February 26, 2012 | By

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In Part 2 of our profile of independent home video label Twilight Time, we chat with film historian Julie Kirgo, an astute and zealous film lover whose excitement for movies great, silly, and guilty easily makes its way into her prose which accompanies the colourful stills in Twilight Time’s booklets.

Kirgo has also contributed to DVD audio commentaries, and like booklets and featurettes on apocryphal subjects, these value-added special features among major label releases have been generally restricted to new releases, HD remasterings of top 100 catalogue films, and select reissues.

Among indie labels, however, special features are often de rigueur, and the production of relevant and edifying extras is, in fact, a craft. There are banal extras which exist as lazily conceived padding for mediocre films; badly executed and edited extras that lack the discerning, critical eyes & ears of a smart producer; and releases done right, where all the elements form a scrapbook, a snapshot, a retrospective, a documentation and tribute to a great film, a cult classic, and a beloved piece of celluloid or VHS–shot fromage.



MRH: How did your association with home video begin, in terms of doing liner notes and commentaries? It’s an unusual career path.

JK: It is. As with many, many things in my life, I kind of drifted into it. I’ve loved movies forever and I’ve also been a writer forever—I’ve just never done anything else. In fact, one of the very first jobs that I had when I graduated from college was writing as a freelancer for the original 1979 Alain Silver–Elizabeth Ward film noir book. I wrote many entries in there, so I was thinking about movies from a critical perspective very early on. Then I kind of drifted away from that and actually worked as a publicist at Universal at one point, and then I started writing television and did that for 10-plus years.

Later I lived in Vermont and was a magazine editor and journalist, and then came back to California. I was working for a while for what was then AMC (American Movie Classics) Magazine, sometimes doing think pieces or straight journalism about a costume design exhibit in Los Angeles or interviews with people like Theodora Van Runkel.

I actually met Nick Redman because of film music. He hired me to write some liner notes and we really liked working together. I worked with him on a wonderful documentary that he made about John Ford called Becoming John Ford (2007) while I was writing a lot about movie music for a number of different labels.

I did a few commentaries – again, because Nick is quite the entrepreneur, he would set these things up and would ask me to do them – and when he and Brian Jamieson started Twilight Time, they sort of brought me on to be their historian / essay writer for the booklets. The two constants for me have been writing, and just a love of movies.

MRH: One area that’s always interested me is the preparation of the special features that go into a DVD.

Taking for example a commentary track, it can be done very lackadaisical where the producer will gather a bunch of people together, but there’s no moderator or judicial editing, so often you’ll hear ‘how cold it was’ or what someone was wearing, or how someone kept doing this and that, but there’s nothing substantive.

From your perspective, when you’re engaged to do a commentary track, what steps do you take to ensure the track is informative, entertaining, and educational?

JK: I have to say that I’ve been very lucky because every commentary track that I’ve done had Nick producing it, or I worked with another producer with whom he had a long-term relationship.

Nick is the best in the business for this kind of thing. Basically, he wants an educated conversation, and I think he feels the conversational style is more entertaining. You’ve heard these commentaries where literally these people are reading aloud from a prepared text, and those seem not so valuable to me. The tracks that you mentioned where people are just rambling on are at the other end of the scale, and seem trivial.

Nick is a superb moderator. He just knows how to steer the conversation, so there’s a constant flow of talk. Part of the skill of a good commentary producer is they will choose people who will strike sparks off each other and will be interested in each other; and he will look for a way to balance the conversation.

For example, he’ll have some of us talking primarily about the music, and then he’ll often bring me in for “literary colour.”  We did a commentary on Fox’s DVD of Jane Eyre (1943) starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, and it was Nick leading the commentary, it was Steven Smith (who was the biographer of the film’s composer, Bernard Herrmann) discussing the music, and me for the literary background about the books.

MRH: A commentary track can also be a good resource, much like a book about a specific film or genre. When you assemble the right mix of people together, it can offer a lot of great information. The early benchmarks were made by Criterion, via edited tracks assembled from a vast array of talent.

JK: I’m actually a big fan of commentaries and I almost always listen to them, and one of the biggest disappointments for me in the last few years is how sparse and scare commentaries are becoming.

The studios just don’t seem to be interested in doing them for catalogue titles. They will sometimes port over pre-existing commentaries or interviews, or short films or things like that, but there was a period of time where wonderful supplements were being custom-made and produced by the studios, and that really seems to be a thing of the past; they’re just not willing to spend the money on extras even when they are willing to put out catalogue titles.

MRH: I really enjoyed Fox’s film noir series and it was nice to see recurring commentaries by Alain Silver and James Ursini; they were great together because they knew the genre and films inside and out.

JK: And again, those are two guys who had worked together before, were at ease with each other; the fount of knowledge between the two of them is huge, and particularly on that subject. They are the experts.

MRH: One of the more disappointing commentators for me is Richard Schickel. He’s been okay on the odd time, but often he sounds like he’s sitting in an easy chair, watching the film once, and just rambling off easy facts that come to mind. Often there’s a lot of dead space, and dead space is one of the worst things you can have in a commentary track. I understand why he’s hired, but unfortunately the end results tend to be really disappointing, and you get a sense the studios that hire him are relying on his name rather than fashioning a qualitative commentary track.

JK: I think there are too many people at the studios who just don’t give a damn. If you are going to participate in a commentary, you’d better really love that movie; you’d better be fond of it; and you’d better have some enthusiasm. If you’re bored, anyone can really hear it.

MRH: Perhaps an example of ideal commentary participants is on Twilight Time’s release of The Egyptian (1954).Ursini and Silver clearly loved the movie, and had a huge amount of information to say because they had researched the hell out of this film.

JK: Yes, absolutely, and I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s often hard to get a commentary that is that educative and that interesting. There aren’t that many people around who are willing to put out that kind of effort. Commentaries very often pay nothing – literally, nothing – so there are people who, if there’s not a financial incentive involved, they’re just not going to care. Plenty of people I know, though, will do commentaries, because they love the movies so much and they have information to convey. They have enthusiasm to pass along, and they want other people to love the movie!

MRH: What are your thoughts on newer generations who aren’t getting exposed to silent films, as well as stuff from the fifties, sixties, and seventies, and who regard “old movies” as films from the nineties?

JK: It’s weird. It does sometimes feel as if people are unwilling to look beyond this very narrow, 10-year period in which they currently exist: their spectrum encompasses 5 years ago, today, and potentially looking ahead 5 years from now.

I don’t know what that’s about because there’s so much that you can get from a broader view in any art form. I’m talking about music and literature and painting and all of those things. There’s so much richness, and it’s just out there waiting to be enjoyed. We have this whole rich past, and sometimes I feel as though people are beginning to see that again, and then other times I feel really discouraged.

Maybe it has to do with the idea of the Me generation: if you’re thinking very much in terms of yourself, maybe you can only think in terms of the now, or of your own narrow life. I grew up imagining and fantasizing so much about the past. It’s hard for me to get into the mindset of someone who never thinks about that. To me, it’s baffling, because I just think they’re denying themselves so much sheer pleasure.

MRH: I mentioned to Nick this weird trend where a lot of classic films tend to be released on a physical medium in Europe, particularly in Spain. Spain has a lot of classic Fox films that aren’t available here at all.

Soon after, I was having coffee with a friend who writes for one of the major publications in Toronto, and I asked him about Touch of Evil (1958), which is available as a limited Blu-ray in Britain, along with Silent Running (1972), and I asked if he thought the films would be coming out soon in North America. His response was ‘I don’t think so,’ because Universal’s Blu-ray of Psycho didn’t do well at all.

I thought ‘How is that possible?” unless it’s one of those films that’s come out so many times on home video that all the people that want it already have a copy, and they’ve just drawn lines and said ‘You know what? Enough. I’ve got the movie, and I’m happy with that.’

It’s as though the constant re-releasing and reissuing of the same titles has backfired, and what we’ll have are limited releases done by independent companies in various territories. Not only are the studios staying away from obscure stuff, but they’re cutting back on the major classics, and just focusing on the Top 10 or Top 100, which is even more bizarre.

Just announced this week is Olive Films release of a 3-disc set of Bernardo Bertolucci’s uncut 1900 (1976) on DVD and Blu-ray. Paramount released a 2-disc edition in 2006, after which it soon went out of print. Olive’s done a fine job mining previously unreleased titles from Paramount’s catalogue for the past few years, but why wouldn’t Paramount want to handle what’s clearly a propriety production in a deluxe special edition?

JK: I frankly don’t understand it, but I think it’s a situation that may be lucky for labels like Twilight Time because these are things that we will be interested in releasing.

With a film like Mysterious Island (1961), wouldn’t you think that that is the most obvious candidate? There they have that wonderful restoration department at Sony, run by Grover Crisp, and the film’s got Ray Harryhausen, Cy Endfield, Bernard Herrmann; it’s got every Saturday matinee indicator hung all over it, and you would think it’s such an obvious choice, but they just didn’t have faith in it as a Blu-ray release. Luckily, that meant we could have it for a limited edition release.

MRH: In the early days of DVD, Sony released their films in stunning dual layer transfers, or as flipper discs with optional widescreen & full screen transfers, and then they started to do something really dumb: replace certain titles like And Justice For All (1979), Mackenna’s Gold (1969), and The Odessa File (1974) with full screen-only editions. With the Harryhausen titles, you had Mysterious Island badly cropped to 1.85 on DVD, and then there were those special editions of It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) from 2007 which offered colorized versions that I can’t imagine anyone wanted, although I suspect Harryhausen felt it might give the films second lives.

There’s also the constant reissuing of the same titles by several studios, and combi-packs of the same film on 3D-BRD, Blu-ray, DVD, and a Digital Copy, or a DVD and Blu-ray sometimes packaged with a sampler CD that packs 4 cues from an album they still have to buy. I don’t know who these designer releases are supposed to serve, and yet more money is spent on these single-title sets – in mastering, packaging, promotion, distribution – and not titles that have never touched DVD.

JK: I think it’s very unorganized, and one of the problems lies up in the studio executive offices: it’s a revolving door, so there are few people who have been able to stick to the job over a period of years.

You do get these rarities like Grover Crisp, who’s been at Sony for a while, and Schawn Belston at Fox; these are guys who are in charge of Assets Management, and they’re the ones who are giving us these beautiful transfers.

One of the reasons they’re able to do such a good job is because they’ve been in those positions for some time. In the executive suite, it’s not always the case, and so you get differing philosophies about what’s important, and it makes for a lack of continuity.  There’s often no consistent drive to look at and utilize all the wonderful titles potentially available in deep catalogue.

This isn’t across the board, but there are too many people who are more interested in business than in the films. Of course, this has been the eternal argument in Hollywood – Art vs. Commerce, and ‘How do you keep a balance’ and so forth – but I think that the balance has tipped so far over to business and the bottom line that many studios have lost sight of the value of their catalogue, and they treat it sometimes very cheaply. For people who love movies, it’s really, really frustrating.

MRH: Do you have any thoughts as TT is approaching its first year anniversary?

JK: For me, it’s been an absolutely wonderful opportunity and a ton of fun, so I feel like I’ve been very, very lucky. We’ve done remarkably well, but I think we can do better. The hardest thing is letting people know that we exist, and that if there’s some beloved movie they’ve been looking for, they might try looking for it from us. We can’t put out too many things at once, but we’re now up to two titles a month, which seems amazing and wonderful.  It’s been an incredible adventure—I hope we get to keep at it.


KQEK.com would like to thank Julie Kirgo for her generous time and candor.

More information on Twilight Time’s releases is available at Screen Archives Entertainment.

All images remain the property of their copyright holders.

This interview © 2011 / 2012 by Mark R. Hasan



In Part 1 of our profile of home video label Twilight Time, we interview producer / co-founder Nick Redman, and discuss the company’s mandate, and the shifting trends as aging studio catalogue titles are increasingly being left to indie labels to distribute, and keep alive.


Egyptian, The (1954) — Fate is the Hunter (1964) — Flim-Flam Man, The (1967) — Fright Night (1985) —  Kremlin Letter, The (1970) — Left Hand of God, The (1955) — My Cousin Rachel (1952) — Mysterious Island (1961) — Picnic (1955) Rapture (1965) — Roots of Heaven (1958) Stagecoach (1966) —  Violent Saturday (1955) — Woman Obsessed (1959)


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