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Old 18-04-2005, 16:06   #1
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The Lost Art of the Movie Documentary

I have been busy lately transferring many of my old VHS tapes on to DVD. I have a nifty machine made by Sharp that does this within the confines of a single box thatn can even be successfully operated like a techno-prat like me. Thus I can now boast of owning, say, Ace in the Hole on DVD. Anyway, to my point: among the tapes I have been transferring is a collection of documentaries - Alan Parker's Turnip-Head's Guide to the British Cinema, Volker Schlondorff's 150-minute chat with Billy Wilder, Arena's 150-minute chat with Orson Welles, Melvyn Bragg's 150-minute chat with David Lean and so on. All these docus are about 20 years old and knock spots off anything made today - they make most of the DVD extras look very lame indeed, or maybe it's because people like Lean, Wilder and Welles are around anymore. Back to the transfer room - where I'm currently doing Jeremy Isaacs's probing chat with Spielberg.
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Old 18-04-2005, 16:19   #2
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I wonder why these aren't being offered by the respective companies that own them to the majors as extras? Or would their fiscal demands, and rights issues, prohibit such a move. It's a crying shame such gems aren't available to the mass market - I always though the Beeb's Scene By Scene series would make an excellent and profitable transfer to the format.

I've never seen the Wilder doco BTW; I'm green with envy. And while it's not entirely lost, IMHO, (did you not enjoy 'All About Me' and 'A Class Apart'? Oh, I forgot about you and Kate Hepburn ) I will agree that many modern featurettes are just disposable fluff, and probably slapped on as an extra to give the perception of weight and value.
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Old 18-04-2005, 16:42   #3
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I think it's probably all to do with one-off, single-play rights clearances for the clips. That's probably why these programmes have never been repeated, though I was glad to see that some of Parky's legendary chats with greats like Cagney, Welles, Astaire, Mitchum and so on were repeated a while back. Yes, John, A Class Apart was a cut above the norm and it's also good to see Richard Schickel's Men Who Made The Movies series being disinterred. As to my own transfers, that Parker Turnip-Head is still utterly brilliant - hilarious, sad, always provocative, maybe Al's best-ever fillum. The Wilder is mainly in German, with subtitles.
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Old 18-04-2005, 17:47   #4
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Any chance I could "borrow" those Welles and Lean interviews.... ?

And yes, the dumbing down and mass market appeal of DVD these days means we get lightweight content dressed up as DVD "extras". I'm sure they think that by giving us a 2nd disc of fluff we'll think it's the best thing since sliced bread.
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Old 18-04-2005, 19:48   #5
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Loco Well to answer you...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wendell Armbruster
Anyway, to my point: among the tapes I have been transferring is a collection of documentaries -

All these docus are about 20 years old and knock spots off anything made today - they make most of the DVD extras look very lame indeed, or maybe it's because people like Lean, Wilder and Welles are around anymore.
These things are still being made but usually they are snapped up by the documentry or entertainment channels. Usually the ones with limited audiences.
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Old 19-04-2005, 08:42   #6
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I don't agree; I think we are living now through a golden age of documentary. Check:-

Capturing the Friedmans
My Architect
Blind Spot
Darwin's Nightmare
Underground Orchestra
The Times of Harvey Milk
Bus 147
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Old 19-04-2005, 08:52   #7
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Yes, there is currently a wave of great documentaries - but I feel those relating to the cinema don't seem to be making the grade and I think this is for three reasons - the prohibitive cost of clips; the natural expiration of most great filmmakers who can put together a coherent sentence; and the fact that the studios want to control every aspect of the documentaries, so that no one says anything remotely critical or negative. My last VHS-DVD transfer, Fear and Desire, from a dupe of a rather fuzzy NTSC tape.
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Old 19-04-2005, 09:20   #8
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Check out Los Angeles Plays Itself, a recent documentary by Thom Andersen about how the city got used in films mostly using clips. It's full of fascinating details on film, history and architecture and one of the best documentaries I've seen in a while. It still occasionally plays at the ICA in London and apparently will be out on DVD this year.

I thought the DVD docu's on the making of Three Kings, Magnolia, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Titus where excellent films in their own right.

Last edited by Reno; 19-04-2005 at 09:28.
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Old 19-04-2005, 09:40   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wendell Armbruster
I have been busy lately transferring many of my old VHS tapes on to DVD. I have a nifty machine made by Sharp that does this within the confines of a single box thatn can even be successfully operated like a techno-prat like me. Thus I can now boast of owning, say, Ace in the Hole on DVD. Anyway, to my point: among the tapes I have been transferring is a collection of documentaries - Alan Parker's Turnip-Head's Guide to the British Cinema, Volker Schlondorff's 150-minute chat with Billy Wilder, Arena's 150-minute chat with Orson Welles, Melvyn Bragg's 150-minute chat with David Lean and so on. All these docus are about 20 years old and knock spots off anything made today - they make most of the DVD extras look very lame indeed, or maybe it's because people like Lean, Wilder and Welles are around anymore. Back to the transfer room - where I'm currently doing Jeremy Isaacs's probing chat with Spielberg.
I also own many of the documentaries listed here on VHS tape and particularly rate Schondorff's excellent chat with Wilder.

Unfortunately, they have been languishing in my cellar for the last couple of years and it seems that mould has gotten to most of them

I knew I should have backed them up sooner - anyone have any ideas about salvaging my video collection - there is some great, rare stuff in there.
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