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Saying a sad farewell to the DVD. What now for the classic movie?

PUBLISHED: 08:29 03 November 2018

Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood; Photo: Warner Bros

Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood; Photo: Warner Bros

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With film fans reeling from the one-two punch of DVD player sales ending and the plug being pulled on a classic movie site, Arts editor Andrew Clarke worries how tomorrow’s film lovers are going to uncover Hollywood classics in the stream age

Katharine Hepbun seen here on the set of The Philadelphia Story with John Howard, Cary Grant and James Stewart. Photo MGMKatharine Hepbun seen here on the set of The Philadelphia Story with John Howard, Cary Grant and James Stewart. Photo MGM

As Bob Dylan memorably sang: ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ and it seems these days that life is in a constant state of flux but within the world of film and TV there has always been a balance between the thrill of the new and the appreciation of timeless classics...but all that could be coming to an end.

Last week was a bad week for the film fan. First, department store John Lewis announced that they would no longer be stocking DVD players because they said that everyone streams their movies these days (which I don’t really agree with but we’ll let that go) but even if we accept that argument, then film lovers would have been cut down by announcement from Warner Brothers later the same week that they were stopping their classic movie streaming service.

The question that now remains hovering in the air is where are the film connoisseurs and the film fans of the future going to encounter the classics of yester-year, the films which still routinely inspire today’s directors.

The cast of the Ealing Comedy The Ladykillers featuring Alec Guiness, Katie Johnson, Herbert Lom and Peter Sellers. Photo: Ealing StudiosThe cast of the Ealing Comedy The Ladykillers featuring Alec Guiness, Katie Johnson, Herbert Lom and Peter Sellers. Photo: Ealing Studios

Warners have indicated that while classic movies were not unprofitable they weren’t as profitable as the streaming services offering up modern movies. They described it as ‘a loyal but ultimately a niche market’. Surely, anything bringing in money should be welcomed?

It’s offering the customer a service. There are virtually no costs attached to these movies and yet they continue to make a profit, so why stop?

For the film-lover, it’s all about quality of life and quality of experience. The advent of the DVD triggered a huge restoration programme as all the major studios went back into their archives and started repairing and restoring their film classics. A lot of work has been done, so why not continue to profit from it and celebrate our cultural heritage at the same time?

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HUMPHREY BOGART AND  INGRID BERGMAN
ES 15 10 03CASABLANCA HUMPHREY BOGART AND INGRID BERGMAN ES 15 10 03

Even relatively recent films like Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and My Fair Lady (1964) were rescued just before their primary elements were lost to decay. Similarly, Technicolor camera negatives for Gone With The Wind (1939) were discovered to be warped beyond repair but newly devised computer software were able to scan separate elements and then combine them to produce a pristine new masterprint.

It’s not just the big Hollywood blockbusters and the Oscar winners that have been saved, the DVD revolution also gave British movies like the Ealing Comedies and the Hammer Horror films a new lease of life.

Film is a great leveller. It brings people together – people from different walks of life, different backgrounds, different nationalities – and yet the demise of the DVD and the limiting of streaming services is offering us less choice rather than more.

John Wayne, in his final film role, as dying gunslinger JB Books in Don Siegel's The Shootist. Photo: ParamountJohn Wayne, in his final film role, as dying gunslinger JB Books in Don Siegel's The Shootist. Photo: Paramount

I had my film education courtesy of BBC 2 and Channel 4. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, BBC 2 had a themed 6pm film slot which screened everything from Johnny Weismuller Tarzan movies, to 1950s Cold War paranoia The Day The Earth Stood Still, to Ealing comedies like The Ladykillers, to British World War II movies like Dunkirk, Reach For The Sky and Ice Cold In Alex.

It offered a young film-lover a wide choice of classic films in addition to the high-profile Oscar-winners. With the arrival of DVD I built a sizeable collection of classic films which meant as terrestrial TV stopped screening first black and white films and then classic films I had an independent supply of classic screwball comedies, John Ford westerns or Alfred Hitchcock movies.

Our film heritage is in reasonably good shape so don’t let it slip away, forgotten and unloved, only to be replaced by mass-marketed movie trends of the moment. Let’s keep that balance between current hits and classic films that still have the ability to inspire and entertain. Our world would be immeasurably poorer if we lost the films of Cary Grant, Laurel and Hardy, Peter Sellers, Dirk Bogarde, John Wayne, Buster Keaton, Errol Flynn, Gene Kelly, Christopher Lee, Humphrey Bogart or Kenneth Williams... the list is endless. If you haven’t seen any of these people in action, search out one of their films today. You won’t be disappointed.

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