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?  

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