King of Kings: the 1961 version (DVD review)...

Discussion in 'DVD' started by frank manrique, Oct 12, 2004.

  1. frank manrique

    frank manrique Supporting Actor

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    King of Kings: Another Great Film Epic of the Past…

    “The scale is huge (7,000 extras in the Sermon of the Mount alone). The mood is reverent. The music is another milestone in the career of composer Miklos Rozsa. The performances of a splendid cast—with charismatic Jeffrey Hunter at the center—are real and moving. From the producers of the epic spectaculars El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire and the director of Rebel without a Cause and 55 Days at Peking comes a vivid retelling of the world’s greatest story, the saga of the Nazarene who would be King of Kings.” ...so the DVD’s liner notes states…

    Released in 1961, King of Kings practically came out striking the heels of the superb, magnificent, and highly successful (won eleven Oscars!) wide screen epic: Ben-Hur.
    However, unlike Ben-Hur whose plot line merely suggests Christ’s humanity, King of Kings places more emphasis on the latter by giving Jesus (played by Jeffrey Hunter) a real face, flesh and bones, while his divinity and all that entails is somewhat played down.

    Actually, the general mood of the plot line is more of an odd mixture of religious fervor, thirst for freedom, as well as the raging complex politics playing throughout Judea at the time.
    To ascertain this simply note how the ruling Romans, centrally depicted in the character of the new Governor to Judea, Pontius Pilate, relates to and deals with their puppet king Herod Anthiphas, son of Herod “The Great,” the Hebrew ruling elite, the Pharisees, a “rubble rousing” John the Baptist (played by Robert Ryan), a most discontented and highly disappointed rebellious population whose most salient example is best personified by Bar-abbas (played by Harry Guardino), a popular Jewish leader of sorts, Pontius Pilate’s aid ‘d camp, a man who secretly admires the monotheistic religion practiced by them, Mary, His Mother, and ultimately the very person of Jesus Christ himself.

    Film Technology…

    King of Kings first saw road show presentations in 70mm Super Technirama, but was actually shot in Technirama 35mm, an 8-perf horizontal camera negative format system that yielded extremely sharp images (something akin to the VistaVision photographic process), also using special Delrama optics that added a 1.5x anamorphic squeeze factor that yielded a theatrical 2:35:1 aspect ratio.

    In order to obtain 70mm road show release prints the 8-perf 35mm image had to be vertically placed within Todd-AO 70mm stock (Eastman Kodak). Six-track magnetic sound was added to the Todd-AO 70mm frame to complete the road show package. Projected aspect ratio: 2:21:1 (spherical; anamorphic 70mm aspect ratio was 2:76:1 but was mostly projected with a ratio of 2:55:1 or thereabouts).
    It shouldn’t surprise no one that King of Kings looked absolutely phenomenal in 70mm...for visually sampling the ultra-sharp, super bright, and deeply colorful images displayed on very large screen venues truly describes what it means to be wide-screen film epics: an experience not soon forgotten!

    For CinemaScope-compatible showings, 35mm anamorphic reduction release prints that received a 1:33:1 squeeze factor and 90 degree rotation placement (vertical) within the 35mm frame had to be created.
    Road show IB Tech 35mm prints were endowed with 4-track mag sound, while general release prints utilized either 4-track mag or monophonic optical tracks. Projected aspect ratio: 2:35:1 (anamorphic scope).

    Examples of films exhibited in Super Technirama 70mm include superb epics such as El Cid, Spartacus, and 55 Days at Peking, and to a lesser degree–but still great movies in their own right--Sleeping Beauty (Disney), Zulu, Circus World, The Magnificent Showman, and Solomon and Sheba.

    Examples of films shot in the 8-perf 35mm Technirama process include other great movies as well…namely: The Big Country, The Vikings, Sayonara, et al…

    The DVD transfer (Region 1)…

    The purveyor of the extremely high quality imaging contained within this DVD transfer is the high-definition master produced by Warner Brothers from which it originates, although am not sure what film element source or sources (i.e., 35mm or 70mm IP low contrast print, etc.) were used to derive the video master from…but I am getting ahead of my self…

    King of Kings 35mm scope theatrical release prints were processed with an updated version of the imbibition dye transfer Technicolor printing method, one that was believed to yield a more natural look than did three-strip Technicolor and one that was considered to be more competitive with Eastman Kodak's own organic dye color process, although the three-strip IB Tech system still remains the cornerstone of superb moving pictures color photography.
    The results of such usage are readily observable as it is something that this DVD transfer allows us to visually sample with great ease; colorimetry is still absolutely beautiful!

    Colors run the gamut and range from astoundingly pure looking whites to some of the deepest and densest velvety blacks you are ever going to see on video!
    This also stands true for colors like red, gray, orange, brown, Penrod gold, yellow, blue, purple, violet, aquamarine, all sorts of greens, ivory, tan, teal, silver, gold, etc., and a vast number of color shadings in between.
    Flesh tones appear extremely natural looking and are exquisitely rendered too (for example, check salome’s skin tone to get an exact idea of what I am talking about!).

    Since Technicolor Labs couldn't produce 70mm prints done with the dye transfer Technicolor process because it had no facilities to handle the large film format, Kodak film stock, with its attendant Eastman organic dye color process, had to be utilized for the creation of theatrical release prints.
    However, who ever done the color timing (s) indeed did a superlative job since the prints had (yep...had since most of those 70mm prints have long faded or “turned color,” which is a real pity) all the looks that are exclusively attributable to the imbibition dye transfer process. This is also easily verifiable as well…

    In terms of overall resolution this video version of King of Kings is as good as it gets when it comes to standard video resolution--it is of true reference quality! The laserdisc version never looked this good, that’s for sure. Only a High Definition version will surpass this DVD’s superb picture quality (of course, real film would be even better, but...).
    Detail is as astonishing in quality spite being a standard resolution video as one is almost fooled into thinking one is viewing High Definition images rather than the more mundane standard video fare. I gathered as much by viewing this DVD via DVI digital and component video analog signal paths provided by both of our main and secondary home theater systems.
    To visually determine just how great the resolution is closely inspect, if you would, the scene of the arid desert ground upon which Christ trod during his forty days of isolation and see what I mean; one can almost count individual grains of sand as imaging is rendered with a great deal of super-clear detail. It is outstandingly TRANSPARENT!
    Also check details from such objects like the stone blocks that made up the walls of the Roman headquarters and other buildings of similar construction in the city of Jerusalem and elsewhere; is like looking out an open window unencumbered by soiled glass.
    It is the same throughout the movie with all but the minutest images contained within.
    It is a benchmark achievement in video mastering and transferring as far as I am concerned.

    Contrast dynamic range is as good as it gets with the rather limited mpeg-2 digital processing since the range between brightness and absolute darkness is quite wide, which goes a long way in aiding the reproduction of shadow detailing.
    The net combination of all these factors result in producing an image that is quite tri-dimensional and extremely film-like in quality, those being the most significant and important qualifying assets for the acquisition of the highly coveted term of “reference quality.”

    Is picture quality a paragon of perfection? Well, let me just say this: aside not been able to detect traces of ugly artifacts (mosquito noise, serrated edges, flicker, line twitter due to aliasing, and other such similar pesky digital domain-originating flaws) at least with our carefully calibrated primary and secondary home theater systems, imaging would be absolutely perfect if it wasn’t for our old nemesis, edge enhancement (EE), whose presence is of enough magnitude to keep reminding us we are still viewing VIDEO rather than the real thing...namely: film. But at least isn’t as intrusive as I have seen in several previous cases.

    The quality of the film source element is excellent too, but there are a few instances where film flicker can be readily seen (at the beginning and also in couple of other bright scenes), although the degree is not enough to distract the viewer from enjoying the movie.
    Other film artifacts, like finger prints, dirt, emulsion flaws, etc., are thankfully absent as well.

    The sound...

    Miklos Rozsa’s magnificent musical score was originally recorded in Stereophonic sound, but was re-mixed in order to derive sound elements for the 6 magnetic tracks in the case of 70mm theatrical release prints (5-channels up front behind the screen plus one rear special effects channel), and 4-track magnetic Stereo or mono optical tracks in the case of 35mm theatrical release prints.

    Dialog was recorded with Stereo tracking, something that can be heard to a great extent, but it isn’t good enough as it appears to have been compromised by locating it nearly hard center (the worst example of this sonic malady I’ve ever hard was with the 1990s remake of Rob Roy, where voices originating from extreme left or right were actually located hard center, smack in the middle of the screen! Is not quite as bad when played in a home theater, but was absolutely asinine at the cinema!).

    Unfortunately, dynamic range isn’t much to brag about either, although there are some bright moments were low bass sound sources underpinning certain scenes make their presence known by doing it with a good degree of testicular authority.
    Don’t look for the sort of dynamic sound found in modern movies such Black Hawk Down, U-571, Das Boot, or even Brave Heart, though, otherwise you’ll be disappointed.
    It isn't absolute “reference” quality sound, yet serves Rozsa’s musical score well enough as it sonically appear clear and quite transparent, without obnoxious distortion components that really could mess things up.

    “The Life Of Christ, Intelligently Told And Beautifully Filmed. Full Of Deeply Moving Moments.”......”An Intelligent, Imaginative Movie Devoid Of Conventional Hollywood Pieties.” ...respectively commented Leonard Maltin (in Movie And Video Guide) and Geoff Andrew (in Time Out Film Guide) regarding King of Kings. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

    King of Kings is a film that should be an intrinsic part of any serious movie collection. Highly recommended for the entire family!

    The End...

    FJM
    __________________________________________________ ______

    NOTE: I have re-edited the above text in order to reflect corrections to errors missed in prior editings. Apologies are offered for any inconvenience this may have caused...

    DVD reviewing equipment:

    Display devices:

    Dukane Pro-9015 D-ILA (calibrated by Richard Martin) and 12 foot wide scope-ratioed screen (1.3 gain) plus 40" Sony XBR-800 high-definition "ready" TV set...

    DVD playback gear:

    Mobitsu 880 (set to upconvert 720p with the 9015 D-ILA display and 1080i with the Sony CRT-based display) standalone player outputting a DVI digital signal path (into the Sony TV set; the D-ILA display was connected RGB analog via a DVI-to-RGB adaptor since it lacks DVI or HDMI video digital interfaces)...

    Sound system:

    Pioneer XVS-49 TX multi-channel receiver powering Onix/Rocket RS 750 Signature Edition left and right main, RSC 200 center channel, and pair of Rogers LS3-5A surround sound speakers; plus twin SVS B4-Plus subbass systems which were powered by a Samson Servo 2000 pro-amplifier (the audio receiver and tube TV set are par of the secondary home theater system; other components belong to the primary home theater set up)...

    -THTS
     
  2. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    It's always nice to credit the source when so much of what you say is taken from other authors, don't you think?

    Also, IB Tech prints were not fairly new at the time of King of Kings, they'd been around for a few years.
     
  3. frank manrique

    frank manrique Supporting Actor

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    quote:
    __________________________________________________ _______

    It's always nice to credit the source when so much of what you say is taken from other authors, don't you think?
    __________________________________________________ _______

    I believe I clearly credited the authors whose quotes I've shown in my "review," so what is it "so much of what" I said in my essay that bothers you so and for which you felt compelled to post inferences that have a rather nasty negative connotation?

    Also, show me what other authors have I quoted in my essay without being credited as you allege I've done.
    If I've been remiss doing so I'll be very happy to oblige, but you better show proof of your allegations...

    quote:
    __________________________________________________ _______

    Also, IB Tech prints were not fairly new at the time of King of Kings, they'd been around for a few years.
    __________________________________________________ _______

    You better read with more understanding, pal.
    I know that my command of the English language is somewhat wanting, but allow me to try again so even you can understand, OK?

    ...I said King of Kings was photographed in IB Technicolor. So far so good? Are we tuned to the same channel? OK!

    Then I stated that this dye transfer imbibition Technicolor process was not one and the same as the much older three-strip camera process (maybe this is were we parted ways, yes?).

    I also stated that it produced a colorimetry that was deemed to be more attuned to our real world (i.e, "accurate").

    Technicolor Labs saw the necessity of developing a single camera method rather than the far more costly, cumbersome, and bulky three-strip camera system in order to be able to compete against Kodak's much cheaper two-pack organic dye color process (Eastmancolor, Warnercolor, et al)...because by that time many of the movie studios have ceased dealing with Technicolor Labs for those very same reasons, thus they needed to become more competitive. Phew! [​IMG]

    You know, I would have humbly taken a good chiding from the likes of Mr. Robert Harris or Joe Capporicio would they have deemed it proper to correct anything I may have misconstrued in my "review," but it doesn't set to well coming from you since I know jack about who you are or what credentials you might have--if any--so what make you think you have the right to judge my work so critically and with such thinly disguised sarcasm?...

    -THTS
     
  4. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Arthur,
    For a relatively new member, you seem to be involved in your share of controversies, perhaps, a rethinking of your posting style could lessen those confrontations.




    Crawdaddy
     
  5. Joe Caps

    Joe Caps Screenwriter

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    Great information here, and I always like to see a backward appreciation of a disc that may have slipped out of everyones mind after release.
    By the way, the stereo sound is NOT the original 1961 mix, but a remix done for dVD. The original mix seemed to haave developed a LOT opf distortion (just listen to the old lasers and you will see what I mean).
    Let me not start some flaming here, but I wish the Ben Hur dvd looked half as good as the King of Kings.
    Another spectacle that has a GREAT transfer if Foxs release of the Liz Taylor Cleopatra - awesome!!
     
  6. DeeF

    DeeF Screenwriter

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    I seem to recall George Feltenstein stating, at the time of the release of this DVD, that they discovered distortion on the original master tape. He was a little surprised to find that it wasn't clean.

    Distortion can be heard on the DVD, though it isn't bad at all.

    Ron Epstein did post a review of this DVD, with screencaps.

    I actually did a little critique of my own, a comparison with the brand new disk of Gangs of New York, in which I was sorry that the newer movie didn't look as fine as this 40 year old one.
     
  7. frank manrique

    frank manrique Supporting Actor

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    quote:
    __________________________________________________ _______

    Great information here, and I always like to see a backward appreciation of a disc that may have slipped out of everyones mind after release.
    __________________________________________________ _______

    Hi, Joe! Glad to see you are up and doing well after the accident (thank God!). Thank you for the kind words.

    quote:
    __________________________________________________ _______

    By the way, the stereo sound is NOT the original 1961 mix, but a remix done for dVD. The original mix seemed to have developed a LOT of distortion (just listen to the old lasers and you will see what I mean).
    __________________________________________________ _______

    I fully concur...on both counts...

    quote:
    __________________________________________________ _______

    Let me not start some flaming here, but I wish the Ben Hur dvd looked half as good as the King of Kings.
    Another spectacle that has a GREAT transfer if Foxs release of the Liz Taylor Cleopatra - awesome!!
    __________________________________________________ _______

    You're absolutely correct!
    Ben-Hur should have looked better IF Warners would have availed of Mr. Harris' supervision of a 70mm (65mm) restoration from hence a suitable HD master with the correct aspect ratio, no image cropping, and much higher vertical resolution would have originated from. Such a HD video master could then be used to produce a far superior looking DVD transfer than what we were given instead.

    Yep...you're also right about Fox's Cleopatra DVD transfer: is spectacular looking!

    Cheers...

    -THTS
     
  8. GeorgePaul

    GeorgePaul Second Unit

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    Ben-Hur is one of my dad's favorite films--we've all seen a remastered 70 mm print of it in the theater--and he thought it looked better than ever on DVD.

    That being said, I haven't found a review of the King of Kings DVD until now, frank, so many thanks for the quality info. I would be interested in some more information on the supporting cast and how they were selected, but that's my only qualm, frank--don't take any criticism personally, ok? [​IMG]
     
  9. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    I'm happy to change my posting style, but I wasn't aware that I'd been the cause of controversies. I speak my mind, occasionally, but I don't try to be disrespectful when doing so. And actually, looking back on my posts, several members of this forum complimented me on my posting style, so I guess what works for some doesn't work for others. Surely, we're allowed to disagree or point things out if we do it non-confrontationally, yes? I've seen much more confrontational posts here than mine including a few directed at me. They don't bother me all that much and I move on. I've read the posting guidelines here and I do try to adhere to them.

    In this instance, there are several bits of information in this review that come from books, and I always think it's nice to credit the source. If I missed those, then I humbly apologize.

    To the poster in question: You stated that imbibition Tech was a fairly new printing process at the time of King of Kings. I merely said it had been in use for several years, which it had. I know all your other points about Tech and I wasn't addressing those, as they were correct. I love Tech, three-strip, IB printing, all of it, and have read as much as you can read about it - in fact, we've probably read exactly the same books.
     
  10. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Arthur,
    That's the point, you're not being non-confrontational and it shows when others respond to some of your posts.





    Crawdaddy
     
  11. frank manrique

    frank manrique Supporting Actor

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    quote:
    __________________________________________________ _______

    Ben-Hur is one of my dad's favorite films--we've all seen a remastered 70 mm print of it in the theater--and he thought it looked better than ever on DVD.
    __________________________________________________ _______

    Ben-Hur IS my most favorite, loved movie of all time too.
    Having said that, I understand that latter theatrical spherical 70mm version showings (none of which I've personally sampled), after the original roadshow anamorphic 70mm release prints had their rounds, have pretty much been the proverbial rollercoaster ride since they have ranged from being projected with an aspect ratio of 2:00:1 (!) in some cinema houses, which obviously results in sever image cropping, to anything else but the way the movie looked originally (was the print/prints your guys seen incorrectly framed and with fading colors?). No wonder your Dad thinks the DVD looks better!

    You know, I've viewed Ben-Hur in 35mm anamorphic scope, IB Tech reduction prints with 4-track magnetic sound in private screenings several times in the past ten years and must say the picture quality is absolutely to die for!
    That's what I used as my frame of reference for the Ben-Hur on DVD reviewing (I did a critique piece of the DVD transfer for AVS Forums when the DVD first came out, though never posted here in THF. I should have...).

    quote:
    __________________________________________________ _______

    That being said, I haven't found a review of the King of Kings DVD until now, frank, so many thanks for the quality info. I would be interested in some more information on the supporting cast and how they were selected, but that's my only qualm, frank--don't take any criticism personally, ok?
    __________________________________________________ _______

    Am glad that you found my humble "review" of King of Kings of some value! :b

    As for the sort of information you seek about actors and supporting cast...am afraid I've little to offer in that regard since my greatest interest lies with the technical side of film making and related technologies instead (though I do occasionally enjoy readings tidbits of this or that about movie stars, directors, directors of photography, etc.).

    And as far as for my taking criticism personally goes...I really don't.
    I don't mind being criticized if the situation merits it or is warranted, yet will go after somebody with both barrels ablaze when I feel criticism is been leveled at me in a clearly unjustified manner... [​IMG]

    I greatly appreciate your kind words, my friend! [​IMG]

    -THTS
     
  12. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    For those interested, this is Ron Epstein's review of this fine film from our archives.





    Crawdaddy
     
  13. Paul Linfesty

    Paul Linfesty Stunt Coordinator

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    There's no real way to verify this from watching the DVD, since the original 70mm Eastman prints or 35mm IB Technicolor prints were undoubtably not used for this transfer.
     
  14. Joe Caps

    Joe Caps Screenwriter

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    Frank - you are quite right - those 35mm IB Technicolor prints of Ben Hur are simply amazing. One can't hope for that kind of look on a dvd. But we should expect a transfer that looks as good as King of Kings or the Liz Taylor Cleopatra.
    Worse, Ben Hur always had a great sounding six channel stereo track. It sounds great on the old laserdiscs. that track should have been used for the dVDs.
    Instead, the film was remixed from scratch The orchestra doesn't sound as good as it did. MGM had rear channel mikes to give the orchestra depth, but those tracks are not on the raw music session tracks used for the dvd.
    Right at the beginning of the film, when the star of Bethlehem appears and the chorus that should accompany it is faded in a beat late, one knows that this mix is going to be trouble.
     
  15. frank manrique

    frank manrique Supporting Actor

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    quote:
    __________________________________________________ _______

    Technically wrong. IB Technicolor was a printing method, not a photographic process. King of Kings was shot on Eastman stock.

    By this period of time, mag/optic prints would have been in service, so prints would have been either mag-optic or optic only.
    __________________________________________________ _______

    I stand corrected...on both counts. Thank you, Sir!

    I'll make darn sure to use proper terminology in future postings...

    quote:
    __________________________________________________ _______

    There's no real way to verify this from watching the DVD, since the original 70mm Eastman prints or 35mm IB Technicolor prints were undoubtably not used for this transfer.
    __________________________________________________ _______

    Am not sure if a new 35mm IP film element was used for the HD master from which the transfer originated (restored 70mm film elements for mastering purposes seem to be out of the question, to my own chagrin), or if everything was "restored" digitally (most likely), but color timing seems pretty close to what I remember seeing on the big screen back when Moby Dick was a sardine, so that is good news (well, at least to me).

    Anyway, I hope Mr. Robert Harris chimes in with pertinent information for I suspect he knows far more about what transpired with this DVD transfer job than I ever will...

    -THTS
     
  16. frank manrique

    frank manrique Supporting Actor

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    quote:
    __________________________________________________ ________

    Frank - you are quite right - those 35mm IB Technicolor prints of Ben Hur are simply amazing. One can't hope for that kind of look on a dvd. But we should expect a transfer that looks as good as King of Kings or the Liz Taylor Cleopatra.
    Worse, Ben Hur always had a great sounding six channel stereo track. It sounds great on the old laserdiscs. that track should have been used for the dVDs.
    Instead, the film was remixed from scratch The orchestra doesn't sound as good as it did. MGM had rear channel mikes to give the orchestra depth, but those tracks are not on the raw music session tracks used for the dvd.
    Right at the beginning of the film, when the star of Bethlehem appears and the chorus that should accompany it is faded in a beat late, one knows that this mix is going to be trouble.
    __________________________________________________ ______

    Joe,

    I agree that the laserdisc soundtrack sounds better than what we were given on the DVD version...exactly for the reasons you give.

    You know, although I should be grateful that Warners finally opted to release Ben-Hur on DVD spite having serious initial misgivings about doing so, I still loathe the fact it wasn't done properly...sans image cropping, with higher vertical resolution, and better sonics (they could have hired Mr. Harris to do a real 70mm film restoration with which to produce a HD video master of much higher picture quality and resolution as well as using the original soundtrack stems, something that would have translated into a truly superb looking and sounding DVD transfer).

    Alas! Until that happens Ben-Hur will remain the half-hacked job that it really is spite of looking like never had before in any of its earlier video versions...

    -THTS
     
  17. frank manrique

    frank manrique Supporting Actor

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    Hi, folks,

    For whatever is worth, this is just a note to let you know that I've re-edited my essay to reflect changes in sections were errors were found and which I missed during prior editings (that's what happens when one stays up all night! :b ).

    A list of DVD "reviewing" equipment was added as well...

    -THTS

    "...hi, my name is Frank...and am an SVS bassaholic..."
     
  18. Mark_TS

    Mark_TS Screenwriter

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    It was a pleasure to read your informative essay, Frank.
     
  19. CherylWI

    CherylWI Stunt Coordinator

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    That was one of the greatest posts that I have ever read.[​IMG]
     
  20. frank manrique

    frank manrique Supporting Actor

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    quote:
    __________________________________________________ _______

    It was a pleasure to read your informative essay, Frank.
    __________________________________________________ _______

    quote:
    __________________________________________________ _______

    That was one of the greatest posts that I have ever read. [​IMG]
    __________________________________________________ _______

    Mark, Cheryl,

    Am humbled by the words of encouragement; I truly appreciate your kind comments. Thank you!... [​IMG]

    -THTS

    "...hi, my name is Frank...and am an SVS bassaholic..."
     

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