Friday, January 1, 2016

A BIT OF REFLECTION - AND THANKS - TO KICK OFF 2016!

As 2015 fast fades in the rear view of my life, I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank my loyal readership for their renewed patronage; also to inform everyone of what might have already become somewhat obvious: that in the coming year, Nix Pix will be curtailing its regular output of film reviews. No, I’m not going away. But I will be less of a presence on the internet. As a freelance writer, my sincerest hope had always been for this blog to become a gateway to secure more permanent full-time writing gigs somewhere in my field, with a commitment to bolstering the cause of film preservation in my own small way. In accordance with that mantra, Nix Pix was merely one way to keep my name alive as a viable contact and calling card – giving away free ‘samples’ as it were to advertise and market myself to potential employers.
The blog never did live up to this expectation. And while not being fully retired now that the New Year is upon us, Nix Pix will decidedly not be as active as it has been in the past. As I’ve grown older I have realized a fundamental truth about life that really bears your indulgence; namely, that to sweat and slave – even on a labor of love – is really to steal from one the promise of a chance to live in the present. For those who may not know, or even consider the amount of hours spent over nearly an entire decade, researching, writing and publishing these articles, I can only say the work has been invigorating and exacerbating in tandem; for it has fortified my love of the movies even as it took time away from the ones who meant the most to me. And as the scale of life totters, with a span greater behind than ahead of it, I have reconsidered the pluses and minuses of such endeavors and decided the latter decidedly does not outweigh the former.  
However, I sincerely would like to thank a few people in this semi-farewell to my mad rush to be prolific. First, to avid reader/contributor, David Madychuk; a name some may recognize from the Home Theater Forum, to which I continue to belong; someone I have come to regard as a friend and who has never tired of championing the cause – more directly, championing my work, even when I have been occasionally demoralized by my own lack of progress to keep up the good fight. Dear David: you have been a proponent for a very long time. The work will still be here for your consideration and the myriad of others you have exposed to it.  However, as I continue to focus my hope on marketing two novels I have had in the hopper now for some time, I will remember your inspiration and smile and be grateful in knowing the work committed herein was not wasted, because from it came our friendship.  
To Fox film music archivist, film historian and Twilight Time co-founder, Nick Redman; who graciously consented to a phone interview in 2013 with this virtual unknown, spent several hours pouring out his passion about preserving motion picture art in hi-def via his own third party label – Twilight Time – and without whose gracious patronage over a considerable period of time thereafter, many of the reviews of TT product would not have been possible; dear Nick – many, many thanks.  To the rest of you, as an independent, I pay for virtually every disc I review on this site; perhaps, explaining for some why not everything that gets released to disc gets my consideration herein in print. Put bluntly, there simply are not enough dollars in the bank to go around, folks. But Nick Redman, apart from his patronage, has been equally forthcoming with his support and shared thoughts, ideas and consideration; asking nothing in return except that I keep the reviews coming and keep him in the loop as to what’s being published. So, thank you again, Nick for doing all that you did: renewed best to you, your co-founder, Brian Jamieson and, of course, to Julie Kirgo for more good things from TT in 2016.
The next person to thank is no stranger to anyone who loves great movie art; his contributions to such deep catalog classics as Vertigo, My Fair Lady, Spartacus and Lawrence of Arabia – among so many others – a lasting testament to all the good one man can do for the benefit of many when the stars are aligned in his favor. I am, of course, speaking of the noted film restoration/preservationist; Robert A. Harris. Like Mr. Redman, here is someone who really did not have to take the time to answer my correspondences and share both his time and information, but who did and does when called upon with a sort of quiet rectitude, frankness and yes, a passion for encouraging others who embrace and take up the baton in their own small way. It has been a great honor and a pleasure conversing with you, Robert. I trust your dedication to more great resurrections of our collective celluloid heritage is yet to follow. Some day we really must compile that list of movie titles we would both love to see revived on home video for future generations to enjoy.
The next two names to share in my gratitude will mean absolutely nothing to everyone reading this; but they have both meant a great deal to me: to Liz Cormier and Julie Evans – two of the most rewarding friendships I have cultivated in life, for which I absolutely had no right to expect, and, who have been particularly good to me throughout these years, though especially when times were tough. You cannot put a price tag on emotional support, on the empathy that runs deeper than mere understanding, and, on a respect that has always been brave enough to either figuratively ‘punch’ or ‘kiss’ you as propriety demands. True friendship is not always about coddling your doubts or convincing you your fears do not exist or can be overcome. It is about honesty, integrity and the gutsy resolve to point out the flaws, champion the virtues, and stand beside that other person, come what may. Both of these ladies have always been there for me and I salute them each herein with great humility and my sincerest thanks for their never waning support.   
The holidays are often a time of reflection; perhaps because the New Year so readily reminds us of how far we have come, how far there is yet to go; to appreciate the simplest pleasures – a warm, friendly greeting from a kindly stranger, or the sincere ‘thank you’ when we extend to others a basic human kindness, oft forgot, or rather misplaced throughout the hustle and bustle of the other 364 days of the year. 
So, now, where do we go from here? Well, 2016 will be the bearer of more promise for classic film lovers still awaiting their favorites on Blu-ray.  At least, that is my hope and my prediction. Here are a few more to consider.
With the debut of the record-breaking ‘The Force Awakens’ could the 4K hi-def debut of the original unaltered Star Wars trilogy be coming to a galaxy not so very far away? Hmmm. Disney has dropped various hints along the way throughout 2015. Might 2016 be the year the force truly awakens for diehard fans and collectors of the ever popular franchise? We’ll hope and pray for better things than those lousy 1K masters still endlessly being peddled at local retailers as we speak. What a shabby legacy for one of the most iconic movie franchises in all of film history.
Twilight Time has recently announced Anatole Litvak’s 1956 drama, Anastasia, starring Ingrid Bergman as the doomed heir to the Russian throne for a March Blu-ray release. The real concern for collectors herein is that Fox Home Video will furnish TT with another lackluster hi-def transfer of this Cinemascope classic, for which – alas – Fox has become quite well known and despised by anyone who has eyes and doesn’t want to view any bona fide classic unceremoniously re-tinted with a blue/teal/beige color bias for which vintage DeLuxe did not suggest. Personally, I can’t watch my hi-def copies of The Best of Everything, Desk Set, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, The King and I, The Black Swan, or, The Blue Max because of this very annoying color timing issue. If I had a singular request to mark my 2016 wish list it would be telescopically directed at Fox, urging them to reissue the aforementioned titles – color corrected to reflect the true palette of color by DeLuxe and ensure nothing like these travesties EVER occurs again when releasing their vintage catalog to home video. Again, I won’t hold my breath.
Universal Home Video has announced a March release for Colin Higgin’s The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982); a guilty pleasure with the buxom Dolly Parton and playful Burt Reynolds telling the true story of Texas’ longest running bordello – The Chicken Ranch; unceremoniously closed by Melvin P. Thorpe (Dom DeLuise), an avenging tabloid TV journalist. Just lots of good will and maybe one small thrill…but there’s nothin’ dirty goin’ on, indeed. Here is a fun and frolicking musical with the bucolic charm of Oklahoma! and the 80’s verve for T and A ribald comedy. Still works up a lather and a sweat. Universal has also hinted we are in for a Marx Bros. box set, more silent epics, and a spate of horror movies from their vintage stable to emerge in hi-def sometime within the next 12 months. Now, that’s a roster of goodies I cannot wait for without getting giddily excitable. Universal has shown a lot of promise over the last 12 months correcting its past indiscretions in hi-def. Their reissue of Spartacus by now ought to belong on everyone’s top shelf of must have discs. Now, if we could get them to pay equal attention to The Secret of My Success, Tammy and the Bachelor, The Lost Weekend, The Major and the Minor, Union Pacific, The Crusades, Thoroughly Modern Milly, Jaws II, Sweet Charity, Flower Drum Song, Death Becomes Her and, more – and more – of their back catalog of monster movies and classic Abbott and Costello hits, and – it will be a very good year indeed. Ho, ho, hoping for at least some of these in 2016.  We’ll see.
The absence of Warner’s deep catalog titles in hi-def continues to be a bone of contention for me. I am frequently informed of the monumental work being done and also of the crippling expense needed to perform some of the miracles I continue to ask for, and frankly, expect from the one-time leader of vintage back catalog releases on DVD. The Warner Archive branch of the company, under George Feltenstein’s occasionally inspired command, has shown great promise and impressive integrity in their Blu-ray releases, although alas, a curious decision-making process in choosing which ‘classics’ get first consideration; placing third-rate musical clunkers like Deep In My Heart or Thank Your Lucky Stars (both looking utterly immaculate on Blu-ray via the Archive) over such megahit all-time classics as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (even, Brigadoon would have been preferable to most fans). Still, it’s the integrity of the work is what counts, and WAC’s Blu-rays are bar none a cut above most of what’s been trickling out elsewhere. So, while we champion the quality, we sincerely pray for higher profile titles to make its’ way down the pipeline.
Warner, the custodians of a formidable back catalog that includes not only their own holdings but also the RKO and pre-70’s MGM catalog has been, at least by my way of thinking, very remiss in giving fans the opportunity to indulge in their embarrassment of riches. No, 2015 gave us a lot of repackages and reissues in standard def, via the never-ending TCM 4-pack collections; a favorite dumping ground for ‘classics’ from the WB. I won’t trample the efforts. But dear George Feltenstein, Ned Price and others responsible for what goes on behind the scenes at Warner Bros.: we would also like to see Silk Stockings, Holiday in Mexico, Cabin in the Sky, For Me and My Gal, Till The Clouds Roll By, The Student Prince, Show Boat, Annie Get Your Gun, Three Little Words, That Midnight Kiss, Words & Music, The Toast of New Orleans, Brigadoon, all of the Mickey/Judy musicals, all of the Fred and Ginger musicals, and the rest of the Busby Berkeley catalog come out. Now! Okay, we’ll settle for soon. Very soon. How about The Great Ziegfeld…in addition to the other MIA Oscar-winners presently hoarded in the vaults: Around the World In 80 Days, The Greatest Show on Earth and, The Life of Emile Zola…maybe?
I find it virtually impossible to refrain from making lists when discussing Warner Bros.: far too many great titles to wish for here…and I fear, too little opportunity to see any of them given their due. Sadly missing in action: 1938’s Marie Antoinette, 1939’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips, The Good Earth, Random Harvest, Weekend at the Waldorf, The White Cliffs of Dover, Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, Mrs. Parkington, Johnny Eager, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939), China Seas, Dinner At Eight, The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), Gaslight, The Brothers Karamazov, The Great Waltz, Rio Rita, Maytime, ScaramoucheRomeo and Juliet (1936), Red Dust, Idiot’s Delight, San Francisco, When Ladies Meet, Meet John Doe, Topper. Okay, I’ll pause a moment to catch my breath, regain my composure - and my equilibrium in frustration - and move on to Disney; another source of consternation.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea…anybody? Like WB, Disney has been almost ridiculously absent in making their treasure trove of live-action classics available to fans in hi-def. Sure, the Disney ‘Club’ has peddled ‘exclusives’, such live-action deep catalog Blu-ray releases as Pollyanna, The Love Bug, The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Swiss Family Robinson, and, Old Yeller. But it is high time Richard Fleischer’s magnificent adventure yarn – the most expensive movie ever made in Hollywood until then, get its just deserts on Blu-ray; preferably, in a 4K remaster. We would also wish for Disney Inc., in whatever capacity it so chooses, to show some love to collectors by releasing to Blu-ray the original Haley Mills classic, The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday, The Shaggy Dog, Third Man on the Mountain, The Moon Spinners, That Darn Cat, The Three Caballeros, The Happiest Millionaire, The Sword and the Rose, Johnny Tremaine, and, (choke) Song of the South. Yeah right, and the ‘mouse house’ will zip-a-dee-doo-dah all the way to the bank. Not likely – but we can still dream. After all, a dream is a wish the heart makes.
Moving on: at this point, we are not entirely certain which company owns the rights to the Samuel Bronston library anymore: one of the most grotesquely mismanaged gemstones from any independent producer. But somebody – anybody – preferably, Martin Scorsese and the Film Foundation, ought to be feverishly working to rescue El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire, 55 Days in Peking and Circus World from the hi-def purgatory they currently reside. To date, only the latter two Bronston classics have made their way to hi-def, looking absolutely glorious in 1080p, though regrettably, only available in Europe, and, with forced French subtitles on the latter to boot. Ugh! My blood pressure is rising!
On to Sony: the most promising studio since Blu-ray’s debut. Heck, they invented both the technology and the market and since then, under Grover Crisp, the EVP Asset Management, Film Restoration & Digital Mastering √©minence grise, has consistently shown every sign of adhering to an unprecedented commitment to their deep catalog. Director, Frank Capra is the latest beneficiary of their gold-standard bearing perfection; what with last year’s Blu-ray releases of It Happened One Night (via Criterion), and, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and this year’s debut of You Can’t Take It With You – both, homegrown and handsomely packaged. We are sincerely expecting even greater things from Sony in 2016, beginning with their North American reissue of Rita Hayworth’s immortal star turn in Gilda via Criterion and already climbing the walls for a hi-def release of Capra’s immortal – and partially lost – epic, Lost Horizon: ditto for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. The old Columbia catalog is rife for more goodies to be mined, starting with George Stevens’ The Talk of the Town (more relevant than ever today), George Cukor’s Holiday, Leo McCarey’s The Awlful Truth, Theodora Goes Wild, Queen Bee, Suddenly Last Summer, John Ford’s The Last Hurrah, and, virtually any and all of the early Three Stooges shorts, starring Moe and Curly Howard and Larry Fine. Sony should also come around with some 4K masters of their more recent catalog, starting with 1996’s sumptuous production of Little Women, and Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence. We have faith in Sony and Grover Crisp to do the right thing. Yes, we do.
Fox – oh, dear. Too many riches to mine and only 12 months to wish for it all. For starters, we need Darryl F. Zanuck’s personally supervised production of Wilson to make its hi-def debut; a monumental and sadly underrated biopic with Alexander Knox knocking one out of the park as the 28th President. Fox should also come around with some of their glossier musicals; Down Argentine Way, With A Song in My Heart, and Julie Andrew’s Star! a very good place to start, indeed. Fox also needs to go back to the drawing board and reissue State Fair in a Blu-ray transfer that doesn’t look as though it was fed through a meat grinder. Fox has hinted their commitment to catalog in hi-def may be shifting for the better and, frankly, without lowering the hammer too heavily on their spotty track record – it is damn well about time! So here is to hoping we see The Abyss and True Lies coming to 4K mastered Blu-ray very soon. And lots more of Fox’s deep catalog: Forever Amber, Peyton Place, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Heidi, Daddy Long Legs, The Rains Came, The Dolly Sisters, The Gang’s All Here, Roxie Hart, Springtime in the Rockies, Hello Frisco Hello, The Ox-bow Incident, Heaven Can Wait, Island in the Sun, Pinky, The Keys of the Kingdom, A Royal Scandal, Son of Fury, The Mark of Zorro, Roadhouse, I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now, Prince of Foxes, King of Khyber Rifles.
Whew! I’m tired, and famished and sincerely looking forward to a new year filled with promise and unexpected delights. Virtually none of the studios is without sin when it comes to their track record in hi-def. A few years ago, I proposed the question to several high profile execs from these various studios as to why none had looked into the obvious choice of nixing DVD and moving full force and full throttle into Blu-ray exclusively. Nothing encourages conversion better than forced obsolescence. And it certainly wouldn’t be a first for the studios either. When DVD had its debut back in 1997, both LaserDisc and VHS were killed off virtually overnight. For some bizarre reason, the industry did not embrace a similarly murderous ambition when Blu-ray stepped into the light. Instead, they continued to keep an inferior format (DVD) alive. Very strange – and disheartening for Blu-ray enthusiasts, and very transparently the cause for Blu-ray’s lack of immediate saturation in the market place. With the chronic delay of Ultra-HD Blu-ray content, and the prospect of only seeing the same 10 to 30 titles reissued ad nauseam again once the industry ‘officially’ launches Ultra Hi-def (Smurfs 2 already earmarked as one of the first wave coming to the ‘new’ format…really?!?! What about Smurfs 1? Frankly, I could sincerely do without any Smurf movie in Ultra HD); the net result, viable cash once again funneled away from performing more prominent restorations on desperately decaying vintage catalog still MIA on regular Blu-ray, simply to ‘support’ a new format, likely to face the same uncertainty as 3D Blu-ray; and, I am not going to get excited about Ultra Hi-def just yet for two basic reasons: first, because I do not believe it will ever become anything greater than an Ultra-niche market for those rare .1 percentile millionaires among us who have George Lucas-styled home theater set ups in their basements; and second, because Hollywood cannot even get behind the already well-established cause of remastering its vast libraries in ‘regular’ hi-def Blu-ray for future-proof preservation. How likely is it we’ll see something like Raintree County in Ultra HD Blu-ray any time soon? Not even the more prominent Doctor Zhivago, I’ll wager; though, quite possibly, Lawrence of Arabia. The point is; standard Blu-ray is already capable of fulfilling most consumers’ fundamental requirements for a ‘perfect’ home-viewing experience – if – the discs are mastered with the utmost care and consideration.
I am often accused of ranting about what should be done instead of what has been or is being accomplished by the studios these days. If so, it’s only because I want the very best for Hollywood’s history on home video. Nothing modest will do at this point; over 80% of early films lost to us for all time and the rest badly foundering with the very real threat of suffering a similar fate. I believe we can all agree there is major room for improvement by all. And 2016 just might be the year of the turning of the tide. I like to launch a New Year on a high note – preferably with a bottle of champagne; a very cockeyed optimist to the bitter end. So, we will continue to watch, and review and study the results and report upon them whenever possible. So please, keep reading. Support the good stuff. Say ‘no’ to the bad. And for heaven sake, encourage the studios to do more and better with your show of dollars at the register. That is how we get the quality and quantity we deserve.
God bless and keep you all safe. And now…on with the show!
Sincerely,
NZ

Jan. 1, 2016    

5 comments:

RickAust said...

Thank you Nick for your extraordinary contribution both to film review and to the critical cause of film restoration. Best of luck with whatever your future holds. From a long time devoted fan of your site.
RickB
Tasmania, Australia

Marshall Crawford said...

Nick, your reviews and essays will continue to delight us. Thank you for whatever you can turn out!!

David M. said...

You're one of a kind, Nick. Your reviews are a model for what movie and video reviews should be, but seldom are: interesting, informative, impassioned, and intelligent. Your writing repays repeated readings, too. As long as you keep writing about film, I'll keep telling people "Here! Read this! It's GOOD!", and they'll keep thanking me for the favour. Thanks for years of great reviews, and here's to many more!

mumfordlmh said...

Your reviews are the best online. I love all the research you do on the "backstories" etc. Bet of luck to you in the future. I often send a review of yours to friends of mine as I know the particular film would be of interest to them. Keep up the fight for Blue Ray. I have myself written to Disney on many occasions about the lack of a hi def version of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", one of my favorite films. I saw it as a kid when it came out and absolutely was amazed.

mumfordlmh said...

The very best of luck to you in whatever you do. I love your reviews, So much "backstory" involved as well. Gives great insight as to what happened. I often send a review of a particular film to friends of mine that i know would be interested. Keep up the good fight about the lack of Blue Ray releases. Or the same reissues of junk. I have written to Disney many times about the lack of a blue ray for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I saw that film when it first came out and it's one of my all time favorites. A true adventure classic. Of course I never hear from them. Thanks for your hard work. We all appreciate it.