The Song of Bernadette, and some mild ranting

May 30, 2013 | By

Hey Bernadette! Why so serious?

Just uploaded is a review of Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray of The Song of Bernadette [M] (1943), one of several Fox titles TT’s licensed for release. The reason I’m plopping the review links here and now is because of the lengthy Editor’s Blog [rant] which follows.

I kind of get the feeling way back a year ago, when I soap boxed about the major labels sticking to reissuing their top 100 classic films, and leaving all other titles to indie labels to handle in their own special edition releases.

At the present time, we have Olive Films mining Paramount’s classic catalogue with generally decent pricing for the DVD and Blu-ray dual runs, although for my tastes the price point is a little high when the release are bare bones editions. More of an irk are shorter John Wayne films – 56 min. westerns – which really, really ought to be double-bills since the age of fans interested in his early B-westerns is increasing, and their buying power is probably lesser.

Wait a minute, I think that answers the question.

As classic film fans continue to grey (and some respire), indie labels – and major studio shingles – are pushing their price points higher because maybe there’s no assured way to get a stable return, let along enough to cover the expenses of releases in development. Olvie is unique in that none of their releases are limited; while I suspect their print runs are not a crazy 90,000, it still has to be substantial. Besides, they may opt to reissue select titles as Blu-ray MODs the way Warner Home Video’s [WHV] done with certain titles.

WHV continues to support classic films, but besides franchise like the upcoming Charlie Chan films and certain tie-ins from the back catalogue, they’re also being selective, since their Warner Archive series has done so well. We’ve seen catalogue titles go OOP and get repressed as slightly pricier MODs, and there’s the Paramount titles of which WHV is handling classics that are recognizable and have less grey audience.

The one label that’s baffling to me is KINO, because they’re pricing indie films with a limited or non-existent recognition factor close to the $30 range which seems counter-productive: What are the odds buyers with limited resources would spend $30-$35 (when you add tax) for an indie film like If I Were You?

From a Canadian’s standpoint, it’s a bit amusing that this Canada-UK co-production has to be imported for a premium price as well. More amusing is the case of I Killed My Mother / J’ai tuer ma mere, Xavier Dolan’s film which was released in Quebec (and no where else in Canada, much to the ire of allophones), lacks any English subtitles, and after 3 years, is finally available in Dolan’s home turf with English subs as an import.

KINO scored a coup because for whatever reason, either the Canadian rights holder refused to sell the film with an English subtitle track on video, or they missed the window by a mile. In Canadian home video release history, the non-release of the film to English Canadians ranks as the biggest blunder ever. This was the most in-demand Quebecois film in video stores after it ran the theatre circuit and won awards, and while consumers could see Dolan’s later films on video, his debut remained restricted because of poor decision making, or something. KINO will certainly benefit from Canadians, since we’ll be importing a home grown title August 13, albeit 3 years after its must-see fever has subsided.

In any event, what’s happening is certain films are deserving of premium pricing, whereas others maybe not so much, and labels are testing the waters to see what price point works in the current market, especially since the studios have their own pricing schemes.

WHV is augmenting some BR titles with extras, or porting over extant extras so there’s a consistency between formats. Fox is sort of doing the same, but their price point is similarly high – perhaps because they’re still not wholly confident the classic film market is worth the gamble anymore. That’s why The Comancheros and Cleopatra (1963) are out in dual limited and straight blue case editions, with the former offering a bound book for an extra $8… which frankly doesn’t seem worth the extra dollars since the text info is likely repeated within the docs and commentary tracks, and the images will only be glanced at once. I get the attractive packaging option and the extra cost of using dead trees, but again, in a market that’s struggling to maintain relevance, labels should stick with singular releases that offer value-added extras.

Indie labels paying extra licensing fees will boost the list price of a smaller / limited run, but studios charging an extra 50% for a 24-page book seems silly. Only Disney can get away with high SRPs, but they have their disappearing classics / bullshit vault which ensures all editions go on moratorium. People will buy their limited window titles, but Disney’s losing out in the end because of auctions and third-party vendors who will within a short time be able to flip their Disney duplicates online.

(There’s also irate customers unable to buy their favourite film for their kids, but the ire smolders away after 4-5 years when the title comes back, released from the vault just as Goofy and Mickey and Fanny the Rude Jellybean were running out of air and close to their death beds. The odor that stems from dead rodents and anthropomorphized whatnots is unreal, and dead jellybeans leave permanent stains because of their translucent dyes. Even stainless titanium vault plating isn’t immune.)

I guess what interests me with Fox is the obvious uncertainty they have for an industry they massively supported not that long ago with boxed sets for classic stars and franchises, a film noir line, TV series, and other older titles. Fox’ history with home video goes beyond tape – they were among the first labels to issue very expensive sets of classic films on laserdisc (Patton and Alien were loaded with superb extras), and during the laser / CED war they also supported RCA’s doomed CED format with classic and contemporary titles. They were part of the top-level studios mining their archives for titles audiences wanted.

What they’re likely looking for, as are any studios with extensive classic catalogue titles older than the 1990s, is how much of an interest is out there. WHV has its loyal Warner Archives buyers to draw from, not to mention the premium occasional buyers are willing to spend for the odd $20-$25 MOD.

Fox is still a newcomer to the MOD camp, and like MGM and Sony, they’re trying to figure out which media stream applies best to which title, (but unlike WHV, they’re MODs are bare bones, and housed in frankly banal sleeve art that utterly fails as front-line promotional material. There’s nothing attractive about the covers, and the back copy reads dull).

But in terms of straight DVD and BR releases, they’re still hesitant when it comes to classic titles, and I’d argue they’re currently watching and gauging and monitoring what gets returned this season after some gambles, especially the upcoming At Long Last Love [M] (1975) which was slated to be an exclusive Twilight Time produced special edition / Screen Archives Entertainment release, but will be available to the masses on Blu June 4th. This is a studio gambling on one of the biggest duds in musicals – and I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised by the interest.

Perhaps Fox’ shift in giving classic titles another chance beyond TV licensing and pay airings comes directly from the indie labels, and the small yet tangible activity of those limited and smaller-run physical releases which continue to appear on the shelves of online and surviving bricks & mortar stores out there.

Studios have every reason to be cautious, but they have to find a median in pricing, extras, and pressing runs, because graying collectors aren’t the cash cow they believe them to be. You want them to pass on the zeal for classic films to friends & families so they too might make a straight purchase, but if the value isn’t there, they’ll balk and stick with a digital download, and that’s not how personal collections are built.

Coming next: a pair of docs on urbanism, and Twilight Time’s radiant Blu-ray of Leave Her to Heaven plus a related review.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

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