MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

A classics dilemma…

DVD became so popular, so fast, that it created opportunities for the exploitation of classic titles only hinted at in the evolution of VHS. It didn’t take long for consumers to become aware of the superiority of the new technology, even over laserdiscs and Beta cassettes. As sales of DVD hardware reached a critical mass, movie buffs demanded the release of classics they already owned in VHS, too impatient to wait for digitally enhanced restorations and beaucoup bonus features.

The studios themselves were slow to realize just how important the extras would become in the DVD marketplace. Once they did, however, directors were encouraged to open their sets to studio-approved videographers and powder-puff interviewers. The filmmakers, themselves, saw the bonus features as an opportunity to rectify the ills inflicted on them by philistine producers and studio honchos.

Now that consumers appear ready to add high-definition playback units to their home-theater system, there’s a rush to get another iteration of previously released product onto shelves. In another year or two, the recycling process will begin, again, in high-def.

It explains how essential titles in an artist or studio’s repertoire have begun to appear in multiple collectible boxed sets, and how a first-time DVD release might only be made available in higher-priced sets. Then, too, consumer demand for modern hits – Zodiac, Apocalypse Now Redux, Lord of the Rings – now results in prompt few-frill releases, to be followed shortly thereafter by fully realized packages.

Among the many special sets made available in January were The John Frankenheimer Collection, with The Manchurian Candidate, The Train, Ronin and, new-to-DVD, The Young Savages, and Cary Grant: 4-Disc Collector’s Set, with Indiscreet, Operation Petticoat, The Grass Is Greener and That Touch of Mink, parts of which are little improved from previous versions.

Faring much better are titles that have benefitted from digital restoration and upgraded bonus material. El Cid: 2-Disc Deluxe Edition is far superior to previous editions and Limited Collector’s Edition is given a posh package. Landmark birthdays also inspire facelifts: An Affair to Remember: 50th Anniversary Edition, In the Heat of the Night: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition and Groundhog Day: 15th Anniversary Edition.Even a Criterion Collection edition of Monty Python’s Life of Brian couldn’t stop the new The Immaculate Edition. Sony has done the right thing, though, by also releasing it on BluRay.

The re-release of National Treasure in an expanded Two-Disc Collector’s Edition preceded last month’s highly successful launch of National Treasure: Book of Secrets.Paramount first released Braveheart in 2000, four years after it was named Best Picture and came out in VHS. It has since been included in Paramount’s Mel Gibson Ultimate Collection, Best Picture Collection, The Epic Legends Collection and the new Braveheart: Special Collector’s Edition. A hi-def version probably isn’t far away.

Warner Home Video has kindly – if quietly — released several interesting titles that didn’t quite fit a niche. In Payday (1972), Rip Torn turned in a powerful portrayal of a manipulative country-western singer, who’s at a maddening crossroads in his career; Richard Lester directed Jack Weston, Rita Moreno, Jerry Stiller, Kaye Ballard and F. Murray Abraham in the farcical bathhouse comedy, The Ritz. It was one of the first movies to recognize the growing out market for gay-themed movies; Melvyn Douglas and Lila Kedrova shine in Lee Grant’s poignant, Tell Me a Riddle. Robert Townes’ Personal Best starred Mariel Hemingway as a runner who falls in love with another woman while they’re training for the 1980 Olympics. It was hailed as movie that observed same-sex love with a non-critical, and also captured the physical and psychological pain attendant to great achievements in amateur sports. Sondra Locke and Alan Arkin both were nominated for Oscars for their performances in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, adapted from a novel by Carson McCullers.

February 4, 2008

– Gary Dretzka

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon