LAUREL & HARDY VIVENDI PRESS RELEASE ADDENDA
By Richard W. Bann
Roll your mouse over the pictures to read the captions.
Having been besieged with inquiries, e-mails, and phone calls yesterday and today, there is only time for a fast summary response in hopes of clarifying some few details beyond what was conveyed in the much more official Vivendi press release.
First, no colorization. Second, no silents. Third, we do have all the sound shorts and features still part of the HRS library, including all extant foreign versions, except for the Spanish PARDON US, the French BLOTTO, and the German LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE.
Fourth, or number four, or quatro, as the case may be, if you are serious about understanding what’s happening, please read the four part essay on film preservation here at www.laurel-and-hardy.com.
Once you comprehend everything there, I can add (or repeat) that we spent millions of dollars (bought with Euros) painstakingly restoring and preserving the Hal Roach library between 1985 and 2002. The work was done for the copyright proprietor in the Eastern Hemisphere, CCA, which licensed the Universal boxed set in England. We did this work in Los Angeles at Film Tech, relying primarily on the nitrate that came out of the HRS Culver City vaults and its labs and its storage depots on the East Coast in the 1960s that were subsequently housed for years at the LOC before we pulled everything out of there and brought it all back to Los Angeles to do this project, before I finally steered these same elements to UCLA where they reside today. And as Hal Roach would ask if he were explaining this, “Is that clear?”
As we labored long at Film Tech, we sent both a 35mm fine grain and 35mm dupe neg overseas to Munich, and offered a twin of the fine grain to RHI in Los Angeles, at cost. They elected to take fine grains on all the sound Our Gangs and Laurel & Hardys, which were supposed to last from here to eternity (1953). Almost immediately, however, RHI (including when it was controlled by Hallmark, now happily out of the picture) proceeded to misplace or lose a bunch of them. Hence the several unpleasant circumstances surrounding the Our Gang DVD release by the ironically named Genius Products, LLC. Leonard Maltin and I tried to tell them…they wouldn’t listen. So now they’re out of business.
RHI’s new licensee, however, is Vivendi. We made sure that this time RHI physically turned over to Vivendi’s standards conversion house the 35mm fine grains I gave them originally, and for the ones they lost or misplaced we got access to the corresponding duplicate 35mm film elements in Munich.
That leads to the answer many want to get at: yes, these are newly performed conversions of 35mm fine grains. We did not rework old tape masters. We went back to Kodak Fine Grain Film. F-I-L-M. So we did not start with video; we started with film, the kind with sprockets. Plus, the new masters derived therefrom have indeed been digitally enhanced, so that these subjects can be presented in superb Hi-Def for the first time anywhere by anyone.
Are they perfect? No. Are you perfect? Probably not. Joe E. Brown said it for everyone in SOME LIKE IT HOT, “Nobody’s perfect.” Is any little frame missing? Is anything missing? What are you missing? Do you look as good as you did 80 years ago? Do you notice any new lines and abrasions? Are you as sharp as you were 40 years ago? How about 10 years ago? How much is a digital enhancement going to improve any of us?
So, again, brand new film transfers in High Definition using the same 35mm fine grains we created between 1985 and 2002 from the best surviving nitrate preprint material we could locate anywhere in the world. Plus digital cleanup, digitally enhanced. In addition, we have also just restored – again, for the first time ever, anywhere – all of the original, authentic distributor opening title card sequences with their unique and imaginative design, so coveted by fans for so long. Including by me, as my old boss Kent D. Eastin of Blackhawk Films could testify if he were still here.
The Vivendi DVDs are not connected to the new, long term project now just beginning at UCLA, which will first have to raise the money for this task, then do the work. WAY OUT WEST and HELPMATES were done within the last few years, and I believe SCRAM! is next in line. So the worthwhile but lengthy and arduous UCLA effort is only beginning. In any case, remember the copyright rests with CCA and RHI in their respective halves of the world, not with UCLA.
I hope all that will answer some of the key concerns. If not, let us hear from you and we will field the best questions.
Finally, some comments on UCLA’s project, and the essay they asked me to write, the full version of which, as mentioned, appears on our website.
All of us want to believe we are doing something useful with our lives, something that matters, something that leaves lasting marks. Something that speaks to future generations, to show we were here, and made a difference. Time travel is an important component of my attraction to classic films. Did all that talent in these great Hal Roach comedies realize they were communicating with millions of people not yet born at that time? Those of us who receive that communication today and in the future...how can we respond? What should we do?
We want to let these artists and technicians know they didn't do all that work for nothing. That we enjoy and honor the entertainment value offered, and that we treasure the living history they have unwittingly given us. And one meaningful thing we can do and one way we can respond is to support film preservation efforts. It is important to do so. Yes my essay will make some fans cringe. The story is painful; in fact it is worse than you know. I softened and concealed some of the worst incidents. And yes it is easy for us to look back and criticize the careless custodians of these treasures. The studios, the distributors, the exhibitors, and all those people weren’t perfect. We are not perfect, either. In fact we have some responsibility here too, because we have an opportunity now to be part of the film preservation effort at UCLA. To make another run at saving these films, from a different point of view. The more preservation the better. Corporate preservation in Munich. Institutional preservation in Los Angeles. This second opportunity is something all of us can get involved in, at any level of participation.
If these films mean something to you, please do get involved. Or, as recruiting Sergeant Tom Kennedy said so eloquently in PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES, “How about it?”
Meanwhile, if laughter is what you are after, sit back; relax in depth, anticipating that very soon you will be able to enjoy the best of all shows – the immortal Hal Roach comedies of Laurel & Hardy. This cherished collection brings them all back, into exceedingly sharp focus. They look better than ever.