This is the Army

Discussion in 'DVD' started by David Grove, Jan 23, 2004.

  1. David Grove

    David Grove Stunt Coordinator

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    I am interested in this 1943 Irving Berlin musical. Can anyone explain how experienced collectors would research such an older title?

    So far, I have discovered that there are at least three different studio releases: Platinum (released 10/01/2000), Delta (released9/03/2002), and Pro-Active (released 10/16/2003). It is also included in a 2-pack and a 3-pack, but since those bundles are also from Delta, I would presume that they are the same as the Delta single release. What I have learned so far has come from http://dvdlist.kazart.com/DVDList2.php . That database seems to be amazingly complete, but I still can't tell whether the 3 releases are the same or different transfers, and there is no indication of relative quality (that I am aware of). How might I (or anyone else) determine these kinds of things? It's not like it's a new, hotly reviewed title. One possibillity would be to buy them all, and evaluate them myself, but, is there another, less resource intense, way?

    I am hoping that there is some way to determine (or even get some hints) these issues short of buying all the releases, because although it might be reasonable to buy them all for "This is the Army", it is less reasonable for, say, "Royal Wedding" (Fred Astaire) since there are about a dozen different releases. {I understand that "Royal Wedding" is PD, but there still are probably differences in transfers, right?). Note that while I am also interested in "Royal Wedding" specifically, I am using it as an example of why just buying all the releases may not be as practical as it might appear for "This is the Army".

    In summary,

    1) does anyone know anything about number of distinct transfers, and/or quality for "This is the Army"?

    2) Does anyone have any suggestions for researching similar questions for older titles, in general?

    Thanks for any tips from the "pros"

    Regards,

    DG
     
  2. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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  3. David Grove

    David Grove Stunt Coordinator

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    Thank you, Dennis, for your helpful thread on "This is the Army".

    Might anyone be able to compare the Delta release to either of the others?

    I realize not many folks are likely to be interested in this specific title, so could anyone offer any tips on the more general question of how one might know about differences in quality among multiple releases of older titles which may be pretty sparsely reviewed (if at all)?

    Thank you.

    DG
     
  4. Roger Rollins

    Roger Rollins Supporting Actor

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    FYI, UCLA did a full-blown restoration of THIS IS THE ARMY quite a few years ago. Their restored version aired on AMC briefly (possibly even only once) when that network still had a shred of decency and used to do their "festival of preservation". Even then the reference was bogus, because virtually nothing they ran had been the result of true film restoration and preservation. However, ARMY truly was restored by UCLA using the original nitrate 3 strip negs held there from Warner Bros.

    Unfortunately, the deal Irving Berlin made with Warners was that the studio would ultimately lose the rights to the film, with the rights going to the ARMY itself (!). They forgot to renew the copyright on the film. The Berlin songs are very much protected by copyright, so technically anyone distributing the film is violating the Berlin music copyrights.

    The only chance of a release of the restored version is for someone to make a deal with UCLA and the estate of Berlin.
    Probably Warners would need to be involved since the restoration came from their source material property.

    The problem is that with the market saturated with public domain garbage transfers, there is little financial impetus for a legitimate release and the cost it would involve.

    That is why these public domain releases are doubly awful.
    They not only look poor, but they dissuade the true owners of the property to invest in the expensive DVD mastering and authoring costs involved to bring a good legit release to market.

    Only a few times has the true owner bit the bullet to do this on a "PD" title. Some examples are Columbia's HIS GIRL FRIDAY, The Douris Co.'s RAIN (through Kino), and Carlton Communications UK's restoration of THE GHOUL (through MGM).

    If you want to see what THIS IS THE ARMY COULD look like on DVD, check out WHV's GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK DVD.
    There are clips of Kate Smith's GOD BLESS AMERICA and Irving Berlin's OH, HOW I HATE TO GET UP IN THE MORNING in that documentary, and they are taken from UCLA's restoration. The clips blow away the PD versions, but also reflect an analog transfer from more than a decade ago, giving only a hint of even better-looking potential from a current digital remastering made from UCLA's restored film elements.
     
  5. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    Thanks for the info Roger. This film is a great piece of Americana, and I've always enjoyed it. I would think the Berlin estate would welcome an "authorized" version to finally force the PD garbage off the shelves.

    Perhaps an e-mail to Bob Gitt is in order...

    Steve
     
  6. Rob W

    Rob W Supporting Actor

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    I've always assumed the owners of original materials of PD titles are not interested in putting out a pristine edition of a title that could then be easily sourced by the PD leeches for their own el cheapo editions, which with digital sources would look as good as the legit transfers.

    A shame , because there are a lot of good titles that are not available in quality transfers.
     
  7. David Grove

    David Grove Stunt Coordinator

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    Thank you, Roger. What an informative post.

    I've never fully understood why PD titles were so rarely also issued in quality transfers by either the original rights holder, or even some other interested party. My thinking had always been that a quality transfer 1) would not have the expense of licensing, so could be cheaper than what it would otherwise be; and, 2) would be protectable, much like Beethoven's Fifth is PD, but any orchestra's performance is protected. So, why is PD the "kiss of death" for "real" releases (I wondered)?

    Well, I guess, as you point out, it's purely the difference in end-user purchase price that would result. Even with $0 cost for licensing, there would still be substantial cost for the restoration and authoring. I had always assumed that the retail price of a restored PD title would, of course, be higher than an unrestored PD release, but, I had also assumed (notice the two "assumes"-- we all know what that makes, and now it is squared) that such a price difference would represent pure value-add (from restoration). I just further assumed (oh no, there it is again) that, given the choice, the superior product (with its incremental price justified by the added value)would just "drive out" the inferior. But, I guess that's the real problem-- i.e., it wouldn't. I suppose much of the DVD buying public would care only about the price difference, and not why it would be different.

    Is that about the size of it?

    How about "His Girl Friday"? Can we look at "His Girl Friday" as an economic experiment? A "real" xfer and a PD xfer in the same market place. What are the economic results? Was/is it profitable for the studio? If so, would that be evidence that the value of restoration is actually preceived in the marketplace, and that there really is economic incentive for studios to produce restored releases of PD titles?

    "His Girl Friday" is absolutely already on my buy list. Maybe I should buy it immediately, not only because I want it, but as an economic vote to support good releases of PD titles.

    Now, back to the original issue (can someone highjack their own thread :) ? ). Might anyone have any knowledge about the relative quality of the 3 "This is the Army" releases? Also, how does one find out such information for other titles (e.g., the previously mentioned "Royal Wedding" with a dozen or more releases)?

    Thanks all for your comments.

    DG
     
  8. Barrie Maxwell

    Barrie Maxwell Stunt Coordinator

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    I think the short answer to your question is that there is no source for finding out the information that you want - unless some individual who has a real interest in a given title has taken it upon him- or herself to purchase and compare all the different releases and posted the results for others to read.

    I have been interested in this issue for some time now and am intending to write an article about it (probably as part of my Digital Bits column) in which I hope to give comparisons of the type you want. Unfortunately, since resources prevent acquiring all the various releases for even the most popular PD titles myself and the PD companies are not interested in providing review copies, I'll be mainly dependent on what others who have bought various PD releases think about them. I started a HTF thread last fall to generate some feedback on the issue and received some useful but ultimately limited input.

    I'm still mulling over how best to make use of the information I have accumulated to date and also generate more, so I'm not sure what the timing on my article will be. In the meantime, I welcome any feedback on PD releases that I can come across.

    Barrie
     
  9. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    There have been some proper releases of films which previously were available on crummy "PD" DVDs. Consider Zulu. The current anamorphic disk from MGM is quite good.

    I've got one of the copies of Royal Wedding and only keep it around as a demonstrator disk to show how bad a DVD can be. It's the United American release. I'll bet the Goodtimes is better.

    I have the Madacy and Goodtimes versions of Why We Fight. The Goodtimes release is FAR superior to the Madacy.
     
  10. David Grove

    David Grove Stunt Coordinator

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    Steve,

    Who is Bob Gitt?
     
  11. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    Hi David,

    Mr. Gitt is the Preservation Officer at the UCLA Film and Television Archives.

    He would likely know what is happening with various projects. I haven't had time to contact him regarding this particular title, but I've read on other forums that he does respond to inquiries.

    The UCLA Archive has a very nice website which you can see here.

    Hope this helps.

    Steve
     
  12. David Grove

    David Grove Stunt Coordinator

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    Well, I ordered "THis is the Army" from Deep Discount, and received the "Critic's Choice" release. I have no other releases, yet, so I can't compare. In fact, I can't even really judge this one properly because I'm still in the "build out" stage of our media room, and consequently can only currently project onto an ordinary painted and textured wall.

    I thought is was interesting that I couldn't determine the existence of this release prior to receiving it. It wasn't (and still isn't) listed at the kazart database, which is the most complete database I know of. I guess there really is no way to determine how many releases exist for any given title, let alone whether they are distinct transfers.

    DG
     
  13. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    I usually just look in www.dvdpricesearch.com to see how many versions are for sale.

    EDIT looks like only the Delta is listed there....
     
  14. David Grove

    David Grove Stunt Coordinator

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    That's where I usually start, too. Then, sometimes I check at kazart. In my limited experience, I usually find that the kazart database has all the dvdpricesearch entries, plus, sometimes, more.

    In this case, kazart has 2 additional releases indicated, but (from my recent buy from DDD), I know that there is at least one more than that, for a total of at least 4 different studio releases of TITA.

    I don't think any database has all DVDs. Sort of surprises me, since I am under the impression that every DVD has a UPC, which suggests to me that information for every DVD is recorded someplace.

    In any event, I expect I'll buy additional releases of TITA just to see how they compare.


    DG
     
  15. Bob Furmanek

    Bob Furmanek Insider
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    I personally funded a 35mm film preservation of Abbott and Costello's AFRICA SCREAMS in the late eighties. I paid to make a 35mm safety element from the original nitrate composite fine grains. We released a special edition laser disc through Image Entertainment, and it was awarded Best Supplemental Disc of the Year by Video Magazine.

    What eventually happened? The A&C Estates wanted too much money to re-license the outtakes on the disc, and it went out of print. Since then, countless distributors have dubbed this laser onto VHS and DVD editions.

    I'm proud to have restored the film, but it's frustrating to see so many companies making a profit off my efforts.

    Bob Furmanek
     
  16. Drew Salzan

    Drew Salzan Second Unit

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    While we're on the subject of PD title's, any news on whether WHV is planning a release of Royal Wedding? Incidentally, how did it become PD?
     

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