Robert Harris on The Bits - 12/23/05 column - OFFICIAL THREAD

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Bill Hunt, Dec 23, 2005.

  1. Bill Hunt

    Bill Hunt Insider
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    It's that time again, folks! The end of another long year is finally here, so for this installment of his Yellow Layer Failure column at The Digital Bits, Robert's decided to take a look back:

    RAH's Top Classic DVDs of 2005

    Click the link to read Robert's list and then come on back here to this official thread at the HTF to discuss, give feedback, and post your own "best of" DVD lists. Happy Holidays!
     
  2. Chris_Estrada

    Chris_Estrada Auditioning

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    No Wizard of Oz, Robert? Three disc with a stunning new transfer, good docs, and earlier versions, but no mention of it at all? Why?
     
  3. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    WoO didn't make my list for the same reason that I wasn't overly enthused about it.

    While the high definition master from which it is derived will be gorgeous when it arrives, the earlier incarnation of the film in standard def on DVD was so superb, that on all but the very highest end systems, I don't anticipate people seeing any huge difference.

    So it isn't that the release isn't superb in its own right, but rather in comparison to that which it follows.

    RAH
     
  4. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    I thought the Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection (7-disc) and The Forgotten Films of Fatty Arbuckle sets were the best of this year. The Lloyd set fills in a big gap in silent comedy on DVD. The 4-disc Arbuckle set, combined with the 2002 two-disc set of most of his pairings with Buster Keaton, offer a mostly comprehensive look at his films. When I first got into DVD, I was kind of let down by the selection of silents in 2000. Now, there's so much to pick from.

    Although, I have no idea why the Oklahoma! SE didn't end up on the list. [​IMG]
     
  5. DouglasBr

    DouglasBr Stunt Coordinator

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    Glad to see the Ealing Comedy and British War sets on Robert's list. I hope that Anchor Bay (or anyone else, for that matter) can bring more classic British cinema to R1 DVD in the near future.
     
  6. Ed St. Clair

    Ed St. Clair Producer

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    Thanks for The Best of 2005 list.
    All the best in 2006, RAH, RAH, RAH!!!
     
  7. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    Very nice list. Surprised not to see Major Dundee up there, but I suppose you've already given that excellent project its share of coverage with your excellent interview in that previous "Yellow Layer Failure"
     
  8. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    I've discovered the omission of one title which should have made this list, and am therefore adding a number 31...

    Two for the Road - Fox

    RAH
     
  9. Joe Caps

    Joe Caps Screenwriter

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    I can't speak for RAH but I assume that Oklahoma SE didn't end on the list because of the incredibly bad transfer of the Todd AO version.
    Even worse was the incredibly lame B S excuse Fox gave in print for the transfer being bad.
     
  10. Jim*Tod

    Jim*Tod Supporting Actor

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    Mr. Harris:

    Gee... what about THE BAND WAGON... certainly that was a great transfer.

    This is off thread since I didn't know anywhere else to contact you directly. Certainly wanted to thank you for all your restoration work. I grew up in and around Williamsburg, Virginia in the 60's and 70's and saw STORY OF A PATRIOT literally hundreds of times (it was free to the public at that time.) Certainly it was one of my first experiences with true widescreen cinema. We all cherished the line "English goods were ever the best." Thanks for your work in restoring PATRIOT... I saw it last spring and was very impressed, especially given the elements that you had to work with.

    But primarily I am writing about a bad experience last week at the AFI in Silver Spring, MD. They were to show a 70mm print of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, but not that is not how things turned out. I am sending my e-mail to AFI, their response, and my response to their response:

    Sirs:

    As a long time AFI member living more than 100 miles south of you in Richmond, Virginia, I do not often get a chance to come up for screenings at your fine facility in Silver Spring. But on Saturday I trekked up there for a chance to see THE SOUND OF MUSIC in 70mm. Having read that the director, Robert Wise, had supervised the creation of a batch of new 70mm prints last year before he died, I was expecting a superlative presentation. So imagine my disappointment when it was announced just before the screening that the print would be 35mm. And, as it turned out, a very 35mm poor print at that. I do not blame you guys for this... I realize you are pretty much at the mercy of the distributors.

    It was quite a strange print. It appeared to have been cobbled together from several prints as the color fading and scratches varied from reel to reel. The second half was certainly better looking than the first, if still quite substandard. At least the stereo sound (I am guessing either a four track magnetic or some kind of Dolby Stereo mix down) was fairly rich and strong. One really odd thing on this print... SOUND OF MUSIC originally did not have any pre-curtain music, but for some reason they had spliced the entre act music (intended to be played just before the second half of the film) on the front of the first reel. You might want to mention to the distributor that this is wrong and needs to be removed.

    I am sure your projectionists (who always do a great job) did the best with what they had to work with. However.... they need to understand some fine points on just how a road show film such as SOUND OF MUSIC was intended to be presented. For any pre-curtain or entre act music or exit music, the curtains are to be closed, not open. At the intermission point, the curtains should not close until the Intermission card is displayed onscreen. Also for SOM, the curtains should not close on the closing cast titles. I would highly recommend before showing KING AND I and HELLO DOLLY, they consult the American Widescreen Museum site which has a section on showmanship with specific instructions for road show films such as TEN COMMANDMENTS, WEST SIDE STORY and EL CID, which they could use as a guide. (I know as late as the 1970's there were projection notes sent out with every print of SOM explaining how it was to be shown.) One other small point... I am lucky enough to have been around for the original 1965 release of SOM. Those showings did not include the Fox logo, but the curtains parted as the camera starting moving over the alps. With the right light fade accompanying this, it truly enhanced the effect of the opening shots. Sadly this style of presentation is long gone, but if AFI doesn't do it right, no one will. These minor tweaks in presentation make a HUGE difference in the overall experience.... and are how these films are meant to be seen.

    So--- one more thing. Can you confirm that the print being shown next weekend of THE KING AND I is the new one recently struck from the original Cinemascope 55 negative? And is the HELLO DOLLY print for the following weekend in 70mm and in fairly good shape? I'd like to know before I make another trip up there. You guys do incredible work and have great facilities.... I will never forget seeing the Russian WAR AND PEACE complete and in 70mm about two years ago... truly a film buff's dream come true. Good luck in 2006.

    Jim Cobb


    Here is the response from AFI:

    Jim,

    Happy new Year and thanks for your patronage.

    The Sound of Music was unfortunately listed in our Preview as a 70mm print, and is part of our “Written for the Screen: Ernest Lehman Remembered” series.

    Regrettably pristine prints are rarely available. I assure you what was on the screen here was the best available. We sent 3 films back to the distributor before settling on the print you watched. This print was inspected, cleaned and repaired at considerable time and expense to the Silver.

    It is unfortunate that Fox didn’t release new film prints considering the efforts they expended on the re-masterd DVD.
    If you have any info about Wise supervising new 70 prints please forward it along. That is not what we heard from fox.

    The pre-curtain music you mention is actually a CD that one of our patrons supplies. We refer to it as Walk in music and it was more than likely playing in the lobby as well.

    Sorry the presentation wasn’t first rate, we’ll do our best to correct that.
    Hello Dolly is here, 70mm and looks to be a fine print.

    Regards,

    Mr. John Summers
    Operations Manager
    AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center
    8633 Colesville Road
    Silver Spring, MD 20910
    301-495-6757 Desk
    301-495-6777 Fax
    [email protected]


    And my response to their response:




    Mr. Summers---

    Thanks for your response. The music I referred to before the movie proper started was indeed on the print--- you could see the scratches on the film since the curtains were open. The other two prints must have been pretty bad if this was the best Fox could supply. I know various 70mm festivals in Minneappolis, Los Angeles, and in Bradford, England have recently shown what are billed as new 70mm prints of SOUND OF MUSIC. Not sure why Fox is being so stingy with you guys. Truly sad that film as well known and celebrated as this is being treated in this manner. I do hope you will pass on my suggestions in terms of exhibition to your projectionists as it would greatly improve the experience, even with bad prints. And again.... even though I realize you are at the mercy of the distributors, AFI is really the last refuge of classic films being shown as they were meant to be seen. If you guys don't do it, we all might as well stay home and watch everything on dvd. Good luck in 2006!

    Jim Cobb

    -------
    As you can see I kinda got stonewalled here and I am sure this is just some underpaid little staff member. But.... surely there are better prints than the one we saw. I realize that as 70mm venues continue to disappear, there is less reason to produce new 70mm prints. I did read somewhere on the web in info about the recent SOM dvd, that Wise had worked on new 70mm prints before he died last year.... even though this was not being used on the new dvd... that they were saving it for hi-def. Given the disaster of the Todd-Ao OKLAHOMA! dvd that came out this fall, you wonder if Fox knows what it is doing. (I read a press release from Fox about the Todd-Ao dvd and they basically said that the print had deteriorated since the last time the transfer was done... huh????? No effort at preservation????). Since Fox is scheduled to release new dvds of both THE KING AND I and CAROUSEL (both of which had restorations from the 55mm negatives last year) I am wondering what we will end up with on those. Any insights into why AFI is having such a hard time getting a decent print, in any format, of a popular title such as SOM and what we might expect from the coming dvds? Thanks again Mr. Harris and I apologize for the epic length of this post.

    Jim Cobb
     
  11. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Jim...

    I ran an intermission at the mid point of your post, followed by an Entr'acte, and it played quite well.

    As far as I know, Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot is still running without charge at the Visitors Center at Colonial Williamsburg.

    We worked very closely with them for a decade to save this important film, and have been thrilled with both the results of the restoration, as well as their upgrade to their theatres. They are a class act.

    I first saw Patiort in its original VistaVision format shorly after it opened, and was the same age at the Fry's young daughter in the film.

    During research for the restoration, we located the actress who played Caroline Fry, who was most helpful to our work. I'm pleased to report that she and I are now friends. She has had quite a career in the intervening years. What a terrific and talented lady.

    One of the "moments" which surrounded this particular restoration was her visit to the Patriot projection booth, where the original prop tombstone resides, and the reaction of the projection technicians to oher visit. They had been running the show and watching her work for decades.

    Seeing the lead projectionist being hugged by "Caroline Fry" was a Kodak moment.

    This actually reminds me of walking into the booth at the Uptown in DC with Omar Sharif, but that's another story.


    INTERMISSION

    The AFI Silver is a theatre that takes pride in their work, and against difficult odds, continues to put on very special shows. The only other theatre in the area of its quality is Senator in Baltimore, and I recommend a visit there if you've never experienced this showplace.

    Mr. Summers is quite correct in that, for whatever reason, a print simply becomes "unavailable" for a myriad of reasons just prior to showdate. Several years ago we played the single remaining 70mm print of the reconstructed and restored Spartacus at a festival only to find that it had been bicycled between two theatres, with one running every other reel with their 35mm rollers still attached. This left lovely green train tracks running through every other reel, and the print has now been retired, and not replaced.

    To make matters more complex, the lab which produced the print, deluxe, no longer prints 70mm, which means that the 65mm neg must be re-timed at another facility, which is quite expensive. Print cost would run around $50,000 regardless.

    There are a number of important fims which can no longer be printed with any quality, which means that old prints must be taken the "Frankenstein" route and cobbled together.

    The good news is that The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Archive along with the Fox restoration team did recently complete a proper restoration of Mr. Wise's popular film, and prints should be available in the future. Fox has made a massive effort in the past few years, to bring out their old Onegs and make new prints of the films such as Patton, Magnificent Men, Dolly and others, and this should be commended.

    As far as Band Wagon not appearing on the best 31 list, I didn't want to make it appear that I was in the emply of Warner Home Video, which I am not.

    As an aside, if Mr. Feltenstein is reading this, I still haven't heard anything regarding the spare key to the Ferrari which was left outside my garage last week. Your card was under the right wiper blade.

    RAH
     
  12. Jim*Tod

    Jim*Tod Supporting Actor

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    Mr. Harris---

    Thanks for your quick and interesting response. Since you are the ultimate source, IMHO, of film preservation around, it means a lot to hear your opinion on this subject.

    And per PATRIOT, the deal for seeing it at CW is either you have to buy a ticket to see the restored area or from January to March you can pay 3.50 to get in. It is a bargain at any price, that venue is so unique.... wish they could find a way to use it for other feature length presentations.

    So---- many thanks---- what are you working on right now?

    Jim Cobb

    P.S. Mr. Feltenstein is also very high on my list (they should give him a special Oscar)... keep up the good work guys!!!!!

    Jim Cobb
     
  13. Nils Luehrmann

    Nils Luehrmann Producer

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  14. Joe Caps

    Joe Caps Screenwriter

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    Jim Cobb. When Fox released Sound of Music in 1965, I went sound of music crazy and in the original release and for the following four years, I saw the film over 130 times in the theater both in 70mm and 35mm. Every one of those prints had the fox logo at the beginning, but you sayit didn't what gives?
     
  15. Jim*Tod

    Jim*Tod Supporting Actor

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    Glad to hear there were other folks obsessed with SOM in the
    sixties. We must be legion.

    None of the intital engagements... the road show
    presentations... that I saw included the Fox logo. The lights dimmed and curtains opened just as the screen goes from white to the first pass of the mountains. That seemed odd to me at the time, but was effective. Later on, when SOM was re-released in the early seventies (1973?) a friend of mine who ran a theatre in Portsmouth, Va showed me the projection notes that came with the film. The instructions stated that the film was to be advanced just beyond the logo and for the curtains to open and lights go down while the screen was white. This must have been difficult to queue up, so I am guessing that is why few engagements actually followed this to the letter. The logo was on all the prints, we just were not supposed to see it.

    Today I guess we have to be glad if the film is in focus and the sound is on. People are certainly not used to such things as pre-curtain music, etc. A couple of years ago I saw the re-stored FUNNY GIRL at the Uptown in DC. They had the curtains open for the pre-curtain music and one patron rushed to the lobby and loudly complained that the projector was broken. The whole concept on showmanship is theatres is pretty much dead... we can only hope that a few venues like AFI, can at least give audiences a sense of what a well run presentation was like.
     
  16. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    The most complex set of projection instructions I've ever found were created for roadshow performances of Mad World.

    RAH
     
  17. Jim*Tod

    Jim*Tod Supporting Actor

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    Just wanted folks to know that that my faith in AFI was restored with today's screening of a 70mm print of HELLO DOLLY. Incredible print and the presentation was perfect. The sound was super engulfing. DOLLY is not, in and of itself, a great classic of cinema. But presented this way, you'd almost think it was. I guess I gotta get myself to LA or Bradford, England for a 70mm festival at some point.Too bad most of today's film audiences don't know what they are missing in terms of this level of quality presentation.

    Jim Cobb
     

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