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Yellow Layer Failure, Vinegar Syndrome and Miscellaneous Musings by Robert A. Harris

A Robert A. Harris Interview:
Warner Home Video's George Feltenstein
(continued)


Back to Part One

Robert A. Harris - Main Page

RAH: Let's talk a bit about That's Entertainment III, which I like better than one.

GF: Well thank you for that… and you're not alone in that. Robert Osborne says the same thing. A lot of people like III because is took them inside the process and it wasn't as sugar-coated, because we were being honest about it. And that phenomenal footage showing how the Fascinating Rhythm sequence…

RAH: And your split screens…

GF: Those were the things that enabled us to bring the audience more into the process.

RAH: One of the things that I remember about the film was the audio in the opening starting mono and then surrounding the audience with the new recording.

GF: The audio aspects of the films are really quite fascinating because for That's Entertainment I, I was sitting there at 14 years old and it started with A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody, but also most notably from The Harvey GirlsThe Atchison Topeka… I'm hearing real stereo.

I'm hearing Judy's voice in the center, and the chorus on the sides, and I'm saying to myself… little film historian that I was… "Wait a minute. They did not have stereo in 1945. How is this possible?"

And I never got my answer until I started working for MGM and found out about the multiple microphones and the stems that had been saved, and because it was transferred, from 35mm optical to ¼" tape… used tape which had been degaussed… and at 7 ½ IPS, thank you… it had no sync pulse.

So now, with computers I could sync these elements up on my computer at home in five minutes, but they didn't have that luxury in 1973 when they were working on this movie, and they had to… I was told by Scott Perry, who was one of MGM's longtime audio engineers, that they had to literally create those stereo sequences by hand to keep it in sync. That's why there are so few numbers that are stereo. On the original 70mm six-track, the numbers for Meet Me in St. Louis weren't stereo, even though the multi-tracks existed. It was too much work. They only did it on three or four numbers because they just couldn't do it for everything. But we've rectified that using our most recent ultra-resolution transfer.

Earlier you and I were talking about the That's Entertainment 1974 premiere TV special which I found… I remembered it and I wanted to track that down and I did at UCLA because our original 2" master was missing and it turned out it was sitting at UCLA. The TV special has the people talking at the premiere about "What's going to happen to this movie?" They had no idea it was going to turn into the box office phenomenon it was. But some people thought that this was really going to make a dent, and Fred Astaire makes a comment about the "nostalgia boom," which was taking off in the mid-'70s… You had Follies and No, No Nanette on Broadway, but people thought it was a fad, and what That's Entertainment did was to cement the reputation of the MGM musical as one of the most important factions within the history of the American film.

It brought it to a level of respect… we all know that Singin' in the Rain wasn't even nominated for an Oscar. Of course American in Paris and Gigi won them, because they had a little bit of an upper crust appeal, but generally the MGM musicals were never given their proper due in the realm of film history they really deserved, and That's Entertainment helped draw attention to those films. And the proof of the pudding was the following year, in 1975, when MGM made a bunch of new prints on most of the great musicals and bicycled them around various theatres during the summer of '75, in between That's Entertainment in '74 and That's Entertainment Part II in '76, and the revivals of those pictures, playing in revival houses did wonderful business and those prints served the company well for a very long time.

RAH: So basically we've got one film from 1974, one from '76, and then… a lapse of eighteen years… basically until you were there.

GF: That's right. The thing is that when I came home from seeing That's Entertainment Part II, I sat down at my typewriter and made a list of all the songs that I thought could make a That's Entertainment III. And I even made an audio cassette that I called That's Entertainment III. I still have it. I had the idea then. That was 1976.

Who would have ever thought that eighteen years later it would become a reality. My life took this path, and when I did get to MGM in the '80s, and made the move with the company from NYC to L.A., I eventually tracked down Mike Sheridan and Bud Friedgen, the editors on the first two pictures, who I had known were trying to push a project built around the MGM outtakes.

I learned a great deal about the MGM outtakes from reading Hugh Fordin's wonderful book, The World of Entertainment in 1975, which has since been re-issued under the title Musicals Great Musicals. In the back of the book he listed what numbers were shot for certain Arthur Freed films, and which were deleted. Around that same time there were a series of bootleg record albums that came out which contained copies from playback discs of some of the outtake music numbers. The sound quality was beyond horrendous, but just to "hear" these musical numbers was so thrilling. I thought they must have all been destroyed or lost, but going back as early as 1940, there is significant studio documentation that confirms the studio thought there was value in saving the musical outtakes for possible future use.

So I kept pursuing the project for years, and by 1991, when I was by that time actually running the MGM/UA home video company, I went to the head of the studio at the time, Alan Ladd, Jr. who is truly one of the great men of Hollywood history. "Laddie" as he is called by his friends, and those who work for him, is a very down-to-earth guy, and he was incredibly supportive of me, as he has been to so many people. He believed in the project and greenlit it, and backed it 100%. He's an amazing fellow. Talk about unsung praise, he has brought forth dozens of great motion pictures, but most of them don't carry his name because he was a studio chief harboring their production, and studio execs don't get their name on movies. He was there for George Lucas to create Star Wars. He was there for Mel Brooks to make Young Frankenstein, yet his name isn't on the credits of any of those movies (just to name a few!) That's why my name isn't on That's Entertainment! III, even though the idea was mine, and I participated heavily in the artistic collaboration that went into the film. So how thrilled was I to fly back to New York in 1994 and sit in the same seat at the Ziegfeld where I had seen the first That's Entertainment, and now was seeing the third film that I helped bring to life. I was quite awed by it all…and it looked and sounded so great there. We had worked so hard on the soundtrack for TE 3 going back to the original recordings, it was thrilling to hear that stuff at the "Ziggy".

RAH: As I recall, when we were at Warner Hollywood working on Lawrence, Warner Bros. had set up a major audio preservation and restoration area, and apparently at that time they had made a commitment to take all of the magnetic recordings for all of the films, and preserve all of them to digital copies and analogue backup protection. This was a huge, impressive, and expensive project, but it meant that these materials would be saved.

I've got to believe that this has already re-paid its costs in both the ability to go back to these protected elements for home video, and then there are all of the new CDs.

GF: Yes, I've produced more than 60 CD soundtrack albums derived from that material, and it has been a priceless source to help create the new 5.1 mixes for stereo films by going back to the very original session masters and creating a new mix, using the old mix as a representative source.

RAH: As far as I know, you're still the only studio which has an ongoing archival interview program.

GF: Yes, that's true. Warner Bros. is the only studio that has done anything like it. It was the brainchild of Phil Kent who is now Chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting, but who at the time was head of the now-defunct Turner Home Entertainment. Two big celebrities died within a week in 1993, and Phil thought that we ought to invest corporately in a living archive and start interviewing everyone associated with our library. He recognized it would be an invaluable resource. We now have more than three hundred people on whom we have archival interviews At least 20 percent of them have since passed away.. The interviews are shot on 16mm film… not on videotape, but with backups on tape and they are used for interstitial pieces on TCM, by Warner Home Video for "Easter eggs" and in our documentaries, and we also use them for other things. I asked to do the interview with Chuck Jones, which was one of the great joys of my life because I admired him so much.

And as so many people have passed away since we started doing it… even people that we've lost this year like Elmer Bernstein and David Raksin, and this becomes an invaluable tool, because even on the new That's Entertainment DVD we created a new half hour documentary, mostly derived from the archival interview series, that was very important to me. It's called The Masters Behind the Musicals. I wanted a piece that saluted a lot of the people that weren't famous but who had contributed as much to the great MGM musicals as Astaire or Kelly in their own manner.

RAH: It's a great piece, by the way…

GF: Well kudos to Peter Fitzgerald, who by the way was the executive producer of That's Entertainment III. He put that piece together, based on my initial concepts, because I am very passionate about my heroes, who were Roger Edens and Conrad Salinger and Kay Thompson and Hermes Pan and so many others, these people who poured their talents into all those MGM musicals really deserve so much more credit than they are given.

The That's Entertainment films are not documentaries. They are "docutainment compilations" if you will, and they are not designed to give you the kind of detailed personal background on the creative talents behind the camera, and I felt we needed to do that in a way that would be entertaining and interesting and give these people their due. So when we looked at what kind of special features we would create for the DVD, creating a piece like this was essential to "fill in the blanks" and very important to me personally. I feel I owe these people a debt I could never repay, especially since I never had the chance to meet most of them. Some of the people interviewed I did get to know pretty well, like Saul Chaplin, for example. Sadly he passed away a few years ago, but because we have his archival interview, there he was in this new piece, giving a great perspective about how the MGM musicals were constructed.

And there was Ann Miller, who I was very close to for the last fifteen years or so. She was like family to me. As you know, we lost her to cancer in January, but again, because we had her archival interview, she's there to weigh in with her "tell it like it is" manner, and that's quite meaningful. , We also use many archival interviews with people who are happily still very much with us like Andre Previn, Angela Lansbury, Gloria DeHaven, Betty Garrett and Alexander Courage just to name a few.

These archival interviews are invaluable. We set up these shoots for them four times a year, and they are co-funded by Warner Bros. Entertainment and Turner Classic Movies, and copies of each interview are deposited with the Motion Picture Academy so they are available to scholars doing research.

Anybody who worked at Warner Bros., MGM or RKO, in front of, or behind the camera we try to get. We have people who are secretaries, we have people who are film editors, gaffers… and big stars. We have coverage from lots and lots of people.

It's been an invaluable resource to us, and on our upcoming DVDs of other films, you'll continue to see these interviews.

RAH: On a slightly different topic, one of the major projects there has been the restoration of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, which for years I remember were copied from prints…

GF: Actually the story there is very interesting because the library was split. You had the AAP…

RAH: The pre-'48 as…

GF: United Artists… Turner MGM group with the pre-49 color Looney Tunes and the Merrie Melodies, and then the post-'49 over at Warner Bros. The library was split and the Turner portion materials were always 16mm red prints in syndication, and then in 1987 they took mostly Technicolor nitrate prints and made 1" video masters of them. Those became the bedrock of our Looney Tunes laserdisc box sets.

From there someone made a decision that the way to preserve the cartoons was to make internegatives from those prints…and that was the way to preserve them.

Well, that wasn't…

So when Warner Bros. purchased Turner one of the first priorities that I got involved with was the preservation and restoration of the entire Warner Bros. cartoon library by going back to the original successive exposure negatives which (on the nitrate titles) are housed at the Library of Congress.

We have been doing that for a few years now, and it is extraordinarily expensive, which is why we can only do about sixty cartoons a year… I wish we could do more.

RAH: That's actually a lot.

GF: It is a lot. We had finally had the first release last year, called Looney Tunes: The Golden Collection, and again it was one of my marketing battles because I was having to defend the fact that this is not "kids product". While Warner Bros. cartoons are perfectly appropriate entertainment for children who can enjoy them and grow up on them as I did, these films were made for adults. They need to be marketed to adults who can share them with their children.

It's not children's product. You demean these works when you refer to them as "kid vid." These are classic American films that are animated, and the filmmakers are on camera and on record saying "We did not make these films for children. We made them for ourselves." And they were shown in theatres to adults and they needed to be funny to adults.

One of the classic examples of messing up marketing of a product is the way that some people did and some still do… think… it's a cartoon, then it must be for kids. That's just plain wrong. Treat them as you would treat classic films. Period.

I used this approach at MGM for marketing the Looney Tunes that they distributed at the time before the merger… as well as on the Tom and Jerry and Tex Avery cartoons. We went out and marketed them to classic animation fans and not specifically to children, and suddenly what was not a terribly impressive business turned into a windfall of profit. I'm happy to say that the Looney Tunes sets which came out last year were a magnificent success.

RAH: It was a magnificent set, that looked like the film should look. They were properly represented on video.

GF: Well thank you very much and thank you to all the people who worked on the restorations here, and to my dear friend and cohort, Jerry Beck, who worked with me in selecting the cartoons, and has worked with me going back to the first classic Looney Tunes box on laserdisc in 1988. He and Greg Ford are both great friends of mine, and those two gents know more about classic animation than anyone in the world.

RAH: What should be expected in '05 and going into '06 from the studio?

GF: Where do I begin?

RAH: I know you have some of the Flynns…

GF: There are certain things that we mentioned on the last HTF chat that are in the works… the Cagney films that people have been waiting for… the Errol Flynn films that people have been waiting for…

There's more Bette Davis. There's more Joan Crawford. There is Greta Garbo. There will be more film noir because the film noir set this year was such a huge success that we plan to do film noir again in '05. Also the Thin Man movies are coming soon, and the Miss Marple Movies and many of the "DVD DECISION" candidates that didn't make the cut, which we've promised to the consumers. The list of goodies on the way goes on and on…. some of my personal favorites are in there, such as A Face in the Crowd and The Loved One.

This past year we've also been successful with releasing what I think are very attractive box sets at a reasonable price, thereby giving the consumer a value when they buy the box set, and giving them a really stunning presentation, and trying to add, which is something that I've always tried to do, cartoons and shorts from the library to give it more of a Hollywood feel. I always did that on laserdisc…

RAH: It's what you would have seen in the movie theatre…

GF: Exactly… which is funny because I read reviews online and it will say "Why is this here? What does this have to do with the movie?"

And what they don't realize is that the cartoon was made in 1946 and the film was made in 1946…

On the Warner's legends last year, we had Leonard Maltin doing Warner Night at the Movies, which worked really well at explaining that whole concept and presenting it in a "play all" scenario in which you could watch it all together or separately, and we'll be doing two more sets of releases next year with Leonard's Night at the Movies on them that people are going to really love…

A lot of titles that people have been asking for are coming out next year and in '06.

RAH: Are you going to be getting into more of the Technicolor Flynns?

GF: Yes. We have a lot of Flynn coming up and a new documentary that will be part of a Flynn box set, and the documentary is called The Adventures of Errol Flynn and it's still in production right now and we have very high hopes for it.

RAH: Who is your documentarian on that?

GF: The people making that are Joan Kramer and David Heely, who made Katharine Hepburn: All About Me, and they're working on that right now. I just saw a rough cut on the third part yesterday, and it's really wonderful, and I'm happy to say that Olivia de Havilland participated in it, which is really a priceless contribution.

When she was in town to do her piece for Gone with the Wind, she agreed to talk about Errol… they made eight films together, so having her in there, along with Flynn's widow, Patrice Wymore and a lot of other impressive people who knew him and worked with him, and critics and so forth should be a wonderful thing. We generally do have these high profile documentaries.

When we release Easter Parade next year, it will be Ultra Resolution and it will have on disc two, the American Masters documentary, Judy Garland: By Myself, which was very well received and won a few Emmys a few weeks ago.

I'm very proud of the film. It was originally supposed to be disc two of Meet Me in St. Louis, but it ran into production problems and was delayed. We had an airdate on PBS of February 23rd, and as of January 28th we had no show. Susan Lacey and her amazing people at American Masters took the bull by the horns and created a show. We were delighted with the results. We're honored to be releasing it and that's another thing that's very important to me is to have the extra content really be top notch and we really strive for that wherever we can.

RAH: Are there any plans for any Kevin Brownlow / Photoplay documentaries?

GF: Yes. The upcoming Buster Keaton release… it's the first time Kevin has ever done anything specifically for DVD. We're doing The Cameraman and Spite Marriage, which come out on December 7th, as our second TCM Archives release, and I talked to Patrick [Stanbury] and Kevin and said "I don't know if you want to do this but I have to ask you this knowing that you're normally in a different ballpark, but I have to ask you this because you're the expert… would you like to do something on Keaton's MGM period, which is a very sad story… just heartbreaking. And it's not a fun subject because that was when he made some personal decisions that really wreaked havoc on his life…

And Kevin couldn't replicate what he had already done on his A Hard Act to Follow, not only because he wouldn't want to duplicate himself, but also because he doesn't own those old shows, so he made something new and something fresh, and he found a collector who had old movie footage of Buster Keaton in Times Square making The Cameraman, and it's in there. It's unbelievable. Leave it to Kevin.

RAH: That's why Kevin should be brought in on these things.

GF: Kevin and Patrick, for Photoplay, are working with Warner Home Video and Turner Classic Movies on two feature length documentaries that will be available on DVD next year. I can't yet discuss what they are, but I'm happy to announce the association. We love working with them. We have a group of filmmakers whom we really love working with…

RAH: There is no one better.

GF: No. Kevin is in a class by himself.

RAH: Anything to report on When the Lion Roars?

GF: We have that ready to go. We had that ready to go about two years ago, and we're trying to find the right way to release it… You know if you just put it out on its own you're not going to make enough to support it. It's got to be part of a promotion, something in line with a release with a number of classic MGM films which haven't been on DVD yet… there are so many…

People are waiting for San Francisco and The Good Earth, these black and white films…

RAH: Test Pilot

GF: Precisely. People are waiting for those films, and as I have to remind everybody… it wasn't until seven or eight or nine years into VHS that you started seeing them come out on VHS, and it's the same thing with DVD as the market is now maturing.

Fred and Ginger are coming to DVD in 2005 at long last… the Val Lewton films are coming in 2005…

RAH: As a collection?

GF: As a collection. All nine will be in one box. We have a great guy who's going to be doing commentary on that. You know, we're aware of what everybody wants, looking at the threads…

Missing Warner titles has been a recent thread on HTF, and there are some ridiculous titles that show up once in a while, but most of the titles are quite respectable and likely choices, and it makes me happy because I can look at it and say "Yep, we're doing that… and we're doing that…"

RAH: One of the problems that some of the people on HTF and other websites may not understand is that in the VHS days you could get away with a second class film element for transfer…

GF: You could get away with anything. You could put anything at all in a box or a jacket, regardless of the quality and you had a master.

RAH: But with DVD all the warts are out there on the screen.

GF: I know. People are now saying "Well, there are nicks in this shot…" I had to laugh… with the film noir package, every one of those films, we went back to the nitrate camera negatives, and made a new fine grain… we spent a fortune creating new masters and those films have never looked so good.

Most of the reviews had comments reflected as such. The one that really blew me away was Gun Crazy, because that was a low budget movie, and you could see Russ Tamblyn's… the sweat coming off his face in the beginning and the pores in his skin…

RAH: The image quality was incredible…

GF: So clear… and yet some people said "Well there are some nicks and digs and… my favorite new term, it just cracks me up… it didn't exist before the people on the internet is the "age-related artifacts."

RAH: Let's go back to That's Entertainment for a moment. There's a rather startling difference in image quality between the first two productions and the third…

GF: Well, of the three films, three does look so much better, and the reason is that everything was back to the original negative… Cinetech did all the restoration pieces…they were done right… such care was taken in that respect…

Not that the people in the '70s didn't do their best on one and two… for the time.

RAH: Everything is "for the time." I recall there was a conversation on HTF when Mutiny on the Bounty came out, and people were talking about the fact that it was grainy and scratchy and dirty, and I did a piece on film elements…

GF: And the fact that there were no duping stocks that were any good…

RAH: And original negatives are gone, and reels are missing and sections are missing… and there's nothing to go back to and Mr. Gable is unavailable.

GF: People have to understand that in cases like that, especially with really important films that we're going to do the best we can, and every once in a while there's a miracle like finding the original camera negative, mis-marked, on David Copperfield at the BFI… deposited there in 1939. That's amazing. We thought that most of the black and white MGM camera negatives went up in the fire at Eastman House, and that we didn't have anything to go back to…

So when I see people complaining about films from the early '30s…

RAH: They're seventy years old…

GF: They don't realize that they look so much better than they ever have before on video…

And then you run into a situation like the 1931 version of The Champ, where the original negative was thought to have burned at Eastman House. It didn't burn. We brought it in. We made three new fine grains at YCM, and I haven't seen the print, but I understand that it looks like it was shot yesterday.

Those are the types of films which are going to be a little tougher to sell on DVD, but we do have them scheduled.

RAH: You need the support of the collectors in the marketplace to help amortize all of these costs which is giving them first quality releases.

GF: We intend to use all of our abilities and efforts to get them out there. Our corporate initiative is something that we share with our friends and associates at Turner Classic Movies, in that we want to expand the base of people who watch classic motion pictures. We want to educate them. We want to interest them into wanting to explore this. The great thing about the That's Entertainment films in general, is that they make you want to see the whole film…

RAH: Which sells DVDs…

GF: Exactly. They're like a big trailer for the library. Especially with That's Entertainment III taking people into the filmmaking process. I think that really stimulated a lot of interest. And it does sell a lot of DVDs. There are a lot of people saying "Why aren't the Esther Williams films on DVD yet?" We do have a master ready, newly restored, of Bathing Beauty. I would love to be able to put together a set of her films and see it sell well but I don't know if we're there yet. We have to get player penetration higher in the older demographics.

RAH: What kind of things have you been finding lately in terms of elements that might affect the way the DVDs may look on some of these films?

GF: The real Godsend has been that over 140 films where we thought the original negative had burned in the Eastman House fire in the late '70s were still in existence. Eastman House had given us incorrect information in regard to what had burned. And to our delight and to their delight they're saying that they still have it.

It may be listed as original negative that they found, and it may be a dupe nitrate negative and not the camera original, but it's still something better than what we have.

The camera negative to Dancing Lady was found and we've done preservation on it. The other point that I'd like to make, and this is interesting in regard to the pre-49 Warner pictures, a subject with which you are very familiar… when the films were owned by United Artists, they made safety fine grain protections on about the top two hundred titles, and the fine grains they made were not very good at all. They did no preservation of the lower tier titles. When MGM bought United Artists, they started preserving the library, including the trailers and the shorts, and of course, now the cartoons…

And that preservation work continues… but on movies like Now Voyager and Mildred Pierce and Casablanca and so on, instead of doing what was done before, which was going back to the same rotten fine grains, we're going back to the camera negatives and making new preservation elements, and that's why those films look so good.

There are still some films where we have problems based upon the surviving elements, but for many of them, the original elements haven't been touched in a long time and the results are really beautiful.

This is interesting…

Public Enemy was censored for the post-production code re-issue, and we were hopeful that we could fill in the missing scenes from 16mm, but 35mm elements have been located in Britain, and those will be part of that release when that comes out.

RAH: That's going to be exciting. That's going to be the first time in over seventy years that the film has been seen un-censored.

GF: And I've got to tell you. Public Enemy and Little Caesar have always looked so awful, and while I haven't seen what they look like for real, but I've seen VHS copies of the documentaries about them which will be on our upcoming DVDs, and they look amazing. They're clean and bright and beautiful.

RAH: All you have to do is put quality elements in Ned's hands…

GF: If we have them, and sadly on some films, we don't have them. With something like A Night at the Opera or Munity on the Bounty, we're doing the best that we can with the surviving elements.

RAH: I'm going to change the subject again, if I may. I took a look at the new release on Seven Brides, and it's interesting because you can see scratches… you can see the color breathing… the color is beautiful. I don't recall it ever looking as good in recent decades, and people are going to be complaining about these "age-related artifacts," ARAs we'll call them, and there's nothing that can be done about it without spending a fortune.

GF: Seven Brides is a sad story that was confirmed to me. When the MGM lab blew Seven Brides up to 70mm in 1968, they trashed the original negative… the splices started coming apart and sprocket holes were torn…

RAH: They were printing from the original…

GF: They were printing from the original and they ruined it. They ruined the negative. And on that film, and we're talking about the scope version, the separation masters were made incorrectly in 1955.

[NOTE: In 1968 printing from original negatives to 70mm was not only common practice, but the only way of producing a high quality print. This was the era before quality duplicating elements which enabled a lab to create a 65mm IP and 65mm printing dupe.]

RAH: They would have been dry-gate anyway, so any wear or damage would have been photographed to the protection element.

GF: Exactly… so they used a multitude of different elements to try to reconstruct the film as well as possible. There's one scene in the barn-raising dance where you see the frame jumps a bit for a split second…

RAH: But that's all there is…

GF: This film has always been problematic because you've got the earliest antiquated scope lenses, you've got Ansco color, and then you have elements that have been trashed and put through the meat grinder, and a film that was released many times because it's so damned good. That film was actually in release internationally until the early '80s.

But doing this DVD was a delight because virtually everyone who worked on the film is still with us… Stanley Donen and the major cast members… and the film is timeless.

RAH: The reason that I brought it up, and it's like the Mutiny on the Bounty situation… people are going to see and they're going to be discussing the ARAs, and they're absolutely unavoidable.

GF: It's not perfect… and then there's the other aspect which I think is worth mentioning. For example, when you have a director like Vincente Minnelli… Vincente Minnelli loved dissolves…

RAH: And they're all dupes…

GF: There you go. Exactly. Which is why parts of Meet Me in St. Louis don't look as great as Robin Hood or some of the other films because you may have a three or four minute scene which is all dupe…

RAH: Well that's the problem with the Fit as a Fiddle number from Singin' in the Rain

GF: Exactly… exactly…

RAH: Where you've got dissolve into dissolve into dissolve…

GF: But people don't know that, and one of my great debts to you as a film person… you have done such a great job of educating the layman to understanding the film part of what goes into the DVD, and explaining those things to them.

RAH: Anything else before we wrap that you can add about new releases?

GF: Well I can talk about this because it's mentioned in the new That's Entertainment box.. for various reasons, we have to be somewhat vague about when we're putting out certain things…

RAH: Well you're listing Broadway Melody of 1929, which is quite an exciting release.

GF: Yes. We haven't announced when it's coming out, but obviously it will be out for Oscar time because it's a Best Picture winner… but what I'm really thrilled about is that several of those wonderful early Metro Movietone Revue shorts that I put on the Dawn of Sound laser boxes are coming!… I've got about six or seven of them on the Broadway Melody DVD. That will make some people very happy.

It was a lot easier to put things out on laserdisc because it wasn't as big a market and there wasn't as much of a problem with legal clearances. But DVD is perceived as a huge revenue generator, which it is for big titles, but not the same for little things like obscure short subjects or rarely-seen features.

RAH: That's why a lot of titles can't come out…

GF: Exactly… We could do things on laserdisc, that we can't on DVD because it's just too expensive, not to mention that where we could get away with the moderate quality of an old 1" analog master on LD, we can't allow that for DVD.

It is my hope eventually… you know, we want to do The Jazz Singer… that's actually being restored right now. If we can put things out profitably and to our standards of quality, we're going to do everything we can. And if The Jazz Singer sells well, I'd love to be able to put out some of the other Jolsons. We just found the original negative to Go into Your Dance, mislabeled in a vault in New Jersey, and a few years ago, the Technicolor sequence to Mammy in Finland. So there are always developments going on the search-and-find dept.

RAH: How about films like The Big Parade or the Garbo silents?

GF: The Big Parade is another one where the original camera negative was thought lost, and it was found at Eastman House, and it is being preserved and restored as we speak… it may even be completed by now. I know there are plans to do something as it's having its 80th anniversary next year. We haven't formalized any DVD plans yet, but we hope to do something with it. We do have particular issues with this title because there is the theatrical re-issue version which has the Dr. William Axt score from 1930, and then there's the wonderful Carl Davis score, and they won't sync because of speed issues, so it may have to be a two disc set with both scores.

Our goal is definitely to get more silents out. We have nearly 300 extant, preserved silent features, which is far, far more than any other studio. We co-fund (with TCM) the creation and recording of new scores to be recorded for silent films that need music in order to become viable for distribution. The Chaney Collection was the start of our mining our library of silents... the Keaton is the second... we hope to be doing one or two releases of silent film collections every year.

They're not going to be making anybody rich, but they have been profitable and successful, and consumers value the effort that goes into the presentation, which means we can keep doing them.

You know it's an embarrassment of riches, when you've got the world's most wonderful film library…

RAH: Back together again...

GF: It's wonderful for Warner Bros. to finally have its legacy reinstated, it really is. And the amount of money and time and effort that's put into the maintenance of the library, and the preservation of it is really without peer. We're very proud of that.

---end---

(Special Update - 10/28/04)

There was a bit of information in my discussion with Warner’s George Feltenstein, which may have been misconstrued, and all of us involved want to clarify the facts.

After the George Eastman House fire in 1978, a listing of negatives, either totally or partially destroyed was sent to MGM. Somewhere there was miscommunication, and although GEH archivists were aware of what had survived and what had not, there seems to have been confusion in the studio records, which when copied over, with the advent of computer data bases, continued incorrectly for decades.

The actual information came to light when GEH archivists showed Kevin Brownlow the original nitrate negative as well as a duplicate nitrate negative of The Big Parade in 1997. The Big Parade is currently being restored as a joint project of Warner and GEH.

Since the discussion went on line, I was informed by Mr. Feltenstein that the 128 films thought lost, were only thought lost by MGM. Other films were lost. But that’s a different story.

The archival and preservation area of Warner Bros. has made it clear that the lack of proper information dates back to handwritten records from the 1970s that incorrectly spoke of the elements as being destroyed.

During the past three decades, GEH, as it always had been doing, was keeping meticulous care of the elements, and have always had them properly inventoried.

Only in recent years, after a specific request was given to them was it revealed that the company's inventory information was incorrect, and the problem has since been rectified.

This has led to the manufacture of many new preservation elements on a host of key titles, none of which were "lost films" (safety fine grains and dupe negatives had been made before the nitrate went to Eastman House), but now can look much better with new elements being manufactured from those held by GEH for even greater quality.

Warner Bros. is very grateful to have a wonderful working relationship with the archivists at George Eastman House, and wants to set the record straight that at no time did GEH ever maintain anything but the most accurate and complete inventory information.

From my own perspective, having spent time at GEH, I can personally speak to not only their superb inventory and nitrate vault system, but also of GEH’s Jeffrey Selznick School, which via offers on site training to our future archivists in the highest manner.

Also, since I’m an fan of GEH, I’ll take to the soapbox (or apple crate) to mention to those who enjoy film classics, that high quality material continues to exist at GEH and is the source of not only some wonderful preservation work, but can be the source of future work.

I would also like to mention that GEH is about to begin a new Capitol Endowment fund-raising campaign.

Every bit helps, and every bit of contributions goes to actual film restoration. Anyone who has an extra dollar or five... or more... is welcome to call the Development Office of GEH directly at (585) 271-3361. Additionally, contributions towards GEH's ongoing film preservation projects are always welcome and can be sent directly to the Motion Picture Department. All of us in the restoration trenches thank you for your support of the GEH Archive. And all donations are tax deductible.

---end---

The Digital Bits would very much like to thank George Feltenstein for all of his fantastic work, and for taking the time to speak with us.

CLICK HERE to discuss this interview with Robert and other home theater enthusiasts online right now at The Home Theater Forum.


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