TCMFF 2017 Special Presentations, Part 3: Republic Preserved
June 13, 2017
I know I reported that my final piece on TCMFF 2017's Special Presentations would cover both Republic Preserved and The Great Nickelodeon Show, but... that's not true anymore. I'm splitting the last two up for easier reading purposes, aka a sane word count. Look out for my recap of The Great Nickelodeon Show sometime within the next two weeks!
The archiving/preservation admirer in me found TCMFF's Republic Preserved presentation, consisting of a clip reel and Q&A, thoroughly compelling. I (usually) enjoy the snap, hustle, and sometimes complete ridiculousness of B-pictures - programmers boasting low production values, (mostly) lower tiered talent, and shoestring budgets - and that is exactly what Poverty Row studio Republic specialized in, though occasionally prominent names graced their sound stages, including Orson Welles, John Wayne, and Gene Autry. Operating from 1935-1959, Republic enjoyed a longer run than most of its peers, and now their library of titles is "looked after" by the Paramount Pictures Archives. According to the TCMFF site, "in the past seven years, the archives have taken on a 100-title-a-year preservation program, preserving those films most urgently in need of preservation first (many of these have been from the Republic library)."
One of Republic's many logos, from a Trucolor picture.
Paramount head archivist Andrea Kalas presented a glimpse into some of the Republic films Paramount has been preserving, with the goal of instilling in us the same sense of discovery those operating in the trenches enjoy. (Mission: accomplished.) Kalas eschewed the more recognizable movies and dug into the depths of the vault - so much so that of about 20 features shared, I had only seen and heard of one, 1939's S.O.S. Tidal Wave, which I can affirm was as outrageous as the laugh-inducing clip we witnessed. Select titles sampled included: Yokel Boy (1942), $1000 A Minute (1935), Larceny on the Air (1937, when face cream was made with radium), S.O.S Tidal Wave, Rosie the Riveter (1944, basically a remake of The More the Merrier), and Rendezvous with Annie (1946).
The accompanying Q&A, covered below, also enlightened, and many of the most prestigious audience members I recognized, including the Film Noir Foundation's Alan K. Rode and Oscar winner Ben Burtt (see: my last post on his TCMFF presentation with Craig Barron), participated and asked questions. In the end, the trade-focused discussion prompted me to wonder if I had mistakenly wandered into an archiving and preservation convention, but I didn't mind; in fact, as someone trying to figure out a career path, I relished every second of it and delighted in expanding my knowledge of the subject at hand. In perusing these questions and answers, I hope you will feel the same too.
That's supposed to be a television set (yes, in 1939), and those aren't robots as I originally thought, but rather NYC buildings losing their battle to an epic tidal wave.
Will we be able to see these films in their entirety?
Kalas divulged that for the most part, they are showcasing these titles for the first time in decades – and she admitted that some aren't as entertaining in full as the clips may lead you to believe. (Shocking.) That being said, of course Kalas would happily share more of the library at TCMFF if that were ever an option, and obviously, if it were solely up to those of us in the audience, that would 100% happen. However, she somewhat disconcertingly disclosed how Paramount is a “nice little bubble of an archive” with "this nice comfortable way of being able to preserve films" without worrying about marketing and distributing them; the company tries to work with partners in home entertainment to launch these titles as widely as possible, but unfortunately, at this time no direct path exists from preservation to distribution/release. I used the word 'disconcertingly' above, because though I don't believe a "direct path" from preservation to distribution exists for most organizations, some companies, such as Warner Brothers/Warner Archive, are certainly more active on the distribution end of the spectrum. Without having any inkling into their business and distribution model, all I'm saying is that I sincerely hope Paramount can find an outlet for these lesser known titles. Given all the effort they’ve put into saving these movies, shouldn’t they be seen and enjoyed? Or simply seen, at the very least?
Yeah, this is a title I'm definitely curious about.
Speaking of distribution: There used to be a Paramount YouTube channel that played some of these titles, but they've been pulled. Will they be back?
Kalas was rather vague with what happened, saying they are negotiating what the channel "will look like next," but she always thought it seemed like the "perfect place" for these movies.
What's the general condition of the material?
Sadly, the Republic titles are some of the most neglected films in Paramount’s library, probably because they were frequently shipped out over the years. If the team doesn't possess the best elements, they will do their best to track them down around the world. Interestingly enough, the British Film Institute (BFI) acquired a collection from a London lab that distributed several Republic pictures in Europe and now houses a wealth of Republic material. Kalas praised the BFI as an invaluable source to Paramount in their archiving and restoration efforts.
This is a movie I'd totally watch on YouTube.
As you preserve these titles, are they routinely being transferred to an HD form as well? What is the general process you end up with?
The workflow begins with scanning the best existing elements at the highest resolution possible. Unless a title is close to "A" level, the staff doesn't expend a lot of time, money or energy on copious amounts of cleanup and color correction; rather, they simply try to capture as much content as possible before the source material is no longer salvageable, and naturally, films in more dire straits get put on the priority list. From there, they create a pro-res video file to match back to the preserved picture and audio, which serves as the final check in their preservation process and lets them know if they're missing anything. (Those pro-res files were actually what we viewed during the presentation.) For the most part, new 35mm prints aren't struck due to the sheer volume of work; thus, they generally head directly towards the digital route.
How many titles are in the Republic library, and is there anything specific you are looking for that you haven't found yet?
The short answer: there are about 1500 features in the library, and about the same number of short subjects and serials. Kalas confirmed that Paramount has luckily been able to locate material on most of the studio's movies, but there are a few that they can't find anything at all on. For those titles, it's always an ongoing search.
This 1944 Republic picture was also included in the clip reel. Are those some sort of energetic bolts radiating from that woman's hands? I'm very curious now.
When did the studio transition their negatives and other elements to safety stock?
Republic switched to safety stock the same time the rest of the industry migrated, around the late 1940s-early 1950s.
What is the survival rate on Trucolor prints?
Kalas informed us that Trucolor is simply a term for one Republic color system owned by their lab, Consolidated Film Industries (CFI). Sometimes these pictures survive the preservation process beautifully and other times there are serious issues in bringing them back. Out of the few dozen Trucolor prints Paramount has worked on so far, they've had to preserve only two titles in black and white, due to the unavailability of both color records for those two pictures - not too shabby a percentage.
What about trailers? The man who asked this question expressed hope that Paramount wasn't ignoring those interesting, sometimes rarely seen pieces.
They aren't! Kalas noted that this is indeed a big preservation issue for all films, as trailers don't always survive, but she assured us that whenever her team stumbles across trailers, "we will take care of them."
Nope, not a trailer. Just another rousing Republic poster!