Sage Stallone’s Vic (2006) + a Home Video Check-In, Part 1: Special Editions

July 11, 2014 | By


I’m finishing up on double reviews for the Blu-rays of Major Dundee (Twilight Time) and The Big Gundown (Grindhouse Releasing), and wonder if the late Sage Stallone, whose short film Vic (2006) is worth a peek, is rather proud that the company he co-founded – Grindhouse – is one of the best indie labels around, putting out top-level special editions of obscure, controversial, and often very cultish films.

Sylvester Stallone’s eldest son died at the age of 36 in 2012, and in the passing years the label’s shown what can be achieved when time, patience, and care go into building special features after negotiating with studios and rights holders to release a back catalogue film.

A long time ago, studios did SE’s of their own titles, but after sales of physical media started to dip around 2007, their special products divisions were frozen. Whenever there’s a partial thaw, the focus tends to go towards not the endangered or the rare or the never-heard-of, but the iconic classics and relatively recent works which remain recognizable to a younger, broader demographic.

Studios may be accustomed to delivering tens of thousands of boxed sets of an Oscar-winning 1959 film, but not a B-movie or an import that formed part of a genre wave, each of which might enjoy 1/10th of the bigger film’s sales. What the smarter studios have been doing is archiving even smaller films in HD transfers for broadcast and licensing, thereby opened up opportunities for more indie labels to license these transfers of films, and refine their own skills in building the Definite Release – ostensibly the one and only version (or at least until maybe 4K takes off and production costs are reasonable).

Twilight Time’s started to beef up their own in-house special features (mostly in the form of isolated scores and thoughtful commentary tracks supervised by Nick Redman), and labels like Grindhouse, Synapse, Shout Factory, Criterion, Severin, Vinegar Syndrome, and Blue Underground (to name a few) are dedicated to matching the quality of a transfer with contextual extras. These SE’s are true to that nomenclature, and justify the upper-tier pricing, since production costs and licensing fees aren’t cheap.

There are also indie labels who’ve managed to sign deals with major labels, mining their catalogue and putting out both DVD and Blu-ray editions, but more often then not, they’re bare bones editions, either because their obscurity presumes there’s a dearth of film historians able to provide commentaries or participate in featurettes, or the cost of slowing down a release slate to accommodate the production of special features would perhaps negate time needed to build an awareness among fans of a rare title, and generate timely sales.

It might also be a case of keeping things simple: with less time and resources devoted to researching, waiting for call-backs from indifferent inter-departmental contacts, dealing with further rights clearances, additional production and post-production costs, more films get released faster, and fans can anticipate further neglected gems.

Conversely, having less titles to release may allow a label to tackle one film at a time, ensuring each release is given the kid glove treatment, but you’d think at some point the label with the bigger release roster would single out a few titles worthy of the SE treatment, but it never seems to happen.

That’s the puzzlement, because if you’re handling a Joseph Losey, Otto Preminger, Anthony Mann, Samuel Goldwyn, Howard Hawks, MGM, or UA rarity, the logical step is to invest in value-added features which themselves, if done properly, make those Blu-ray and DVD editions the definitive ones (and worth the sometimes premium pricing).

I get the money issue, and the time issue, but when a title clearly deserves some contextual extras, it’s baffling that it’s not followed through. Maybe by sending feelers to special content producers or historians, there’s a fear other labels might cash-in with a similar title and steal excitement, or sabotage a deal.

Or maybe that’s just paranoid and silly, but there’s something amiss when the home video industry’s progression from a film-only release, as done during the VHS era, jumps to full-blooded special editions during the laserdisc and DVD era, and then labels regress to a state where premium pricing justifies releasing just the movie on one disc. It negates the progress made by many independent and in-house producers skilled at crafting the definitive releases, which is not as easy as it seams.

Slapping together short featurettes is easy – the studios accomplish this by crafting formulaic extras on tent pole films with heavy effects and start-studded casts – but researching a film’s background, tracking down surviving production personnel, orchestrating a narrative among recorded interviews and commentaries into a package that offers info without heavy repetition and redundancies or padding is, to some extent, an art of its own. It’s like the moderator of a commentary who does his / her research, and has everyone come prepared to discuss rather that watch and mutter odd packets of memories between long gaping valleys of silence. You can’t wing it or work from a basic template because each film is unique, especially if it comes with an unusual backstory or place in film history.

That’s the big headache for collectors willing to spend money on physical media: in an era where every dollar is harder to earn, and the demographics of niche titles are shrinking due to a collector age, and choosing from a glut of product in many digital venues can seem bewildering, doesn’t it make sense to make that premiere HD release unique for that specialty market?

If there’s one aspect that stands out among the releases put out by some of the aforementioned indie U.S. labels (and there are several more just as dedicated in Europe, especially Britain), it’s an obvious passion and love for their productions. Unlike the studios, they don’t own these films, but they realize this is a rare opportunity to do things right for fans and collectors, and it’s a unique relationship where studios open to licensing niche titles get to share in the glow from a special edition.

It’s a small glow – maybe a pinprick of light compared to an Oscar-winning classic celebrating it’s 85th anniversary after a 4K overhaul with new packaging and a new 4 minute featurette on costumes – but it demonstrates a willingness on the part of a studio to at least show some responsibility for their catalogue, and a piece of film history that will, over time, fade into the vaults with the thousands of arcane titles that will enjoy the odd appearance on TV, a streaming video, or an over-priced MOD.

Now, those labels focusing on releasing rarities and lesser-known classics in bare bones editions shouldn’t be scolded but taken to task, and they should seriously reflect upon what constitutes their brand, and how they wish to be perceived in what’s still a substantive market of labels putting out actual physical product. Is it better to be known as  a prolific label with an envious release slate, or just a licensee churning out really nice releases sheathed in striking sleeve art, but historically, rather sterile.

Coming next: Alberto Cavallone’s Blue Movie (Raro Video) and Jess Franco’s Bloody Moon (Severin).




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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