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!