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Old June 4th 08, 16:12   #1
PillowRock
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Universal Film Vault Fire

You may have noticed in the news recently that there was a fire at Universal Studios. One of the things that burned was a film vault. The initial reports made it sound like a minor issue, but what I've been reading now looks much worse from a classic film viewing POV.

It is true that the fire did not get the original negatives.

However, it did burn one of only a couple primary Universal storgage facilities for prints for distribution. This apparently included the only known 35 mm prints of a bunch of films (or, at least, the only ones available to be shown). Striking a new 35 mm print costs thousands of dollars and takes a fair amount of time. It is unclear when film prints might be replaced. Indeed, it is unclear whether many of them even will be reprinted in 35 mm.

Universal has already notified various film festivals and other exhibitors (art film theaters and such) that screenings scheduled over next few / several months are now canceled.

I find the whole thing extremely unfortunate. I hate seeing films destroyed (relative to them ever actually being exhibited anyway).

A question for Jade: Do you know whether this impacts anything on the upcoming schedule at the Michigan Theater (or anywhere else around A2)? (I just caught The Black Pirate on Sunday. Definitely a fun hour and half or so.)
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Old June 4th 08, 21:55   #2
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Re: Universal Film Vault Fire

Hmmm, I heard that they have good copies of everything that was destroyed. Transfer is a different matter though, as movie companies are notoriously cheap when it comes to transfer to begin with.
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Old June 5th 08, 00:03   #3
PillowRock
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Re: Universal Film Vault Fire

They do still have all of the negatives, by all accounts.

However, what I've been reading over the last day or so is that that for many movies the fire got all of Universal's 35 mm positive prints that they would actually rent out to exhibitors. (Of course, for a lot of older movies there may have only been a couple good 35 mm prints to begin with.) There have definitely been some items about cancelations of showings of those movies this summer.

I saw something about an e-mail that Universal sent out to exhibitors who had been scheduled to show "catalog titles" this summer. It basically told them to check the shipping information on their paperwork; the "shipping from" info would list one of two sites; for one of those two possibilities, everything is fine; for the other, consider the showing canceled. (It's likely that there are a few of those titles where the print was actually out somewhere being shown last weekend. Nobody, at least outside of Universal, knows yet what all is and isn't currently available.)
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Old June 5th 08, 00:24   #4
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Re: Universal Film Vault Fire

It would have really sucked if the actual Negatives had been burnt, but at least they can actually replace the prints that were lost. from what I have read many films made prior to 1950 were lost either though film degradation or vault fire due to combustible nature of the old film stock. One losst film that I would to see is the Lon Chaney film London By Midnight, all prints were supposedly lost but there is a rumor that there is collector who has a print, but that is only rumor as far I have read. It would be nice if they could restore the original ending to Orson Welles The Magnificent Ambersons, and if they could find the missing footage for Frank Capra's Lost Horizon.
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Old June 5th 08, 19:14   #5
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Re: Universal Film Vault Fire

A quote from an article in Variety:

Quote:
But some prints are enormously valuable in their own right. So-called EK prints, struck from the original negatives when the negatives were new and thus irreplaceable, would be among the most valuable prints on Earth, according to one expert on film and printing who asked not to be named.

George Eastman House curator of Motion Pictures Patrick Loughney told Daily Variety, "Older films are not easily replaced. There might be issues with the negative fading, or it could have shriveled. Making new prints is not a straightforward matter."

Even if a negative is immaculate, a new print might not match the old, said David Schwartz, chief curator at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.

"If it was a film printed in Technicolor, that process isn't used anymore. You're not going to get a print of the same quality," Schwartz said.

Daruty confirmed that there is no way to make a new Technicolor IB print today. "We work very hard when we are doing prints to try to get as close to the look of the original as possible. But there's no way to match a Technicolor print that's 30 or 40 years old."

Even black-and-white classics might not be fully reproducible. "Today's black-and-white film has less silver in the film stock," said Schwartz. "The quality of a vintage black-and-white print might be higher than a new black-and-white print."
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Old June 8th 08, 00:27   #6
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Re: Universal Film Vault Fire

Quote:
Originally Posted by Garovorkin View Post
It would be nice if they could restore the original ending to Orson Welles The Magnificent Ambersons
I thought that wasn't possible, even back in Orson Welles' days. The studio not only cut, but destroyed, the footage they didn't like.

And that's just low. Were they so afraid someone would restore his original, and make them look like fools for reshooting the ending?
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Old June 8th 08, 01:42   #7
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Re: Universal Film Vault Fire

Quote:
Originally Posted by PillowRock View Post

A question for Jade: Do you know whether this impacts anything on the upcoming schedule at the Michigan Theater (or anywhere else around A2)?
No idea. You could call The Michigan, or check the IMDb, to see if any coming films are Universal.




Quote:
Originally Posted by Garovorkin View Post
It would be nice if they could restore the original ending to Orson Welles The Magnificent Ambersons, and if they could find the missing footage for Frank Capra's Lost Horizon.
The studio hacks changed far more than the ending to The Magnificent Ambersons. As Hypatia says, most of what was removed was destroyed. The studio set out to deliberately change the whole thrust and mood of the film. Criterion did as much of a restoration as is possible, using stills and shooting scripts for missing footage. They put this out as a laser disc edition. I haven't checked, but I would imagine a similar edition is now available from them on DVD. That is the closest we will ever get to Welles' original intent. Criterion has fine restorations of some other Welles films,

www.criterion.com

I just checked, and they don't have The Magnificent Ambersons on DVD. I guess I had better transfer my LD to DVD!
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Old June 11th 08, 23:52   #8
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Re: Universal Film Vault Fire

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jade Jaguar View Post
No idea. You could call The Michigan, or check the IMDb, to see if any coming films are Universal.
OK, thanks anyway. I just thought that I would check and see if you knew off hand because I remembered that you had been involved with the film festival.




Quote:
Originally Posted by Jade Jaguar View Post
I just checked, and they don't have The Magnificent Ambersons on DVD. I guess I had better transfer my LD to DVD!
It seems like Criterion generally would like to release DVDs of everything that they had on LD, but sometimes there are rights issues that can't be worked out ...... such as the studio that owns it being ore interested in releasing DVDs themselves than they had been in LDs (which never really made it out of the "niche market" ghetto).

Or, in this case:
Is this one of the things that Beatrice Welles has been getting in the way of? (Orson's daughter)

Last edited by PillowRock; June 12th 08 at 00:09.
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Old June 12th 08, 00:06   #9
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Re: Universal Film Vault Fire

Quote:
Originally Posted by hypatia View Post
I thought that wasn't possible, even back in Orson Welles' days. The studio not only cut, but destroyed, the footage they didn't like.

And that's just low. Were they so afraid someone would restore his original, and make them look like fools for reshooting the ending?
It's not clear that that was the reason why the other footage wasn't kept.

Although I do remember hearing or reading that somebody (some other very prominent director not attached to the Ambersons project at all; I can't recall who it was now) had basically pleaded with the studio to make just one archival print of Welles' cut of the movie before starting to recut it ...... and they refused.

However, there has been tons of film lost from all of the studios simply because the studio execs tended to be too shortsighted to envision any possiblity that something they couldn't sell today might be worth something in the future. There are lots of "Pre-Code" movies from the early 1930's that no longer exist in their original form ...... and I'm talking about movies that *were* prominent and successful enough that the studios were saving them and re-releasing them periodically in later years. In fact, that is precisely why the original versions are gone. Once the Hays Office started enforcing the Production Code more stringently (meaning from 1934 onwards) successful movies from the early 30's often had to have things edited out of them in order to be allowed to re-release the movie later. The studios basically never bothered to keep the stuff that they cut out, or any archival prints of the original versions. The ones that we do have complete original versions of are the accidents.
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Old June 13th 08, 05:28   #10
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Re: Universal Film Vault Fire

Well, at least we still have King Kong sniffing his finger, after rubbing Fay Wray's crotch...

I think I heard Peter Bogdanovitch tell the anecdote about saving an original print in With Orson Welles, Stories From a Life In Film, a 1988 TV doc that gets reshown once in a while. I have it on SVHS. Pity it isn't available on DVD. It's probably the best Welles doc I've seen.

Peter B. wouldn't be the director who asked them to save it. I think he would have been about 3 at the time.
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