Universal's strengths, and they are many, seem to be going into the 'non-classic" product. They do superb work with films like Van Helsing, with the studio's long time home video exec Colleen Benn overseeing some beautifully produced discs with great extras. All of this must come together before the cameras even roll on a new production. But Universal's classic library, along with that of Paramount are being treated as unwanted step-children, which leads me to believe that its all about the marketing of new productions. While I have nothing agasint films such as Dazed... or Fast Times... Am I missing something, or do we still not have a proper DVD of the Best Picture of 1973? It's not about film. RAH

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence

#13 of 47 OFFLINE   Mark_vdH



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Posted December 27 2004 - 06:32 AM

I would have liked to see honorable mentions for my two favorite releases of 2004 (well, aside from Gone with the Wind), The Battle of Algiers and The Rules of the Game.
Aside from that, a pretty definitive summary of this year's catalogue releases. Posted Image
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#14 of 47 OFFLINE   Aaron Silverman

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Posted December 27 2004 - 06:47 AM

Zoinks, I saw Nuremberg on the shelf and almost picked it up. . .who the heck expects a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer from a major studio in 2004???
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#15 of 47 OFFLINE   Frank*C



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Posted December 27 2004 - 02:49 PM

Nice Job, but I have to take issue with your "ranking" of Criterion. No way, no how do I see Paramount ahead of Criterion. Just using 3 Criterion releases that you didn't mention, films such as Rules of the Game, Ikiru, and The Battle of Algiers. These films alone are generally accepted as classics above any of the Paramount releases you mentioned, they're listed in the Sight and Sound poll voting and all achieved higher than a 8.1 in the IMDb. I give credit to Warner Bros for being very proactive in releasing their classic films and am pleased that they're releasing many in box sets which is nice for collectors (something that I wish Paramount had done with the Jerry Lewis films).

#16 of 47 OFFLINE   rich_d



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Posted December 28 2004 - 03:31 AM

Well said Frank!!!

Perhaps Mr Harris is just trying to drum up some controversy. Comparing the 2004 DVD results of Paramount with Criterion is like comparing meals at Burger King with Peter Luger's Steak House, respectively. I Love Lucy and Jerry Lewis films do not a year make. And I thought this was suppose to be about classic films? When did Top Gun and Footloose reach that status?

To Frank's additions to the Criterion list I'd add Eyes Without a Face in a heartbeat. Great transfer of a terrific film plus the documentary film Blood of the Beasts was one of my favorite supplements of the entire year. Don't miss it! (unless you have a weak stomach or you are an animal right's activist) All for a very reasonable street price (by Criterion's standard anyway).

Congrats to Warner for the terrific year they had. Let's hope that all studios rise to meet that challenge. That includes Paramount ... hopefully their 2005 30th Anniversary Addition of Chinatown will be stellar ... even if it is a year late. Posted Image

#17 of 47 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted December 28 2004 - 03:51 AM

The positions of the distributors discussed, while essentially aimed at "classics," whatever that word means, has taken into consideration the fact that we are discussing only a portion of a studio's output. Criterion is positioned with the knowledge that we pointed toward some 90% of their releases. Paramount released hundreds of titles, inclusive of re-issues of many PBS projects. In addition, the word "classics" is in quotes as it means different things to different people. Years ago (mid-'70s), when researching a book on Hitchcock, I was screening many of his films in 16mm in my early version of a home theatre. A couple with whom I was friendly stayed over for a night, bringing with them their mid-teen niece. In the morning, she joined halfway through the screening, and at the end, asked who the actors were, as she had never seen them in anything. They were Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. This was less than 30 years after the film was released. If one takes Rear Window, released in 1954 as an example of a true classic - a five decade old film, go back an equal length of time. That takes you to 1904 -- a period before Griffith or Gance created their first films. So are Top Gun and Footloose "classics?" To a growing part of the population, yes. RAH

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence

#18 of 47 OFFLINE   Michael Elliott

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Posted December 28 2004 - 03:51 AM

I for one would take Paramount's releases this year over Criterion.

#19 of 47 OFFLINE   Peter M Fitzgerald

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Posted December 28 2004 - 04:04 AM

I've posted about this before, but it bears repeating:

Special kudos go to Paramount for restoring the original music (and the extra film footage that went with it) to THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST. They could've easily just dumped the same old, lame "some music changed" version onto DVD, as they had with all previous releases of the film on VHS and LD, but Martin Blythe and company wisely decided to take the high road. This holds true for some other catalog titles Paramount released this year.

My only (minor) beef with "The Mountain" is their decision to ditch trailers on most older catalog titles (especially on studio productions like THE NAKED JUNGLE and I MARRIED A MONSTER WITH OUTER SPACE).

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#20 of 47 OFFLINE   rich_d



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Posted December 28 2004 - 05:11 AM


If one of your points is that the word "classic" has no true discernable meaning - I would agree. After all, if a word only has meaning relative to your age and/or film knowledge than yes - it means everything and it means nothing. How often have we heard that some brand new film became an "instant classic?"

So, perhaps we need a new word as the old word as "quoted"
is kaput.

Surfing around I see that your positioning of Paramount in your 'sans deux' ranking has raised some other eyebrows. From Master of Cinema's website:

"Robert Harris's "Classic DVD: A Report Card for 2004" article here is essential reading, even if it's shamelessly R1 only (and we wouldn't put Paramount over Criterion in a month of Sundays...) but this is a fine rundown of 2004, with some nice tidbits for 2005."

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