Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Classic Film Stars: Now Less Elusive!

Have you heard the news that Warner Bros has opened up their vaults? Seems at least one of the major studios has realized that those who truly love the cinema love the entire history of it. They'd like to see more of that history.

Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery live Private Lives but they
still want to show off their brand new DVD collections!

There's a reason that some former mega stars (Norma Shearer is a good example) fade in the public consciousness quicker than others. Actually there are many reasons: changing tastes, mediocre filmographies, undramatic personal lives -- especially if they don't end tragically, pop culture's rapid "who's next?" star meat grinder, lack of gay appeal (think about it: fascinating the gays insures a long shelf life for entertainers. I don't think I need to cite examples... they've probably popped into your head just reading that sentence). But I'm thinking of the most infuriating reason for premature fading: sometimes their work just isn't seen.

Part of that is public disinterest in film history (Boo!) but a lot of it is Hollywood's weird disinterest in their own history. They'd rather remake an old film than promote the previous best of their industry. I know that it all boils down to money but in an industry filled with so many "creatives" you'd think more of them would funnel some cash back into film preservation and film history education and promotion. It stands to reason that if everything was available, some titles and stars would not remain as obscure. Surely the renaissance of interest in Louise Brooks was fueled at least partially by Pandora's Box VHS release.

Starry titles now available include: a few from both Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, Liv Ullman in The Abdication, Spencer Tracy in Malaya and Edison the Man, Warren Beatty and Eva Marie Saint in All Fall Down (the tagline is too funny on that one... "male enough to attract a dozen women... not man enough to be faithful to one!"), Greta Garbo in both Love and Wild Orchids, Cary Grant in Mr. Lucky and Crisis, Greer Garson in Sunrise at Campobello. Shearer herself gets at least three titles: Strange Interlude, Private Lives and We Were Dancing... though it's hard to say exactly since the archive isn't very user friendly. It's not searchable in convenient ways.

As I continued reading the articles about this and scanned the archive I realized that the whole thing is less juicy than it sounds. Only 150ish titles are now available within this new "custom order" dealio. The Warner library is nearly 7,000 films strong and according to the AP
Twenty more films or TV shows will be added to the program of re-releases each month, with 300 expected by year's end. To put it in perspective, the studio has released only about 1,100 movies on DVD since the technology was spawned 12 years ago.
While I'm glad that this is happening, I'm also disappointed that it's so tentative. They haven't so much opened the vault as installed a mail slot in the wall by which they can shove a few DVDs through when they feel like it. Cinephilia needs its own Moses to storm the studios with righteous fury "Let My Movies Go!"


Dame James said...

There was at least one more Norma Shearer film that I saw in the bunch: 1939's Idiot's Delight.

Benji said...

All I can say is: AMEN!

Anonymous said...

Wow, Nat, I think that's the third Louise Brooks reference you've made the past week! I was one of those who snatched up Pandora's Box as soon as it came out on VHS way back when. If I had one-tenth of Lulu's smoldering sensuality.... Sigh, I probably wouldn't know what to do with it.

Runs Like A Gay said...

You'd have thought once the technology was ready to do one they could open the gates a little quicker than this, although on the other hand the market won't be massive for these pictures, just steady.

A slow pattern of release will ensure regular returns of loyal customers. A more extreme version would mean high front end sales but no sustainable business and consumers only buying what they want now and not returning to what is old and new.

By the way you're very right in paragraph 2 - I visualised Bette Davis, Judy Garland and Lana Turner before the brackets were closed.



the reason I even went there is that the gays aren't really into Norma Shearer... as far as I've been able to tell. My obsession with her often draws a blank from people.

And Greer Garson, too... I mean she has a few notable champions in gayland (Hi Charles Busch) but not half as many as she needs.


nothingiswritten I was about to mention her in the next post too and I'm like STOP THE MADNESS. These things come in waves. ;)

Runs Like A Gay said...

I desperate want to like Norma and Greer, but their filmography lacks the high camp of their more outre peers.

Let's face it, The Women aside Norma is probably best known for stodgy studio epics like Marie Antoinette and Romeo and Juliet (far too old for both parts).

Greer I know much better - but really she's only ever beautifully serene supportive wife (Mrs. Miniver/Goodbye Mr. Chips) or on the biopic production line (Madame Curie/the recently released Sunrise at Campobello).

When you're competing with contempories with back catalogues stuffed with Grand Guignol or juicy "Woman's Pictures" like Joan Crawford there really is little for the average guy to warm to.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Classic Movies... whatever happened to Swing Time Nat? My post is feeling a bit lonely out there! :p


crazycris... i have had tremendous trouble getting my act together in terms of managing my various queues properly, the video stores don't have it and for whatever reason I haven't been able to find it in stores on various errands (it seems to only be sold in those $100 box sets).

at this point it's like a comedy of errors that I can't get to it. ARGH. it's a message from the universe about my musical of the month series :( although sometimes I don't listen so well to messages and just keep barrelling on.

Anonymous said...

Sunrise at Campobello, The Abdication and Interrupted Melody all come to mind as movies I've wanted to see for some time which are in this. I may very well order Abdication now, Ullmann is one of my very favorite actresses and I've heard she's fantastic.

Seeing_I said...

If they make Busby Berkeley / Al Jolson sleaze-fest WONDER BAR available, I will kiss somebody's feet. Seriously!

Mike Phillips said...

This is a tiny little bone thrown to film lovers from the ABSOLUTE WORST studio to deal with from a revival house perspective. They don't let their 35mm prints out to small revival houses, period. And they control their own titles, along with RKO and a bunch of other small studios, which means that small revival houses don't get to show literally hundreds of great movies. For just one example, a certain midwestern revival house couldn't show I Walked with a Zombie because the 16mm distributor didn't have a 16mm print of it, and Warner Bros. wouldn't allow the use of their 35mm print. Warner Bros. is the devil, and the enemy of repertory cinema.

Mike Phillips said...

Plus these are DVRs, so they're not going to last as long as regular DVDs. I HATE Warner Bros. They're the enemy of film lovers.