Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dust or DVD?

We all know how hard it can be to find odd movies on DVD. Well, I must admit there are great releases both here in Europe and most notably in the US. There is however one particular period that apparently is far too odd (or far out) to get good releases on either continent. The early talkies, my pet subject almost seems to be a forgotten era all together. When described in books or by film critics the movies from this particular period is often described as static, dull, racist or simply too bad to be taken seriously. Well, I don’t agree. I think this common misconception very well may be the main reason so few of these movies are released to the public. Therefore I have made a little list of which early talkies I believe must get a general DVD release in the near future.

The Singing Fool (1928) The follow up to the Jazz Singer, a part talking, part singing, not much dancing Vitaphone triumph and one of the biggest moneymakers during the 20’s. Apparently it survives intact with both picture and sound elements in good working order. Where is the “80th anniversary special 3-disc edition” of this? It was a much bigger hit than the Jazz Singer (which has a really nice box-set, since it is considered the first talking picture). A follow up would be appropriate.

Eddie Cantor - The Goldwyn Years (1930-34) Whoopee!, Palmy Days, The Kid From Spain, Roman Scandals and Kid Millions, This bunch once was out on Laserdisc in the early 90’s but has never been released in any form since. These five films are comedy classics. They are in every way as good as the Marx Bros films of the same period. However, I know there is a problem. Eddie always has a few scenes in blackface in all of them. I guess this can be a reason not to release them in a time when everything public has to be politically correct. I am not American so I may not understand these issues completely but for Eddies sake, it was almost 80 years ago, times were different back then and Eddie proved to be a good person all his life, it’s time to honor him with a release of his best work.

Rio Rita (1929) The 1929 original 140 minute version. This was the big Christmas blockbuster of 1929 and a grandiose spectacular it was indeed. Music, song, dance and comic relief from Wheeler & Woolsey. What more can one ask for? The common version of this film is the badly cut 1932 re-release with many of the best numbers, including the Kinkajou cut. I have quite reliable information from different sources about an existing print of the 1929 European release. So a little research in that direction might give us a complete Rio Rita to feast our eyes Swell!

Follow Thru (1930) This is said to be one of the best preserved two- strip Technicolor films of this period. Follow Thru has been restored from the original negatives by the UCLA some ten years ago. This is frustrating when all you can get your hands on is a 14th generation copy of a VHS made in Japan back in 1984, you can imagine the blur. I haven’t seen the restored version since it’s only shown on remote festivals on what seems to be the other side of the world. DVD – Now!

Paramount On Parade (1930) Also a restored film which is almost intact, apart from some color footage that had to be presented in b/w. I can’t see the use in restoring a film only to keep it locked up. Sadly, Paramount On Parade is hardly ever shown at all. The restored print runs 102 minutes whether the print in circulation among collectors is a totally mutilated 77 minute (sometimes even shorter) version with no color at all made for TV in the early 50’s. Paramount On Parade also exists in different languages. It’s especially interesting for me since it’s probably the only early talkie that was made in a Swedish version. Some of the Swedish footage have survived and could serve as bonus material. I think there is existing footage from the Spanish version as well.

Glorifying The American Girl (1929) The same goes for this “milestone”. It has been restored to its former glory but is naturally collecting dust on a shelf somewhere instead of being given a second life on DVD. OK it’s not a great movie, but it has really good bits in it. We get to see what a Ziegfeld Follies extravaganza could have looked like, in color, with Ziegfeld himself supervising. In my book that is far more interesting than collecting dust in the dark, unseen by millions…

These are only a few of all the movies that could change the common point of view that the early talkies are something to forget about rather than to celebrate.


Raquel Stecher said...

Oh believe you me, I have a huge list of early talkies that I would like to see on DVD. I guess there just isn't enough demand. People like us need to demand this!

Jonas Nordin said...

Yes! We certianly should! These were only a few of the most obvious movies I miss on DVD. Which are the top priorities your list?

Raquel Stecher said...

My top priorities are Norma Shearer films. All of them need to be on DVD stat. Besides that I would love to see Cabin in the Cotton on DVD. I would be first in line to get it.

Anonymous said...

Warner Home Video had a laserdisc set called "The Dawn of Sound" that it released in three volumes back in the early 90's. How about a similar set with "The Singing Fool", "The Hollywood Revue", and "The Lights of New York" (first all talking picture) with the 2-reel "Song Writer's Revue" to round out the set. Warners controls all of these properties.

Fox is releasing The Murnau/Borzage set in a couple of weeks with late silent/early sound gems. I hope that if it sells well that Warners will follow suit with some of their early talkie gems.

Jonas Nordin said...

The MGM Dawn Of Sound sets are total classics among colectors like myself. A DVD release of the sets would do fine for me. There may be some additions to make and some color scenes to add to some of the movies, otherwise they were just fine.

The Hollywood Revue of 1929 could be released in a great set combined with a nice March Of Time documentary including all the recycled footage from it and some colortone shorts from the same era.
Great stuff!

Anonymous said...

I have good news and bad news. Warner Bros. via the Warner Archives is going to eventually make their entire library available, with 150 entries in the first batch that became available 3/23/09. Customers can order the films they want on demand. That's the good news.

The bad news is the cost - $20 a film/disc with no extras. More bad news is that Warners in their annual chat mentioned that many awaited films would be in the Warner Archives and not a general DVD release.

One bright spot is that Warner's did mention that they had taken notice of Fox's recent habit of taking their early talkies/late silents and putting them into prestige sets - Ford at Fox, Murnau/Borzage at Fox. They said they were planning something along those lines for this Christmas.

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