Apr 21, 2009

cinematic archaeology

Warner is beginning to release obscure films from its vault, Mark Harris reports.
The recent launch of the Warner Archive Collection could well portend a revolution; it's DVD on demand, a way for Warner (and, one hopes, for every other studio) to make movies available without spending the $75,000 to $100,000 it costs to release an old title into an ominously contracting marketplace. Here's how it works: Go to the archive and browse the titles. Click on the ones you want, and for $19.95 apiece, they'll burn a DVD-R and ship you the movie in a standard plastic case with cover art. There are no extras except the trailer, if it's available; there isn't even scene-by-scene chaptering. But you will get the film, shown in the correct aspect ratio and with a picture and soundtrack of mostly high quality. Virtually none of the movies in this collection has been available on DVD before. Many never even made it to VHS.
Along the way, Harris finds some gems, some bombs, and some revelations:
An Enemy of the People (filmed in 1976 but not released until 1981) is your only shot to see Steve McQueen interpret Ibsen. Having watched the movie, I now know why. Still, I wouldn't have missed a minute.
The archive seems like a marvelous way to imagine cinematic counterfactuals. Perhaps other studios will follow suit.

For a more critical take, read John Falcone's article for CNET.

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