An Open Letter To All Companies Still Releasing Classics On Blu-ray and Studios Who License Them…

You are all my heroes. You are carrying the flame. 3 Stars

You are all my heroes. You are carrying the flame. I hope that letters of appreciation online or mailed to you affirm this from collectors worldwide. We all know that classic titles are a hard-sell when it comes to reaping profits these days. Yet, you not only keep pumping them out, you are providing mostly great-looking transfers (including some expensive restorations) that we can just pull off our shelves and watch at our leisure. We may whine via online forums that this favorite or that one isn’t yet on Blu, but know that we generally love what you’re doing.

My word, I can turn on my 65″ OLED 3D t.v. whenever the mood hits and choose from hundreds and hundreds of stellar, film-like Blu-ray classics on my shelves to put into my player and know I will be seeing something as near to a theater-like experience as my small room will allow. From THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939 & 1959), to SPARTACUS to KISS ME KATE (3D) to…on and on and on, depending upon what scratches my itch that day, I am watching what are inarguably the best video presentations (often better than the theatrical prints I saw years before) of my favorite films that I could ever have imagined a few years back would actually be right at my fingertips. This is thanks to the devotion of restoration experts and film historians, a bunch of wonderful boutique labels who rely solely on licensing deals for their survival, and a few remaining studio personnel who maintain a passion for the greats and the rare. Thanks to you one and all, we have an unbroken bounty of beautiful Blu-ray transfers of the predictable classic titles, the completely surprising ones, and everything in the middle.

Yes, I recall the pre-video days when we fans prayed for the showing of a favorite film on t.v., or a local theatrical Saturday Matinee that tapped into our youthful souls, to satiate our need for engaging cinematic entertainment. For many years avid collectors were able to build libraries of 8mm and Super 8mm films (I could never afford 16mm), some of them feature-length, and that was a thrilling boon for us, who could never have imagined actually owning such things not long before. It was, however, an expensive hobby, especially for a kid.

Of course, we then got video (when I was about thirty), first in the form of VHS and Beta. These cassettes were also initially quite expensive, but gave us feature films without the worry of scratching emulsion or blowing out costly bulbs. The studio libraries transferred to these tapes expanded over the years into massive and diverse collections of the rare as well as the currently-popular and everything between. I used to love the video stores in those days of the early 80’s. TV’s were smaller then, and so — although not up to projected Super 8mm (and certainly 16mm) picture quality — often looked quite acceptable. These complete and usually uncut movies fit into a single plastic shell with a few rollers, springs and spindles and other plastic pieces and could be rewound and played any damn time we wanted to revisit a favorite. No need to wait for a rerun on t.v. anymore. Wow, what a collector’s dream!

Laser disc, which unfortunately never broke out of the niche category, nonetheless managed to upgrade a fair portion of previous and concurrent VHS titles, looking exponentially better due to a big increase in resolution…such a big increase that the format introduced the “letterbox” format (I think Woody Allen’s MANHATTAN was the first of these, at the director’s insistence) and, suddenly we once-again-awed collectors had actual widescreen on our t.v.s ! And we had alternate audio channels, where the commentary track and isolated score was born. Holding one of these silver, reflective marvels was like holding a magic trick…how the hell did these things work? We could hold an entire movie encased on an LP-sized disc that (barring laser rot) could be played ad infinitum with no wear at all.

We laser disc collectors could hardly imagine that, a few short years later, video resolution would be increased yet again, several times over, with the introduction of DVD, a laser disc reduced to the palm-size of a CD, and with much greater capacity. Here is where my and millions of others’ collecting bug really took off. Rather than owning a couple of hundred laser discs (and I also had many CED discs, but I’m skipping over that inherently troublesome format), I suddenly found myself heading toward five hundred, six hundred, a thousand DVD’s. I replaced almost all of my lasers over time except for those having extras and commentaries that were not ported over. Suddenly, home theater really began to bust out. Although the sound was not always up to that of the dts tracks of some laser discs, it was certainly better than most previous video incarnations.

So, now, we have Blu-ray and (to a lessening degree, mores the pity) 3D, and 4K. No need to reiterate that history (including failed formats such as Divx and HD-DVD), except to lament the swift decline of classic films released on video for the first time on any format.

I have spent virtually all of my disposable income (and, because I am one who demands physical copies as opposed to streaming, far too much on credit cards) in a fever pitch to grab classic films before they go out of print. I do not regret this, because beyond friends and family (and blissfully unaware dog), classic film collecting is this senior citizen’s raison d’etre. The third week of each month holds the promise of new announcements from the big three (Criterion, Twilight Time, Warner Archives — and now Indicator for us region-free collectors), regular monthly output from Olive and Kino, plus intermittent releases from Shout!, Cohen, Severin, and others. Damn!, what a wealth of terrific films with great transfers hitting us from all sides, arguably as numerous as in the days when all the studios were releasing their own Blu-ray classics.

We can only hope there are enough of us die-hard collectors to keep these small companies afloat. As my generation gradually fades into the Grey Havens, will these brave companies disappear also? Of course, that would make sense. Younger viewers seem inexplicably happy to watch movies on 3×4″ screens on their iPhones, etc. But while I am still here, I think it is important from time to time to restate my heartfelt gratitude to the small companies, historians and restoration personnel (several of whom prowl these forums) for keeping my love of classic films alive for me with a constant flow of new product to view in my home, looking every bit as good or better than what audiences saw when they were originally screened.

I wish there were official awards beyond a few token Oscars given for technical achievements that would acknowledge the hard work involved with film preservation and restoration that has made so many of my favorite Blu-rays possible.

Apologies for my verbosity, but in closing, many thanks to you all for working on, supporting, and releasing so many important films that look and sound like-new to me, to view at a moment’s notice. I’m glad I was alive to experience this period of classic film appreciation.

And many thanks also to the owners and mods of this forum, who keep me informed about product that is available (or not), and for the experts who hover over us here and provide us with a wealth of information about it.

What a time this is for us!

Published by

Kevin Collins

administrator

26 Comments

  1. I have great memories of going to my local Blockbuster in the 1990's renting and buying laserdiscs and still remember renting my first one Blade Runner released by Criterion and buying my first one Altman's McCabe & Mrs Miller and seeing them letterboxed for the first time. Still have the player and the discs.

  2. Yup, this is a great time to be a film fan. Pessimist as I am, I keep expecting the inevitable downturn in catalogue releases, but so far so good. So, a big thank you to the studios who keep releasing quality stuff (& please get with the program Paramount), & an even bigger thank you to all those small specialist companies for all those many releases.

  3. I have just finished watching Close Encounters projected in 4K and I echo your praise. I have never seen Close Encounters theatrically – the first time I saw it was Criterion's CAV laserdisc on a 29 inch CRT TV! Tonight was an incredibly greater experience. Sony is showing the way with gorgeous native 4K releases of classic films. I really hope they continue with more catalogue releases.

  4. Great post, thanks! I remember when I was in high school buying some widescreen VHS tapes in the early '90s with my lawn mowing money. Never had the budget for laserdisc but then DVD came out about the same time that I was making "real" money working part time in college. When I married my wife my father in law gave me his laserdisc player and discs so I hold onto those just for collection purposes. I applaud TT, Criterion, WAC, Olive, Kino, etc. for keeping us supplied with wonderful films in blu ray.

  5. Truer words have rarely been typed, Dick. I've been doing this as long as I've been alive, and the level of dedication among the people who do this is something to behold, and even while waiting for holy grails to arrive, something else comes out in the meantime that shows just how great movies can be and how far restoration technology has come. We are at a golden age of media access, and while we may not have everything we want yet, we have a lot more than we could ever imagine.

    And as for Woody Allen, say what you will about his private life (on another thread, please), but he does deserve credit for insisting on Manhattan not being cropped to a 4×3 ratio on home video, even in the days when "big screen TV" was smaller, heavier, and of lower resolution than what constitutes that today. The UHD disc is, theoretically, comparable to 35mm film in resolution. How much better can it get?

  6. MatthewA

    And as for Woody Allen, say what you will about his private life (on another thread, please), but he does deserve credit for insisting on Manhattan not being cropped to a 4×3 ratio on home video, even in the days when "big screen TV" was smaller, heavier, and of lower resolution than what constitutes that today.

    An artist deserves to be judged based upon his or her best work, and that should be kept separate from private life issues. I think we may be starting to lose sight of that as a society lately. There need to be checks and balances, evidence and corroboration prior to condemnation, otherwise any of us could lose everything as a result of a vindictive accusation, which is what is happening now in at least a few cases. No doubt some of these claims are absolutely true. But what of those that aren't? I am still very pleased that women are coming into their own these days, and I hope that has a positive effect upon the future of this country. Things will swing to the center eventually and all will even out.

    Hope that wasn't too political. MANHATTAN, btw, is due for a 4k scan.

  7. skylark68

    I remember when I was in high school buying some widescreen VHS tapes in the early '90s with my lawn mowing money.

    I remember these widescreen VHS releases, usually presented in hard plastic clamshell cases. Because VHS resolution was so poor, the widescreen editions were even more so. It was a failed attempt to compete with laser discs. I guess there were some Super-VHS releases also, but I never engaged in that format.

  8. MatthewA

    …The UHD disc is, theoretically, comparable to 35mm film in resolution. How much better can it get?

    A 35mm original camera negative is generally thought to have somewhere between 3-4K of real image detail, depending on the film stock and lenses used, shooting conditions etc., so UHD equals or surpasses it. But it's way beyond a 35mm projected release print. Even blu-ray is sharper and much more stable than projected 35mm – you never would have seen anything approaching UHD in a cinema.

  9. I just deleted one post that I felt crossed the line as being disrespectful towards another HTF member regarding "bootleg" discs. To remind us all, the following is part of our posting guidelines, please, adhere to them. You can dispute other members, but don't make mean-spirited and personal comments towards that poster. We won't allow it!

    Conduct
    10. No personal attacks. We expect all members to treat each other with consideration and respect. While we encourage lively debate, we do not allow personal attacks. This includes direct attacks, such as name-calling, as well as indirect attacks, such as repeated baiting of a member in a provocative or belittling manner. If you believe that you have been subjected to a personal attack, or have witnessed one on another member, please see the section on Dealing with Problems for instructions on how to proceed.

  10. Dick

    What a time this is for us!

    Enjoy it because I'm afraid that we're going to see fewer and fewer releases in physical media, especially of older films. The physical business is in severe decline and it's primarily a hit-driven business anyway and for the most part, those hits are recent films.

    Having said that, what will be interesting to see over the next few years is what happens when mass consumers largely stop buying physical and switch to streaming. That will leave the collectors and perhaps then, there will be more classic films among the best-selling physical titles, although they'll sell far fewer copies.

    In 2009, the physical media business in the U.S. was almost $11 billion. In 2017, it was just $4.7 billion. And in 2017, the top selling 100 Blu titles represented 53.2% of all units sold and 71.4% of U.S. industry Blu-ray revenue. So consumers are not buying deep and a retailer who only stocked the best-selling 200 titles could probably fulfill 90+% of customer needs.

    Of course the used market will be around forever.

  11. Robert Crawford

    I just deleted one post that I felt crossed the line as being disrespectful towards another HTF member regarding "bootleg" discs. To remind us all, the following is part of our posting guidelines, please, adhere to them. You can dispute other members, but don't make mean-spirited and personal comments towards that poster. We won't allow it!

    Obviously I don't know the specifics, but it seems to me that this site should never permit anyone to endorse pirating media that violates copyright laws. There are some finer lines with bootlegs, which I consider to be content which is not otherwise available or a fan edit, which could be considered to be "satire". Especially if someone works in the industry and their job is contingent on the successful commercial marketing of media, I can understand them being upset with someone who has no regard for copyright. Too many people today think it's perfectly okay to steal media, just because it's virtual. IMO, this reflects complete ignorance as to where the value lies. Although there are other factors, pirating and stealing media pretty much killed the recording industry which in the U.S. is a third of its former peak size, adjusted for inflation.

  12. zoetmb

    …In 2009, the physical media business in the U.S. was almost $11 billion. In 2017, it was just $4.7 billion. And in 2017, the top selling 100 Blu titles represented 53.2% of all units sold and 71.4% of U.S. industry Blu-ray revenue. So consumers are not buying deep and a retailer who only stocked the best-selling 200 titles could probably fulfill 90+% of customer needs.

    I don't think the average consumer ever bought much in the way of catalogue titles. When DVD took off, you had entities like Blockbuster and Netflix buying up multiple copies of everything. As the rental market has shifted away from physical copies to streaming, it's hardly surprising sales are down.

  13. MANHATTAN made it's video debut on the CED format, not Laserdisc, and it was not the first letterboxed title released. That would be the CED of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. RCA also released a letterboxed CED of AMACORD.

  14. Bob Graham

    MANHATTAN made it's video debut on the CED format, not Laserdisc, and it was not the first letterboxed title released. That would be the CED of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. RCA also released a letterboxed CED of AMACORD.

    Ah! The glory days of analog and CED. Watching a CED was a bit of a gut-wrenching experience, always with a prayer in the back of your mind– 'Please, please stylus, please don't skip'!

  15. zoetmb

    Enjoy it because I'm afraid that we're going to see fewer and fewer releases in physical media, especially of older films.

    Worth

    As the rental market has shifted away from physical copies to streaming, it's hardly surprising sales are down.

    I have noticed that while the number of physical units may be down, there still seems to be a healthy release of catalog titles. It may just be that the units sold of new titles are diminishing, but catalog titles are retaining their sales volume. I see this continuing for some time.

  16. Physical media is still the future who wants low quality streams you do not control which can, & will disappear as licences expire yet physical discs are still playable as you own the licence to watch that media in your own home.

  17. Paul_Warren

    Physical media is still the future who wants low quality streams you do not control which can, & will disappear as licences expire yet physical discs are still playable as you own the licence to watch that media in your own home.

    The low quality stream might be like that in the UK, but I'm not having any such issues with my streaming here in Michigan. Streaming has come a long way quality-wise since I first tried streaming several years ago. IMO, streaming is a nice companion with my extensive disc library that numbers in the several thousands.

  18. Agreed. I'm not knocking streaming as a technology in and of itself, and it does make me more likely to give things a chance that I never would have otherwise, but it will not replace actual physical media ownership. And you actually have to have something to stream in the first place. It's just like streams in nature; without water, they're just holes in the ground.

  19. Streaming is *great* for renting, but physical media still rules for ownership.

    This fact will be driven home soon by two factors:

    * ISPs imposing monthly data caps in order to make up for loss revenue due to “cord-cutting”. Comcast has already started doing this in markets where they are the only viable high speed internet provider.

    * The loss of “Net Neutrality” which will allow ISPs to charge a premium for certain sites and/or streaming sources.

    The combination of these two factors will make physical media ownership a highly desirable alternative to streaming: Viewing a DVD/Blu-ray/UHD disc will not eat into your monthly data cap; and should an ISP decide to impose an “entertainment surcharge” for accessing Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and/or Vudu you can still pull your favorite movie down off the shelf; thereby bypassing the surcharge.

    The “Joe Six Packs” of the world have made streaming their current preferred choice for viewing and “owning” movies. (I have even viewed YouTube videos of movie reveiwers proudly showing us their “DVD purge” of their physical collections.) That favortism is based on current ISP practices of unlimited data via a flat monthly fee with no regard to the source being streamed. That party is coming to an end and the “Joe Six Packs” of the world will soon regret their very premature “DVD purges”!

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