I'd like to take a minute and talk directly to those of you who work in the home entertainment industry. The marketing gurus, the archivists, the restoration experts, the executives who make the decisions, the people who work for the executives and gather all the information and heavily influence those decisions, and the disc producers, both freelance and studio-affiliated. If you work for a studio, big or small, I'd like you to do me a favor. Log in to your Facebook account (come on, I know you've got one), go to the fan page for Jahnke's Electric Theater and click on the happy little "thumbs-up" icon, indicating that you like this, you really like this!
Believe it or not, I'm not asking you to do this for my benefit (although I am a very nice person and I'm sure we'd be great friends). No, I'm trying to help you help yourselves. How? Well, for the last six months, my readers and I have been telling you what titles we want you to release on DVD and Blu-ray. It's a little feature called JET's Most Wanted: Forgotten Films Not Available on DVD. These are free ideas, folks. A daily dose of free market research delivered straight to the internet-accessible device of your choice. We even have cool pictures to jog your memory!
It doesn't matter what studio you work for. There's something here for everybody. We've got classics, foreign films, exploitation flicks, silents, cartoons, big-budget epics and everything in between. If you're at one of the major studios, I guarantee I've already turned a spotlight on at least a few properties you control. If you work for one of the smaller specialty labels, I've got movies where the rights are up for grabs, just waiting for someone to do the legwork. Hell, I'd do it myself except I'm not on the payroll.
"We appreciate what you're trying to do, Dr. Jahnke," I can already hear you protest, "but catalog sales have dropped substantially." If I may be blunt, I'm not all that surprised. For the last several years, many of you have been releasing the same handful of movies over and over again. Sure, you'll be able to get a few hardcore collectors by giving Malibu Stacy a new hat. But the rest of us are clamoring for something new, something different. We have collections that we can't complete because it's impossible to fill the gaps. We need your help.
"Well OK, but our focus is primarily on Blu-ray these days." That's fine. Release these on both formats if you can. That'd be delightful. Look, I understand that Blu-ray is still a relatively new format and you need to release the surefire hits. I'm looking forward to many of those myself. But you're also dumping a whole lot of crap onto the format that doesn't really need to be there until you're willing to put some effort into it. Escape from New York is one of my favorite movies but there isn't a chance in hell that I'll buy the Blu-ray that just came out. Why not? Because it isn't better than the two-disc DVD I already have. Frankly, it's not even as good as the DVD. On the other hand, I'm thrilled to have Roger Corman's Galaxy of Terror on Blu-ray, a movie that I think is fun but certainly not in the same league as Escape from New York, because prior to this release, I couldn't get it at all! Did Shout! Factory NEED to release it on Blu-ray? Probably not. It's a low-budget hunk of all-American cheese and DVD would have been just fine. But they did and they went all out with it.
I promise you, there are ways to make these titles work. Warner Bros. has had success with its DVD-on-demand program, the Warner Archive Collection. The line started out strong and has only gotten better since. Universal has teamed up with TCM for its own Vault Collection. If Universal and MGM haven't had as much success in their DVD-R partnership with Amazon, it's only because virtually nobody knows they exist. Amazon hasn't exactly bent over backwards to publicize these titles and it's difficult to find a complete list of available titles. The on-demand concept is a good one but it's not the only option. Many of these titles would move like gangbusters as traditional DVDs and Blu-rays. And if you don't think they're right for you, license, license, license! Criterion, Shout! Factory, Kino, Blue Underground, Severin, Synapse, Rhino... there's a long list of companies ready, willing and able to release the titles you don't want.
Since beginning the JET's Most Wanted project six months ago, we have had some success stories. Warner Archive alone has released The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, Endangered Species and, most exciting, Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud. MGM's DVD-R program with Amazon has brought us DreamChild and Norman Lear's hilarious Cold Turkey. Paramount's licensing arrangement with Olive Films netted the 1965 sci-fi disaster flick Crack in the World. Even Universal stepped up with Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, albeit as part of their regrettable full-frame line of Studio Selections. Honestly, these discs should start with the disclaimer, "This film has been modified from its original version. The format has been changed to fit a screen you owned ten years ago." Yeesh.
Best of all, Criterion has no less than three Most Wanted picks on their calendar. Josef von Sternberg's The Docks of New York is coming to DVD on August 24 as part of their 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg box set. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence starring David Bowie hits both DVD and Blu-ray on September 28. And Jack Nicholson's directorial debut, Drive, He Said, arrives on both formats November 23 in the box set America Lost And Found: The BBS Story, a collection that looks to be nothing short of spectacular.
That's a great start but the job is far from over. JET's Most Wanted currently has 200 orphaned films awaiting release with lots more to come. I've gone through and tallied up all the "likes" and comments each film has received to date. Here then are the ten most desired titles, as voted on by the good and loyal fans of Jahnke's Electric Theater or, as you industry folks know them, your customers.
1982 was a landmark year for genre movie fans. We had Blade Runner, Conan the Barbarian, The Dark Crystal, E.T., Poltergeist, Star Trek II, The Thing and Tron, just to name a few. By and large, the studios have recognized just how important these movies are to us and have given them A-list treatment on disc. But I don't think they quite get just how much we all loved '82, even the movies they'd rather forget. Case in point: Hal Needham's sci-fi stunt extravaganza, Megaforce. I don't think there's a soul walking this earth who would argue that this is a great movie. It doesn't have to be. Our nostalgic memories are more than enough to move plenty of units. Look, if Anchor Bay can hit the jackpot with a features-laden special edition of The Beastmaster, surely Megaforce deserves the same consideration. Don't forget, Fox... Deeds, Not Words.
Back in 1981, Kevin Brownlow's meticulously restored version of Abel Gance's 1927 silent epic Napoleon debuted with a new score by Carmine Coppola. In the years that followed, additional footage was rediscovered, allowing Brownlow to create a presumably definitive five-and-a-half-hour restoration in 2000. But good luck trying to see it. What's the hold up? Apparently it has a lot to do with that score. Supposedly, Francis Ford Coppola is fiercely protective of his late father's work and refuses to allow the film to be screened in the US without it (the most recent restoration uses a score by Carl Davis). Mr. Coppola, I respect and admire your devotion to your family but sir, THIS ISN'T YOUR FILM! Film preservationists are supposed to help get movies to a wider audience, not limit them. You might want to ask your friend Martin Scorsese about that. Please relax your grip on Gance's masterpiece and, if the music isn't the reason for the delay, take up the mantle you dropped back in the 80s and help audiences discover Napoleon.
Let It Be
Man, we were so close to getting this one. As part of the release strategy around the stripped-down 2003 album Let It Be... Naked, plans were underfoot to finally make this elusive 1970 documentary available to the public once again. The movie was remastered, special features were being compiled, everything seemed to be going according to plan. Then, allegedly, Paul and Ringo saw the outtakes. Hoo-boy. Concerned that the movie would still harm the band's global image, it was once again placed high up on a shelf so that John, Paul, George and Ringo could live on as cartoon characters in a video game and not as brilliant, flesh-and-blood musicians with real problems and conflicts. Guys, seriously... you made some of the best music of the 20th century but you haven't been a band for thirty years now. You're lucky your records aren't in the "Oldies" section alongside most of your contemporaries. The music is timeless and I'm sure you'll continue to attract new fans but if they really want to learn more about you, there are all sorts of places they can turn to dig up dirt, much worse than anything in this film. Maybe it's time to rename this Let It Go.
Fritz Lang's 1927 classic has seen plenty of releases, both authorized and unauthorized, and with Kino's spectacular Complete Metropolis due to hit DVD and Blu-ray, you'd think fans would be satisfied. But there's one version that remains out of reach: Giorgio Moroder's 1984 restoration with a pop/rock soundtrack featuring the likes of Pat Benatar, Freddie Mercury, and Bonnie Tyler. On some levels, this is a pop culture curio from the 80s but for many of us, this was also our introduction to Metropolis. It's also a fascinating example of how music can be applied to a film, making this an invaluable companion piece to the multitude of other scores done for this movie. By the way, I know many of the major studios are reluctant to release silent films on DVD because they don't think there's a market for them. This is the second silent film on this list. I think there's a market.
Song of the South
All right, Disney, listen up. I know this movie's a hot potato for you and you really wish it would just go away. Fair enough. But every time you guys do refer to it, you say that you're going to keep it under wraps because of how offensive and racist it is, which if anything is making people think the movie has a big musical number with animated burning crosses. There's a right way and a wrong way to release this movie. The wrong way would be to just dump it out on disc like any other beloved kids movie, playing up the whole "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" angle. If you did that then sure, people are going to be upset. You need to treat this as the specialty item it is, geared toward collectors and history buffs. Include all the disclaimers you want and produce thoughtful, intelligent special features examining the history, context and impact of the film. Make sure to include a biographical documentary on James Baskett, too. The man received an honorary Academy Award for his portrayal of Uncle Remus, becoming the first African-American male to receive an Oscar. This won't be an easy disc to market but I'm sorry, not every movie can be used to sell toys.
What exactly is preventing Michael Mann's 1983 cult horror movie from appearing on disc? It could be the studio. Paramount has never the biggest supporter of catalog titles, especially oddities like this one. Or it could be the director himself. Mann could be holding out for someone to release his director's cut instead of the original theatrical version. Let's compromise on this one. Mr. Mann, how about a big special edition with both versions and tons of extras? Paramount, if you're not interested, let me give you the phone number for someone who is. And wherever the title ends up, can we please get an isolated music track for that awesome Tangerine Dream score? See? Everybody's a winner!
The Magnificent Ambersons
Ah, the troubling case of Orson Welles' second film. Welles famously had this picture taken away from him in the editing room, resulting in over an hour's worth of footage hitting the cutting room floor. Now if somebody has secretly discovered that footage and is busily trying to restore Welles' original vision, I can be patient until the job is done. But if Warner Bros. is just hoping that it'll turn up someday, it might be time to pull the trigger on this. Besides, while a restoration would be amazing, nobody seems to think that the truncated version is all that bad. Just do the best you can, restore the movie you have, produce a mammoth documentary about what could have been, and call it a day.
This might be another case of a filmmaker holding up the release of his own work. Steven Soderbergh was never entirely happy with his second film and with good reason. It's not perfect. So if he wants to prepare a director's cut, that'd be OK. But for one thing, Soderbergh seems to be a little busy these days and reediting Kafka probably isn't high up on his to-do list. For another, I don't think a director's cut is necessary in this case. It's a genuinely fascinating movie even when it doesn't quite work. Besides, if you've ever listened to the audio commentary for The Limey, you know you want to hear Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs go after each other on this one, warts and all.
Light of Day
If I were a betting man, I'd wager that it's music rights that are keeping Paul Schrader's 1987 drama off of DVD. The title song was written by Bruce Springsteen and performed by co-star Joan Jett. The soundtrack includes tracks by the likes of Bon Jovi, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Dave Edmunds. Well, maybe everyone can put that aside if this disc helps raise money and awareness for the Light of Day Foundation for research into Parkinson's Disease, ALS and other diseases. I bet Michael J. Fox would support that idea.
The Star Wars Holiday Special
George, George, George... you really need to lighten up about this, man. I know, it's excruciatingly embarrassing. We all understand. It was the 70s and we all did things we regret. But honestly, is this really the most embarrassing thing you've done with Star Wars? Really? You made not one but TWO TV-movies about the Ewoks. In the Marvel comic book, you had Han and Chewie running around with a six-foot-tall green bunny rabbit named Jaxxon. You released The Phantom Menace, for crying out loud! Besides, this thing is already out there. Bootlegs are readily available at every sci-fi and comic book convention in the world, so by keeping this under lock and key, you're encouraging piracy. Is that what you want? Please, make this year's Life Day an extra-special one by releasing this.
OK, we're almost done, I swear. Before I let you go, I want to put in a personal request for two more titles that were bubbling just beneath the top ten...
By any definition, Tom Waits' 1988 concert film is a one-of-a-kind experience. When you factor in that Waits' live performances have become about as infrequent as sightings of Haley's Comet, this becomes an invaluable document. To my friends at Shout! Factory, this one is right up your alley. Drop me a line. I'd be more than happy to help get this on disc.
Hey, Warner Bros.? What's the deal with this? You actually had this movie on your release schedule a while back. Ken Russell has recorded a commentary and Mark Kermode made an excellent documentary for the BBC. Then it quietly vanished off your schedule and hasn't been seen since. I understand that it's highly controversial, so you might want to consider passing this off to someone who isn't afraid of such things, like Criterion perhaps. It certainly isn't doing you any favors sitting in your vault.
So there you have it. An even dozen releases that movie fans everywhere are dying to get their hands on and over 100 more waiting for you to discover on Facebook. You have the power, my industry friends. Work together and let us bring these movies home. The only way your catalog sales will improve is if you dig deeper. You've already picked all the low-hanging fruit. Now's the time for you to take some chances and make us excited about these formats again. And remember, if you start to run out of ideas, just head over to the official Jahnke's Electric Theatre page on Facebook. I've got plenty more where these came from.
Dr. Adam Jahnke