Dead and Deader

An unintentionally morbid double bill this week, with Elio Petri’s op-pop black comedy of 1965, “The Tenth Victim” and Victor Sjostrom’s somber, spiritual masterpiece of the Swedish silent cinema, “The Phantom Carriage,” both turning up in excellent Blu-ray editions. My New York Times review is here.

It’s that time of the year again, as the National Film Preservation Board begins soliciting suggestions for 25 new titles to add to the National Film Registry for 2011. As a member of the board (representing the National Society of Film Critics, and by extension, you, it would be my pleasure and privilege to relay any and all ideas readers of this site may have to the higher authorities in Washington, DC — which is to say, the good men and women of the Library of Congress.

A sortable list of films already included in the Registry can be found here. It’s important to remember that this isn’t meant to be yet another “best” list but, a compilation of “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” American films, be they features, shorts, documentaries, serials, home movies, music videos, educational films, avant-garde works, or what have you, and they must be at least ten years old. There are plenty of notable films that have yet to be cited, so please do speak up for the hundreds of glaring omissions that remain. (What, not a single film by John H. Auer?)

132 comments to Dead and Deader

  • Barry Putterman

    Stephanie Rothman, I was hoping that somebody would come along and break this thread into the three figure world. But could that somebody actually be the auteur of THE VELVET VAMPIRE and GROUP MARRIAGE? If so, you honor us with your presence.

    And, if not, a hearty welcome to you anyway.

  • jbryant

    Heartily second Stephanie Rothman’s suggestion of THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? One of my favorite American films of the ’60s.

  • Stephanie Rothman

    Barry Putterman

    Yes, I am that Stephanie Rothman. Thank you for your cordial words of welcome.

    jbryant

    It’s nice to find an ally. Most people I encounter– not the posters on this blog, of course– have never heard of it.

  • Barry Putterman

    Never heard of it!?! Good gravy!! Come to think of, I don’t remember it turning up on TV much lately. As I recall, it was released through one of those abortive attempts by the TV networks to get into film production which folded after a few years. I don’t know which studio wound up with the rights. My DVD of THEY SHOOT HORSES is an MGM release, but whichever studio actually has the rights might not view it with the affection that it has for its own library.

    But really, this points to more serious issues of film preservation. There is nothing wrong with this Registry protecting a handful of prestige titles, but what about the bulk of American post studio system Bs? I hope that this isn’t too painful a question for you Stephanie, but who is looking after the Dimension Films of the 1970s? We can continue to weep and wail about all of the lost silents, but they are gone and there isn’t very much we can do about it. What we CAN do is make sure that GROUP MARRIAGE remains available to later generations.

  • Stephen Bowie

    THEY SHOOT HORSES was produced by ABC, released by Cinerama Releasing Corp., and is now owned by … Disney, I think? Both of the DVD releases were non-anamorphic and a remastering is desperately needed.

    For what it’s worth, Ms. Rothman has been treated pretty well on home video … GROUP MARRIAGE, WORKING GIRLS, TERMINAL ISLAND, and THE VELVET VAMPIRE are all recent DVD releases from either Code Red or Shout Factory. I even found IT’S A BIKINI WORLD, in ‘Scope, on Netflix Streaming.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Welcome indeed Ms. Rothman!

    They Shoot Horses, as with all or most of the Cinerama Releasing output of films is now owned by MGM, which has done a very good job of putting out many of the films on DVD, including this title, in the proper ratio.

    Turner Classics has shown the film in scope. I have a laser disc also properly done, not sure who released it.

    Cinerama had an amazing release schedule during its brief ownership by ABC (1967-74 roughly), including

    Charly
    The Killing of Sister George, Too Late the Hero, The Grisson Gang
    The Assassination of Trotsky
    Le Boucher
    Candy
    Hell in the Pacific
    Take the Money and Run
    The Honeymoon Killers
    Straw Dogs, Junior Bonner
    Loves and Other Strangers
    Ben, Walking Tall
    Payday
    The Mack

    and a lot of solid horror films and other genres

  • jbryant

    Ms. Rothman: As long as THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? has come up here, I’ll repost this comment I made here back in February of 2010:

    “I’ve been rereading my dog-eared copy of The Hollywood Screenwriters, a Film Comment book from the early 70s, edited by Richard Corliss. I was particularly taken with Michael Dempsey’s interview with James Poe, who initiated the production of THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? by procuring the rights and writing the initial drafts. He was very disappointed with the finished picture as rewritten by Robert Thompson. I’ve always loved the film, and still do, but Poe’s behind-the-scenes account really makes you curious about what might have been. His take was much edgier and even darker. He also had some great casting ideas: Lionel Stander as the Emcee, WB stalwart Allen Jenkins as the sailor, Barbara Steele in the Susannah York part, Shirley Knight in the Jane Fonda part (though he thought Fonda was good), and Jay Sebring (soon to fall victim to the Manson gang) as Fonda’s pimp. York and Gig Young were forced on the production by their former agent, Martin Baum, then the new head of ABC films, which was producing.”

    Surprised it doesn’t have more of a following. Even John Simon loved it, for crying out loud (I think he did the liner notes for the laser disc).

    Now I’m off to add IT’S A BIKINI WORLD to my Netflix Instant queue. :)

  • Griff

    Disney still controls the ABC Pictures catalogue (though not the balance of the Cinerama Releasing pictures, which ABC never did own); the company licenses the library, which also includes many of the Selznick International features, to MGM for home video distribution.

    That said, ABC Pictures produced Bergman’s 1971 English-language THE TOUCH. It would be nice to see this again sometime; I don’t believe this has been in U.S. distribution in many years.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Can’t believe I left thought of my list.

    When UCLA wanted to show The Touch a few years ago, they needed to borrow Elliot Gould’s personal copy.

    I saw it on its original release (at a downtown Chicago 2500 seat movie palace) – I don’t have a strong memory of it other than Bibi Andersson’s strong performance.

  • Barry Putterman

    jbryant, I remember that interview with Poe as well. Red Buttons was also a Baum client who came with the deal, and I understand that he along with Young faced a lot of resentment on the set because of that. I also remember Young paying special tribute to Baum in his Academy Award acceptance speech.

    The idea of casting a geriatric Jenkins as a participant in a dance marathon sounded a bit detached from reality to me. But it also indicated that Poe was thinking of the project in terms of Horace McCoy’s novel and its Depression era cynicism rather than the film which emerged as more related to its then present day Vietnam War era cynicism.

    Neither approach considers the possibility that it IS indeed a bikini world.

  • Brad Stevens

    “When UCLA wanted to show The Touch a few years ago, they needed to borrow Elliot Gould’s personal copy.”

    A restored version was shown in the London Film Festival either last year or the year before. The scenes with Max Von Sydow should be in Swedish, but are dubbed into English in the only version I’ve seen (Guild’s UK VHS release from the early 80s). The LFF-screened restoration restored the original soundtrack.

  • Johan Andreasson

    The Swedish / English version of THE TOUCH was restored in 2010 by the Swedish Film Institute and screened here when Elliot Gould visited Stockholm in December last year. I’m sorry to say I missed it then, so I can’t really say more than that it exists.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    The film was a co-production of ABC Films and AB productions (Bergman’s company which produced most of his films from the late 60s on). My guess is that rights reverted to them after its US release and was not in the package that MGM bought (which includes just about everyting else that Cinerama released, and again they have done a good job of getting them out there on DVD and elsewhere). It’s possible that while Bergman was alive he preferred to keep it out of sight because of dissatisfaction with it, but that’s just a guess on my part (it might of course also have to do with rights issues between the original producers).

  • Brian Dauth

    THE TOUCH was shown at MoMA in 2009 in the restored bilingual edition and a year earlier at BAM with Gould’s print. I liked it more the second time, but not a great favorite for me (though it is from my favorite Bergman work period).

  • Johan Andreasson

    Yes, 2009 is right for the bilingual edition – sorry to have skipped a year ahead.

  • Stephanie Rothman

    Barry Putterman

    In reply to your question about who is looking after the Dimension Pictures films of the seventies, I don’t know. What I do know is that the original negatives of the three films I made for Dimension, GROUP MARRIAGE, TERMINAL ISLAND and THE WORKING GIRLS have all disappeared. The people at Code Red tried to find them and in the end I had to lend them the prints that I own to make their DVDs. These prints are in fine condition aside from the fact that the color is fading because they are close to forty years old. They are still viewable, but how much longer they will be I can’t say. Fortunately, I was able to work with a colorist to restore two of them to their former appearance for DVD viewing. Unfortunately, I was unable to do this for TERMINAL ISLAND.

    It’s a nice dream, B picture preservation, and I am indeed happy that you would number one of mine worthy of being preserved, but with all the As that deserve it, I doubt anyone will ever get around to the Bs.

    jbryant

    I have always had a very ambivalent attitude toward ITS A BIKINI WORLD. It was my first feature length film and I was grateful to get the opportunity to make it. On the other hand, it was a Beach Picture and, as you know, nothing much happened in them– but it happened at the beach. I think its most distinctive feature is that It was one of the last if not the very last of its kind, and since it was released about a year and a half after it was made, I like to think I killed the genre off.

    Thanks for bringing my attention to what James Poe thought about TSHDT. I didn’t realize he initiated the project. I had forgotten until now my own brief acquaintance with someone who worked on the film, the Executive Producer Theodore Sills. After I left Dimension Pictures he hired me to write and direct a film I called THE CALIFORNIA FLASH for American International Pictures, where he had a deal. But he had a falling out with Sam Arkoff, the head of AIP, and he abruptly left just at the time I completed the screenplay, so the film was never made. I liked him a lot. He told me TSHDT was a difficult shoot and was very hard for Sidney Pollock. But when you think of the result, it was worth it!

  • For the record, most of those MGM editions of the ABC/CRC pictures were re-issues of DVDs released some years earlier by Anchor Bay, with the same transfers, so Anchor Bay probably deserves some of the credit (if that’s the right word for DVDs that looked good in 2000 but not so hot now) that we’ve been giving to MGM. CUSTER OF THE WEST was another one in that batch. Most of the films on Tom’s list that ended up with other studios have fared better on DVD than the MGM lot — STRAW DOGS and THE HONEYMOON KILLERS were licensed to Criterion, and there are special editions of PAYDAY and THE MACK from Warners and New Line (?!), respectively. Although BEN has to be one of the most commercial American films that never got a DVD release.

    I don’t remember much about IT’S A BIKINI WORLD (and I only saw it a few months ago!) except that I liked the extensive L.A. location shooting, including a chase through what looked like Pacific Palisades (but I could be wrong).

    Stephanie, now that I know you worked with Code Red on those DVDs, I regret even more that they contain no interviews or audio commentary from you. I think THE STUDENT NURSES is in the works at Shout Factory (right?) so perhaps that will give us a chance to hear from you. I’m also intrigued by your mention of Theodore Sills — he is, I believe, the same Teddy Sills who had a brief but interesting career as a TV director (on the pre-feminist, New York-based policewoman series DECOY, starring Beverly Garland, right after her Corman films).

  • Barry Putterman

    Stephanie Rothman, I suppose that as a matter of stark reality I can’t disagree with your assessment of B film preservation as a nice dream. However, I also must admit to having drifted on more than one (actually more than one thousand) occasion to the thought that you’d wish by this time that SOMEBODY out there might have actually learned SOMETHING. And by that I mean no reflection on the many dedicated people who have been fighting the good fight and doing the good work of film preservation for lo these many years.

    About a dozen years ago I went to MoMA and saw a barely adequate 16 print of THE BIG COMBO which was followed by Peter Bogdanovich interviewing Joseph H. Lewis on stage. Bogdanovich began the session by musing that what we had seen was about as good a print of the film as we were likely to see at this time. Well, at this time, is there anybody out there who doesn’t think that THE BIG COMBO is more worthy of preservation than dozens of A films from 1955?….I mean among those who have actually heard of it. And by the same token, is there anybody out there who doesn’t think that any one of your films (including IT’S A BIKINI WORLD) is more worthy of preservation than any number of A films from the same years?…Again, among those who have actually heard of them.

    But ultimately, why should we have to choose between preserving an A or a B movie? Yes, I’ve read the press releases from the tennis courts of the AFI about what an expensive proposition film preservation is. Frankly, I don’t really know how much it would cost to preserve a film. Although I would imagine that it roughly comparable to the amount spent on bottled water on the set of a Michael Bay film.

    You’d think that all of those studio accountants who are so well versed at hiding film profits from participants with points could find ways to slip funds for preservation into the location budgets.

    Well, I guess that you can tell that its past my bedtime. Some folks think I’m tetched. You don’t think I’m tetched do ya Tom?

  • Stephanie Rothman, a deep bow from Helsinki, Finland! It’s terrible to hear about negatives disappearing from films as recent as yours. Generally, the most important decision in all film preservation is immediate cold storage. Colours fade from Eastmancolour movies from the 1950s till the early 1980s, but that can be slowed down.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Stephanie Rothman, it’s great to have a filmmaker joining the other filmmakers who post on this site… and the rest of us too. The only film of yours I’ve ever seen was TERMINAL ISLAND, which struck me as a good one. I saw it not too far from the real Terminal Island, at the 3-for-a-dollar Palace Theater (or was it the Pine Theater?) in downtown Long Beach, not far from the Pike. And all these years later, I still Pine for the Palace.

  • Barry, the studios are pretty much taking care of preserving their own inventories (or at least, what’s left of them after decades of neglect), but transferring pre-print elements to safety stock is a very different matter from making prints and putting them in circulation (though the advent of streaming may change this equation). The libraries, legal departments and marketing divisions are all on different wavelengths: the archivists want to save everything (most of them have academic backgrounds), the legals will fight to the death for copyrights on films that no longer exist, and the marketing people couldn’t care less about any of it. It’s absurd, but I’ve heard more than one major studio librarian that, while they have vaults full of preseved negatives, they can’t get funding to make prints or video transfers from them, so the films just sit there, fading further from memory every year.

    It’s a different problem for indies like Stephanie, who have no studio umbrella to protect their work. That why (to return this thread to its beginning, just before it expires), it’s so important to support initiatives like the National Film Preservation Foundation that look out for the so-called “orphan films.”

    But whaddya gonna do? It’s a bikini world!

  • Robert Garrick

    I know Barry was just using “The Big Combo” as an example, but just for the record there’s a beautifully restored (by UCLA) 35mm print of the film floating around these days that’s been screened at several of those noir fests. TCM will be showing the film this month. It’s my favorite Lewis film, shot by John Alton, with some jaw-dropping sequences.

    It’s definitely better than most of the “A” films from 1955, but I want them preserved too. (And “The Big Combo,” uncharacteristically for Lewis, was pretty close to an “A” itself.)

  • Barry Putterman

    Two things to remember about the BIG COMBO at MoMA incident I mentioned. One, it happened before the turn of the century. And two, as Dave describes, it’s a bikini world. But, as the world turns, things change.

    The fact that this was the best print that MoMA could then get (and I’ll take that on faith for the sake of argument) doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a great 35 print sitting at UCLA or some studio vault. And the same possibility holds true of many other films which we still can’t see in anything approaching their original condition.

    When George Feltenstein spoke at Cinecon, he contexturalized everything that was being done within the limitations of the realities that Dave outlines above. The fact that Code Red wanted to release Stephanie Rothman’s films on DVD was the impetus for the work to be done on her personal prints. Otherwise they would still be sitting with her, never dying but slowly fading away.

    We can always hope that the conservatives are right and the marketplace will demand a neverending story of such triumphs. But methinks that as hard and as fast as the preservations are working, films which we actually saw first run in movie theaters are disappearing even faster.

  • Indeed, Barry, there are countless great prints, many restored at great expense, sitting in the studio vaults and in our leading archives that we will probably never see simply because of the expense involved in shipping them — and when you play a studio film, you have to pay rentals to the studio AND to the archives. It’s quite likely that MOMA felt the expense of importing a UCLA print wasn’t worth it, giving the ever-shrinking audience for older films, and simply substituted what was at hand. It happens all the time. We would be seeing far fewer 35-millimeter prints in New York City if it were not for the generosity of a certain local filmmaker of proud Sicilian heritage who has consistently provided free access to his personal collection.

  • Peter Henne

    Gregg, Do you by chance mean the Art Theatre in Long Beach? It’s near downtown and about a mile from The Pike. I ask because the Art is from the era of Deco movie palaces, and it is alive and well. I just saw Monte Hellman’s ROAD TO NOWHERE there a few months ago.

    http://www.arttheatrelongbeach.com/Amenu.htm

  • Gregg Rickman

    Peter, thanks for the memory jog but the grindhouse theater I saw TERMINAL ISLAND at (as well as many other films, from Siodmak’s CUSTER OF THE WEST to… well, that’s about the only other auteur film I can think of) was on Pine Street in downtown Long Beach. The Art is at 4th and Cherry, and in the 1970s was owned by a man named Howard Linn, who screened all manner of classics (the Russian LADY WITH A LITTLE DOG, the complete three part THE HUMAN CONDITION) in great 35mm prints. He also screened more adventurous contemporary films (saw a lot of Roeg, Russell, Weir and the like there). It was a filmic education in and of itself, and a great memory. (To see older Hollywood films, though, you had to look elsewhere.) I’m glad it’s still a going concern.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Custer of the West – a Robert Siodmak film that Cinerama Releasing Corp distributed that I failed to include…

  • Stephanie Rothman

    Antti Alenen

    Greetings to you too from Los Angeles! What you described as the best way to preserve prints is exactly what I did with the my own prints of GROUP MARRIAGE, TERMINAL ISLAND and THE WORKING GIRLS. They were deposited new in the UCLA Film Archive where they have been held ever since. However, I do not know if the temperatures at which they have been stored have been sufficient to retard fading. Also, you said that Eastman color film stock faded from the 1950s until the early eighties, but for reasons of economy the prints of my films were not printed on Eastman stock but on Fuji stock, which in that era, the early nineteen seventies, was more difficult to color correct than Eastmacolor. I remember that the prints produced on it always looked redder. I am curious, as an archivist, do you know how well Fuji has endured over the years?

    Gregg Rickman

    I’ve never seen a film in Long Beach. But I do know an amusing anecdote about TERMINAL ISLAND the film and Terminal Island the real place. There used to be a fish cannery on Terminal Island and when the film came out some of the workers there bought a copy of the film’s advertising one-sheet, which is normally displayed in theatre entrances, and which they displayed on their factory floor. It read: “TERMINAL ISLAND! Where living is worse than dying!”

    Stephen Bowie

    I foggily recall Ted Sills telling me he had directed television, so he is probably the same Teddy Sills you mentioned. As for me discussing my films on my own DVDs, it ain’t gonna happen. Shout Factory has never contacted me and I declined to do it for Code Red. Why? Because I think ultimately the films have to speak for themselves.

    I want to thank everyone who has greeted me here with such warmth and civility. I hope to return often to learn from all of you since your archival and historical knowledge far exceeds my own and, occasionally, I’ll chime in too if I have anything useful to say.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘the prints of my films were not printed on Eastman stock but on Fuji stock, which in that era, the early nineteen seventies, was more difficult to color correct than Eastmacolor. I remember that the prints produced on it always looked redder.’

    Fuji stock from that time has gradual fade, not so bad as Eastman color. If stored properly, it will last with not so much fade, but when fading color is becoming purple.

  • mark gross

    Since THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? has become the subject of this thread, I thought you all should know that the film was referenced in wall labels at the recent Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum as being one of Mr. McQueen’s favorite films, and a huge influence on his work. The MGM DVD was also sold in the shop, where it was snapped up by eager McQueenophiles.

    I also wanted to agree with Barry that there shouldn’t be such a distinction between preserving A’s & B’s. Film is film. I always appreciated the programing policies of the theatres on 42nd street, that showed double bills of, for example JUNIOR BONNER with LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT or RED RIVER with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. It was a wonderful cinematic education!

    By the way, Ms. Rothman, although I’m coming in at the end of this thread, please allow me to say that TERMINAL ISLAND, which I saw at the Selwyn, has always been one of my favorite films of the period. I remember that ad copy very well and will always associate it with that specific moment in my life in which I saw the film.

  • Stephanie Rothman: your works are in the best possible hands, and I hope they’ll be restored. That era’s colour film stock can be awful.

  • Stephen Bowie

    Bergman’s THE TOUCH will be back in New York, at Lincoln Center, on November 3 & 6. Looks like it’s the restored version from Sweden rather than Elliot Gould’s print, although Gould will be there for a Q&A at one of the screenings.