Friday, May 30, 2014

MGM: Remember and Restore "The Alamo" (1960)

Publicity photograph for The Alamo, as featured in Motion Picture Daily.
One would think that the master elements for a feature film from 1960 would be properly preserved in today's world.

Unfortunately, thanks to corporate negligence- one feature may not see the light of day again if it is not preserved for future generations to watch.

That film would be John Wayne's The Alamo.  In a recent article featured in The Digital Bits, writer Bill Hunt and film preservationist Robert A. Harris mentioned that preservation work on the film was slated to begin sometime in 2009.

Sure, The Alamo may not be one of the "definitive" classics (which has many historical errors), but what really makes the film great is the breathtaking cinematography and Dimitri Tiomkin's orchestral score.  The film won an Academy Award for Best Sound Design.

The company that owns the film, MGM (in its current incarnation) decided that they were unwilling to spend funds on a possible restoration project.  Though other efforts were offered to MGM (via film preservation organizations and outside experts), the studio declined outsiders' efforts to save the film.

When the proposed preservation project was announced five years ago, the 70mm Todd-AO "roadshow" negative suffered from "vinegar syndrome"- meaning that the Eastman color negative shifted to an all-magenta print.  According to the article, the negative is in worse shape than it was in 2009. Harris mentioned that the only remedy that could be made to The Alamo would be that only 60% of the film could be restored to its original glory.

Unfortunately, the only copy that has been widely available is the cut-down "general release" version, apart from a 1992 MGM/UA LaserDisc release of the lone 70mm "roadshow" print.

UPDATE: According to an updated post on The Digital Bits Facebook site (from Hunt), Harris examined that all editions of The Alamo (70mm "roadshow" and general release elements) are endangered (along with correspondence from MGM). Lesser-quality 35mm dupe prints (of the general release cut) are the only remnants of the film.

It's shocking that the management of MGM would let The Alamo rot in their vault (especially during the company's 90th anniversary).  Why would they allow a vintage western to fade into obscurity?

Film buffs and enthusiasts have flooded MGM's Facebook and Twitter accounts, informing the studio that The Alamo should be restored- not neglected.  Instead of waiting around and ignoring various preservation efforts, the studio should have teamed up with expert preservationists and organizations- including The Library of Congress, The George Eastman House (Selznick School of Film Preservation) , The Film Foundation (Martin Scorsese), and/or UCLA Film & Television Archive to restore the feature film.

MGM could have consulted with an outside company such as Janus Films/Criterion Collection to preserve The Alamo (recently, MGM teamed up with that company to restore and release various United Artists features on DVD & Blu-Ray disc).

The studio should not play games or come up with poor excuses when it comes to film preservation.  They should step up to the plate immediately, work with film preservation experts, and immediately restore The Alamo. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, not next year- now.

Otherwise, if the studio fails to take part in this, the complete film may cease to exist.  Remember the old saying "nitrate won't wait"?  The Alamo won't wait (if it is not preserved).

NOTE: MGM acquired the film as part of their acquisition of United Artists (from insurance giant Transamerica) in 1981.  This writer wonders: if they could lease the film that brought UA to its demise- Heaven's Gate (1980) to Janus/Criterion, why couldn't they do the same for The Alamo?  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Television Corner: Sandburg's Lincoln (1974)

Hal Holbrook as President Abraham Lincoln
in David L. Wolper's adaptation of Carl Sandburg's Lincoln.
Sandburg’s Lincoln is an interesting, yet insightful miniseries on the life and times of the sixteenth President of The United States. It features Hal Holbrook as Abraham Lincoln, along with Sada Thompson as Mary Todd Lincoln, produced by David L. Wolper (1928-2010) and directed by George Schaefer (1920-1997).

The miniseries was adapted from Carl Sandburg’s Pulitzer prize-winning biographical works on President Lincoln. It showcases Lincoln from his days as a trial lawyer, to his entry into the political landscape and election into the office of the Presidency, to his struggles within the family, to helping to preserve the Union during The Civil War, to his battles with treasury secretary Salmon P. Chase (portrayed by Roy Poole) during the President's 1864 re-election, to reconstruction and his final days in office.

The miniseries aired on NBC in two-season segments (consisting of three episodes each), in the 1974-75 and 1975-76 fall television seasons, and was a ratings success. Sandburg’s Lincoln was nominated for four Emmy® Awards. Holbrook won the Emmy® award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series. Writer Loring Mandel won the Writers Guild of America (WGA) award for the second episode of the series, Crossing Fox River.  Holbrook would reprise his role of Lincoln in another popular Wolper miniseries- North and South, based off of the best-selling Civil War novel trilogy by John Jakes (which aired on ABC in 1985, 1986, and 1994).

After its network run, the only way one could see Sandburg’s Lincoln was through syndicated repeats. This miniseries was unavailable on any home entertainment format until 2011- when it was released on DVD through indie value distributor Mill Creek Entertainment (via an agreement between the Wolper family and Warner Bros., which owns the post-1970 Wolper Organization holdings). Though some scenes may not be pristine at times (due to source material elements), this miniseries is still enjoyable.

What’s unusual is that all six episodes (in the two-disc DVD set) aren't presented in their original airdate order or in chronological order. I found out that watching the episodes in chronological order was the best way to enjoy the series (thanks to an reviewer).

David L. Wolper's adaptation f Sandburg’s Lincoln is a fascinating, yet informative series on the life of Abraham Lincoln.  I think Hal Holbrook is one of the best actors who portrayed Lincoln, along with Henry Fonda (in Young Mr. Lincoln), Raymond Massey (in Abe Lincoln in Illinois), Gregory Peck (in the 1982 TV miniseries The Blue and The Gray), Jason Robards (lending his voice as Lincoln in Ken Burns' critically acclaimed documentary, The Civil War), and Daniel Day-Lewis (in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln*- based off of Doris Kearns Goodwin's Pulitzer-prize winning biographical portrait of the President, Team of Rivals).

*Lincoln (2012) was the last feature film that this author watched in a movie theater (and possibly one of the last screenings off of a physical film print, second-run at MDL Holiday Cinemas back in late 2012).   The film also features Hal Holbrook as politician Francis Preston Blair, Sr.  If you've never seen Lincoln, it is a fascinating motion picture.   Rent (or stream) it when you have the chance.

ATM REMEMBERS: At The Matinee remembers two entertainment icons that we lost recently- noted crooner Jerry Vale (1930-2014, known for his hits Volare, You Don't Know Me, and You Can Never Give Me Back My Heart) and cinematographer Gordon Willis (1931-2014, known for his work on The Godfather, and All The President's Men).

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Daily Matinee Special Edition- Save The Internet!

More Information at
MAY 15TH, 2014-You may have noticed something different on my blog about classic/contemporary film, television, music, technology, and more.

The usual banner is not there, in opposition of the Federal Communications Commission's plan to give control of the internet to gigantic (corrupt) conglomerates like Comcast and Verizon.  If these telecommunications conglomerates get their way- it could harm Net Neutrality, and only leave the power of the world wide web to giant, corrupt corporations.

In this writer's viewpoint, the Federal Communications Commission should not give control of the internet to giant, bloated telecommunications companies (Comcast, Verizon, etc.).  The Internet should be open and free to everyone-not to greedy corporations and their lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

We all know that Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which includes the National Broadcasting Company (along with their various cable networks) and Universal Studios (unfortunately for this blog's home base, Comcast is the only cable provider in the area).   In my perspective, companies like Comcast are about as bad as Standard Oil (pre-breakup).

FCC's recent plan for the Internet:
Echoes of Edison's "Film Trust"?  
Photo from The Library of Congress.
In relation to At The Matinee- Comcast could be viewed as the twenty-first century's version of Thomas Edison's "film trust".  In an attempt to hinder independent producers and exhibitors, Edison- along with Eastman Kodak Company and several motion picture firms (including Vitagraph and American Mutoscope) formed the Motion Picture Patents Company.

The MPPC trust wanted royalties from independent filmmakers and distributors- which angered many film pioneers, including Carl Laemmle.  Laemmle formed the Independent Motion Picture Company (IMP) in 1909, and successfully fought off Edison's monopolistic hold on the film industry.   Laemmle's IMP would merge with other fledgling film companies to form Universal Studios in 1912.

Ironically, the studio that Laemmle founded is now in the hands of Comcast, who acquired NBCUniversal from General Electric in March 2013 (GE acquired Universal Studios from Vivendi in 2004, and merged Universal with its NBC division).

Aside from that (and as I've stated before)- the internet should be open and free to everyone, not controlled by gigantic corporate conglomerates such as Comcast and Verizon.

Learn more about this issue (via Free Press) at Save The Internet.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the FCC is giving the bloated telecommunications companies (AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, etc.) control of the Internet, according to a recent report on Free Press.  There shouldn't be "fast lanes" for a certain few on the world wide web, the Internet should be open and free to everyone.   

At The Matinee will be on the lookout for further developments on this important issue.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"History Detectives": Vitaphone Edition

From a 1928 edition of Screenland magazine.
If you’ve read the last edition of At The Matinee, this writer thought that there were Vitaphone discs hanging on the wall of the Shepherdstown Opera House’s “green room” (in Shepherdstown, West Virginia- according to The News-Post).  The opera house was the first movie theater in the state of West Virginia to showcase sound motion pictures.

ATM has received correspondence from Mr. Ron Hutchinson, one of the founders of The Vitaphone Project- an organization dedicated to preserving vintage Warner Bros. Vitaphone sound-on-disc features and short subjects.   He has collected 350+ feature film sound discs throughout the years, and has worked with Warner Bros. (and corporate sibling Turner Entertainment), UCLA Film & Television Archive, The Library of Congress, and other studios to preserve their sound-on-disc features for future generations to see. 

Throughout the years, the organization has assisted in finding missing Vitaphone sound discs to match up with motion picture material (or vice-versa).

According to Mr. Hutchinson’s findings, they weren’t Vitaphone motion picture sound recording discs- they were ordinary 12” long-playing vinyl discs that hung on the green room wall of the theater.  A normal Vitaphone record would be 16 inches in diameter, and had huge white labels with grids, indicating that the fragile discs were good for only 20 plays (some MGM sound discs were good for about 40 plays, according to this link.).

Although these weren’t Vitaphone discs at the theater, it was an interesting find, and was pleased to get a reply from Mr. Hutchinson.  If you’re reading this Mr. Hutchinson (and other members of The Vitaphone Project), thank you for letting me know about this- and keep up the good work on helping to preserve vintage sound-on-disc features!

ATM REMEMBERS: At The Matinee remembers actor Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who passed away on May 2nd, 2014 at the age of 95.

The son of violinist Efrem Zimbalist Sr. (1889-1985) and popular singer Alma Gluck (1884-1938), he is best remembered for his role in the first television series produced by Warner Bros., 77 Sunset Strip (as private eye Stuart “Stu” Bailey- which lasted from 1958 to 1964) - and was also known for his role of Inspector Lewis Erskine in another popular television series, Quinn Martin’s The F.B.I. (which lasted from 1965 to 1974).

He also appeared opposite daughter Stephanie Zimbalist on the series Remington Steele (with Pierce Brosnan, which lasted from 1982 to 1987). Modern audiences may remember Zimbalist as the voice of butler Alfred Pennyworth in Batman: The Animated Series (which ran from 1992 to 1995).

Listen to this 2011 Warner Archive Podcast interview with George Feltenstein, discussing highlights of Zimbalist’s acting career.