Archive for February 2012
We had high hopes for this constellation…
In the early 1990s Orion Pictures declared bankruptcy. Soon after, I negotiated a deal with Orion’s head of distribution, the late Jay Peckos, a personable who granted me theatrical distribution rights to the entire Orion film library, including Orion Classics, Filmways , and what they referred to as the Samuel Goldwyn “Trust” movies” (produced by the Senior Goldwyn, including “The Best Days of Their Lives” and “Guys and Dolls.”) Orion also had a distribution deal with Alexander Korda’s London Films (“The Thief of Bagdad”, “Things to Come,” etc.) I thought I had another breakthrough with a major studio.
Orion Pictures was founded in 1978 by the former top brass of United Artists. Using their considerable clout, they signed class “A” talent like Francis Ford Coppola, Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen and many others. But Orion turned out to be an up-and-down company, with some genuine hits like “Amadeus,” “Silence of the Lambs,” and “Platoon,” and “Dances with Wolves,” but a lot of also-rans. Orion Classics was a subsidiary, and for a time was the de rigueur specialty distributor of its day, releasing films like “Ran,” and “Babette’s Feast.”
But, by the late 1980s Orion was in big trouble. Billy Crystal said it best at the 1992 Academy Awards ceremony, “’Awakenings’” is a film about people coming out of a coma; ‘Reversal of Fortune” is about someone going into a coma; and ‘Dances with Wolves’ was made by a studio in a coma.”
Included in the Orion library was Filmways, Inc., a failing minor-league studio acquired largely to obtain its television library (“Mr. Ed,” and Cagney and Lacey” to name but two), and the 500 title American International Pictures library, which Filmways purchased in 1976 from AIP’s co-founder Samuel Z. Arkoff. (Arkoff later told me it was the worst decision of his life.)
Jay Peckos gave me a printout of the entire Orion library, looked like a phone book. Despite the sheer volume of titles, my customers pretty much took a “who cares” attitude, and the performance of the Orion library was only lackluster. The Goldwyn and AIP libraries, turned out to be useless because it was too difficult to obtain prints on them.
Our one and only Orion hit was a festival of 33 movies coined “Blaxploitation, Baby!” by the maestro of revival film exhibitors, Bruce Goldstein, programmer of New York’s Film Forum theatre. Most of the films came from us; titles such as “Shaft!” and “Superfly,” but the most notable were the ones owned by Orion which were originally produced by American International Pictures, especially Pam Grier hits like, “Foxy Brown,” and “Coffy,” to which we were able to strike new prints. The series was a big success and played around the country.
In my previous blog I spoke about how studios would occasionally take pictures back from me in order to release them in-house to promote forthcoming home video releases. Fortunately, Orion never took anything back, and frankly their home video division really didn’t know one old AIP movie from another, but when they saw the big publicity our series generated all across the country, they immediately put those titles out on VHS, and made a lot of money…with zero marketing costs.
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Today it seems that young people have no interest in old movies, and don’t even know that films from the silent era exist. But, there are exceptions to the rule, and I had the pleasure of meeting one such young woman.
In March 2007, Brandee Cox came up with the idea of publishing a bi-monthly newsletter about silent films. She shared that idea with graphic designer/film buff, Steven K. Hill, and The Silent Treatment (www.tstnews.net) was born. Their partnership in TST continues…much to the benefit of silent film buffs around the world.
I met Brandee Cox in 1999 when she sought an internship at Kit Parker Films while finishing her degree in Cinema Studies: History, Theory, and Analysis from San Francisco State University.
Although I was told in advance Brandee was a film buff, I certainly wasn’t expecting a young woman from the millennial generation to be so knowledgeable about old movies, especially silents. Even more surprising was her interest in the physical aspects of motion picture film.
In those days Kit Parker Films was a distributor of motion pictures servicing the film libraries of major studios and independent producers. We had thousands of 16mm and 35mm prints stored at our Sand City (Monterey area), CA film exchange, and employed film inspectors whose job it was to carefully check each print for damage, color fading, and other blemishes. This was the perfect job for Brandee given her interest in film archiving, and I hired her on the spot and she was with us for six months.
With her intern credit going towards her degree from SFSU, she took the next logical next step, film archiving post-graduate work at George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. After finishing her studies there she got and still has the perfect job, archiving films at the Academy Film Archive, a division of the Academyof Motion Picture Artsand Sciences that archives, preserves, and restores motion pictures. Now she was, and is, able to work with all of the motion pictures she wants…and gives us The Silent Treatment.
I founded Kit Parker Films over 40 years ago, made old movies my vocation, and have been surrounded by old movies ever since. It’s a pleasant surprise knowing there are young people who have that same passion and are making it their vocations as well.
As for Brandee, she and I are just big kids in a candy shop.
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