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Author Topic: Alamo 1960 roadshow restoration controversy
Frank Bruno
Film Handler

Posts: 50
From: houston, tx
Registered: Aug 2003


 - posted 06-29-2014 02:56 AM      Profile for Frank Bruno   Email Frank Bruno   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I don't know if anyone has been following this (I searched a couple forums here & didn't find anything,) but there's a bit of a controversy going regarding an attempted Robert Harris restoration of the 70mm roadshow version of the John Wayne Alamo movie. Apparently MGM can't or won't restore at the moment, and won't allow an outside group to fund and do a restoration either. The blogger Jeff Wells has started a petition/open letter push, and has a few name directors on board.

The media in San Antonio has picked up on this, and asked Phil Collins about it while he was there donating his Alamo collection this week. It made me wonder if anyone had thought to ask MGM if they'd consider donating the film (or at least physical elements) to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and then the restoration funding push (and screenings or blu-ray release) could be sorted after that. It would be cool if such restoration benefited the DRT (and as such, upkeep of the Alamo itself) or the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.

I left a comment on Wells' Hollywood-elsewhere.com blog, and shot the DRT an e-mail through their site. I thought I'd post here in case anyone has contacts at MGM or Harris' organization (or other historical or charitable groups that may be interested) to pass the idea along to.

I'm in Houston and not San Antonio, but as a transplant to Texas I hope this works out somehow.

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Frank Angel
Film God

Posts: 5195
From: Brooklyn NY USA
Registered: Dec 1999


 - posted 06-29-2014 04:53 AM      Profile for Frank Angel   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Angel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
How does it profit ANYONE for "not allowing" a film to be restored?

They should lose the damn copyright.

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Mark Ogden
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 865
From: Little Falls, N.J.
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 06-29-2014 06:31 AM      Profile for Mark Ogden   Email Mark Ogden   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
What Harris is trying to restore is the last surviving 70mm roadshow print of a picture that was shot in 70mm/TODD-AO. MGM is saying that the film isn’t really in jeopardy because a shorter version survives in 35mm reduction elements that are still in good shape.

I’m surprised about the whole thing because frankly, we are not talking Lawrence of Arabia or West Side Story here. The Alamo is a bombastic and overblown movie largely self-financed by Wayne as a political platform that resulted in some mediocre reviews and a funny MAD magazine parody. There may be some historical interest in restoring the 70mm print for the sake of having the roadshow version available, but I don’t see anybody clamoring to see it and I have the idea that MGM feels the same way, hence their reluctance to throw money at it. The movie is rarely spoken of in any sense. If we were talking about The Searchers or Red River, films that are truly important to cinema then I could see the furor, but this would be a 70mm "save" of a picture that is far from a classic.

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Frank Angel
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From: Brooklyn NY USA
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 - posted 06-29-2014 07:19 AM      Profile for Frank Angel   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Angel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I see you are not from Texas. Half the theatres in Texas ran THE ALAMO every year. I think there is an anniversary of it. In our theatre, it was a sell-out for a week's run. As a misplaced New Yorker, or as they nicknamed me, Yankee Boy, I couldn't understand what all the hoopla was about; I thought the film was pretty boring for what should have been a very compelling story. That said, I admit I was never a John Wayne fan of any of his movies -- to me he never was anyone other than John Wayne on the screen. Then again, as I Yankee, I never understood why they had a Confederates Day Parade either.

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Bill Gabel
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From: Technicolor / Postworks NY, USA
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 - posted 06-29-2014 10:44 AM      Profile for Bill Gabel   Email Bill Gabel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
This is what MGM did to that last surviving 70mm roadshow print of The Alamo your talking about Mark. This is from a Dallas Observer article from 2001 that was on the in 70mm site.

Instead, it wound up in the hands of MGM/UA's home-video department, which had it transferred to laserdisc and videotape. Afterward, this once-perfect print was dipped in so-called rejuvenation chemicals, sliced into 1,000-foot sections, dumped into cardboard boxes and put in warm storage, where it sat from 1991 till October of last year, when Harris opened the boxes to discover his beautiful childhood memories lay in near-absolute ruin. Its color was gone; its glory horribly diminished. And it smelled like vinegar, the result of the destructive chemical bath.

http://in70mm.com/news/2002/alamo/index.htm

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Robert Harris
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From: Bedford Hills, NY, USA
Registered: May 2003


 - posted 06-29-2014 01:20 PM      Profile for Robert Harris   Email Robert Harris   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I'm happy to answer questions here. Let's not work with rumors.

Both the original 65mm negative, as well as the separation masters are cut to the short version of the film. Seps have printer functions burned in.

Original neg is faded, chemically damaged (at the head and tail of every shot) and additional fade from what I presume is oxidation, moves in and out at the sides of the image.

The seps were exposed slightly out of focus, and do not represent large format quality.

We're discussing the short version. The roadshow has, for an extant element, a totally faded print, with slight vinegar syndrome.

This is a film that never really worked in 35mm, as the Todd-AO imagery was all but lost at the far lesser resolution of 35, which is less than a third (probably close to 25%) that of 70.

The film cannot be restored in sequences, but must be handled one shot at a time, defining the problems as they exist within each individual shot.

If a restoration is allowed to occur, there would be two. The longer Roadshow cut would be available for home video in HD resolution only - not above. The general release version would be 4k DCP, to replicate the original 70mm experience.

RAH

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Claude S. Ayakawa
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From: Waipahu, Hawaii, USA
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 - posted 06-29-2014 04:28 PM      Profile for Claude S. Ayakawa   Author's Homepage   Email Claude S. Ayakawa   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I saw a 35mm print of THE ALAMO at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara in 1960 when I was studying photography at Brooks and I did not find the film boring at All, Frank. I thought it was very entertaining and made me do some research on the actual historical event doing my spare time I also liked the music that was scored by Demitri Tiomkin and bought the soundtrack long playing record soon after I saw the movie.

It is unfortunate MGM is opposed to restoring the film because it deserves to be saved. I am very glad Mr. Harris and many others are trying to make MGM change their mind and allow the film to be fully restored.

-Claude

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Mark Gulbrandsen
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From: Bountiful, Utah
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 06-29-2014 07:05 PM      Profile for Mark Gulbrandsen   Email Mark Gulbrandsen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Well, the film was a financial flop when it was released. Normally people don't spend millions restoring these kinds of films. And I thought John Wayne's son now owns the rights to it...

Mark

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Jeff Taylor
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From: Chatham, NJ/East Hampton, NY
Registered: Apr 2000


 - posted 06-30-2014 05:44 PM      Profile for Jeff Taylor   Email Jeff Taylor   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Minor point, but Michael Wayne passed away. His sister Gretchen now manages the estate, or at least the Batjack and other film interests and holdings.

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Leo Enticknap
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From: Loma Linda, CA
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 - posted 06-30-2014 06:34 PM      Profile for Leo Enticknap   Author's Homepage   Email Leo Enticknap   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Mark Gulbrandsen
And I thought John Wayne's son now owns the rights to it...
If so, that might explain why MGM aren't co-operating with Robert Harris's proposed restoration project: it's not that they are opposed to it, but that they don't own the rights and therefore cannot themselves authorize the duplication of the elements they hold. Presumably the Wayne family estate need to be on board if the project is to progress.

quote: Mark Ogden
I’m surprised about the whole thing because frankly, we are not talking Lawrence of Arabia or West Side Story here. The Alamo is a bombastic and overblown movie largely self-financed by Wayne as a political platform that resulted in some mediocre reviews and a funny MAD magazine parody. There may be some historical interest in restoring the 70mm print for the sake of having the roadshow version available, but I don’t see anybody clamoring to see it and I have the idea that MGM feels the same way, hence their reluctance to throw money at it. The movie is rarely spoken of in any sense. If we were talking about The Searchers or Red River, films that are truly important to cinema then I could see the furor, but this would be a 70mm "save" of a picture that is far from a classic.
Which IMHO is a very good reason to save it. Critically acclaimed masterpieces are just that, but they are exceptions that prove the rule in terms of what the state of the art was, and what audiences saw. Some of the most interesting archival rediscoveries for me have been the ordinary movies - ones that got indifferent or even bad reviews. Beyond the Rocks is probably the most famous recent example. It's a truly dreadful movie, which had its 15 minutes of fame because of a big name star in it, because it got lost and because a print then turned up in a barn in Holland many decades later. In fact, in terms of the craft of filmmaking - the acting, directing, the script, you name it - I think it's one of the worst I've ever seen. When I saw the restoration screened at an AMIA conference in the mid-00s, there were howls of giggles from the audience throughout - and it wasn't supposed to be a comedy! But it was also one of the most interesting and entertaining, simply because it gave us a glimpse of what Hollywood churned out every week, not what a few visionaries managed to come up with once every few years.

So, even if The Alamo would make Big Jim McLain seem like Citizen Kane, I'd still like to see it restored and back in circulation.

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Mark Gulbrandsen
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From: Bountiful, Utah
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 - posted 06-30-2014 07:19 PM      Profile for Mark Gulbrandsen   Email Mark Gulbrandsen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Or it may be that the Wayne Estate owns the rights but MGM has the negative....

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Jeff Taylor
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From: Chatham, NJ/East Hampton, NY
Registered: Apr 2000


 - posted 07-01-2014 05:33 PM      Profile for Jeff Taylor   Email Jeff Taylor   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I can't imagine Wayne's estate blocking any restoration. They spent a small fortune restoring High and the Mighty (only to have the new neg damaged by water leakage from what I heard).

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Frank Angel
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From: Brooklyn NY USA
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 - posted 07-01-2014 09:16 PM      Profile for Frank Angel   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Angel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
You'd be surprised at what motiviates estates to prevent public access to works if they wind up with the rights. The Gershwin family fought the continued release of the Preminger PORGY AND BESS (late 50s) after its inital first run. Although it is not the greatest version of the opera ever mounted, it certainly didn't deserve to be burried as the family wanted. It was not bookable for many years because of this resistance by the family. Then, for who knows why, they turned around (whatever family member originally didn't like it changed their mind or maybe die or they got strapped for $$, who knows), they made the deal that allowed it to go to DVD, or perhaps whatever the legal macinations were with all the rights involved, perhaps they didn't have legal rights to stop a DVD release, but it certainly is not a bad thing that DVD is available now.

Thing about film, as Leo says, there are all kinds of reasons why even bad films can have important value. I once heard a lecture by a socialogist who was lamenting that much of the early porno films from the 60s and 70s were mostly non-existant or in possession of collectors and very hard to find. Why would a scholar want old porno films? Because they give a valuable insight into what the sexual mores and taboos of the culture were at that particular time and how they have or have not changed, especially the view of women.

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Claude S. Ayakawa
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Posts: 2724
From: Waipahu, Hawaii, USA
Registered: Aug 2002


 - posted 07-01-2014 11:41 PM      Profile for Claude S. Ayakawa   Author's Homepage   Email Claude S. Ayakawa   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
When Consolidated decided it was time to lease the Waipahu Theatre in the late sixties, my good friend the late Yugo Okubo did just that and operated it as a 2nd run house for about two years. After that time, the theatre including the land under the house was sold to a exhibitor who had a string of theatres that showed nothing but porn films. Full blown porn films were being released in 35mm at that time including 16mm so the new operator partioned a third of the theatre and showed 16mm in that little room in addition to 35mm in the larger part of the theatre. The small theatre extention was a very dreadful setup. When my mother was busy , my dad and I would sneak out of the house and see some porn films at the Waipahu and have a very good time. It was just amazing how great the quality was in most of the films.

-Claude

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Leo Enticknap
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From: Loma Linda, CA
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 - posted 07-10-2014 11:43 PM      Profile for Leo Enticknap   Author's Homepage   Email Leo Enticknap   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
When I was an archiving student in the '90s, one of the curators at the British Film Institute told me a story that had been told to him (he claimed) by a descendent of the pioneer British filmmaker Cecil Hepworth. Hepworth was considered an innovator and a leading figure from roughly the late 1890s to the First World War: his 1905 short Rescued By Rover is often cited as being one of the earliest to attempt a "complicated" narrative of the sort later found in feature films. However, his career went spectacularly downhill from the teens onwards, largely because he simply didn't get that audiences wanted more sophisticated acting, storytelling, directing, editing ... the whole deal that Hollywood was starting to perfect. Indeed, even into the 1920s, he was insisting on finishing every shot with an iris out, because he thought that cuts would be painful on the eye of the viewer (yes, really), and didn't even like camera movement during a shot! His last, feature length pics are some of the most dreadful ever to go in front of a paying audience, and economic reality finally put him out of his misery in 1924, when he went bust in the aftermath of the box office failure of [url= http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comin%27_Thro_the_Rye_%281923_film%29]his last[/url] (and IMHO, undisputed worst) film.

Anyway, this guy at the BFI told me that shortly after Hepworth's death in the early 1950s, people from their archive attempted to recover what they could from his offices, the landlord of which was about to clear into dumpsters. The BFI arrived to find that the police had got there first, were raiding the place and would not let the BFI people anywhere near it.

To this day no-one has ever been able to find out why the law was so interested in the personal effects of a (by that time) obscure filmmaker. However, the descendent of Hepworth offered an explanation, which was that he spent most of the '00s not making cutesy, Disney forerunner pics such as Rescued by Rover, but that the mainstay of his business was porn, and not soft-core either (I dread to think what some of that dog's other on-screen roles may have involved!). That would certainly explain how he was able to spend a decade thereafter making huge losses on a succession of failed features, and why none of the emerging major studios would employ him going into the late teens and early '20s.

If all of this is true, it's hardly surprising that none of the pornos survive: institutional film archiving simply didn't exist when they were made (Britain's first, at the Imperial War Museum, opened in 1919), and even if they did, that is hardly the sort of stuff they'd have acquired! However, if any of them were to show up (and from time to time rumors bubble up of copies in private collections, of course), it would radically rewrite early British film history, not least in exploding the image of Hepworth as someone who lived and breathed Victorian and Edwardian "stiff upper lip" middle-class respectability. It wouldn't surprise me if most of the big names in early film history were at it, but because we don't have any of the actual movies, it's not a possibility that has been seriously investigated.

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