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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Orphan Toon Musings #2: The Restorations and the Flames

By Kevin Wollenweber

Well, what I’m about to say is opinion and, partially, fact as told to us on “STU’S SHOW”-- from Shokus Internet Radio--with guest animation historian Jerry Beck, who is constantly and delightfully full of mostly good news; as he was regarding the forthcoming *TWO* POPEYE THE SAILOR DVD sets and LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION, VOL. 6, all from Warner Brothers Home Video. Yes, we shall have *ALL* the beautifully restored black and white cartoons from the true golden age of the spinach-eating sailor man by Christmastime, so “Season’s Greetinks to yous all!!” To supplement this release of all or mostly black and white cartoons, for you POPEYE completists, there will be an all-color “POPEYE & SONS” set of the more recent reinvention of the more kid-friendly version of the character, but as usual, I digress…

The LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION 6 set boasts (and I do mean proudly boasts) some amazing goodies, not the least is which that there will be *MORE* cartoons per disk, 19 to be exact!! Oh boy!! And we’re even getting some wartime shorts, including “RUSSIAN RHAPSODY”, but that was the only title that was leaked out at this particular time on this particular broadcast. Just the fact that there will be four packed disks with 19 cartoons on each is leaving me speechless!!

Now, unfortunately, for the bad news leaking from Hollywood around the Universal Studios fire. Up front, of course, we’re sorry to hear of the injured people in this blaze. I’ve no record of the human casualties and all I can say is that I hope they were few and that there were no deaths.

However, we are talking about damage done to the classic vaults here. Outside of what jerry had mentioned, a friend of mine had told me that he heard from a reliable source that the original old master recordings of Bing Crosby were completely destroyed. All Universal has left, now, are the digital transfers that were made of the stuff, and these appeared on a four-CD box set that I’m lucky enough to own. If you are fans of the earliest swooner crooner recordings, you should seek a copy of this box on Ebay. Sadly enough, now, one will never, ever be able to go back into the vaults and do further restoration on the muddier recordings.

Regarding other old films and cartoons, well, I’ve no real news except that it is possible that digital recordings, like those found on the first two WOODY WOODPECKER & FRIENDS cartoon collections were indeed destroyed. “So,” you might be saying, “just go back in and find the negatives and do the recording all over again!” That’s easier said than done. While some folks at Universal were generous with their time and effort to get the finest possible prints and even clean up what looked a little rough around the edges, such recording and smoothing out cost big bucks, and such spending, again, to do the same job and make sure that there could be a WOODY WOODPECKER VOL. 3 is just not a high priority. Work had already been done to restore some of the stuff in the vaults, and it is now thought that some or most of that work had been incinerated. Jerry’s overall comments about the damage had its question marks, but he was outlining just how the video arm of Universal could look at projects like this with the cost of restoration of the overall buildings and other working areas and whatever other damage was done staring them in their pocketbooks. It has also been found that Universal has been lax in protecting from such fires. There were very few extinguishers and other problems that I don’t quite recall now, so all we now have are the already available video volumes of very early camp classics and old films that were neatly restored before this tragedy happened.

Let’s hope that Jerry Beck, on his Cartoonbrew.com blog sets me and everyone else in the news media straight on any inaccuracies here, but it is truly a shame that any entertainment company’s highest priorities do *NOT* include the vaults. Jerry had praised the company for being so daring as to let him do whatever he pleased with the WOODY WOODPECKER & FRIENDS sets. He did slyly remark that he wished that Warners’ people had the same attitude about *THEIR* animation vaults, but one thing you *CAN* say about Warners (and that Jerry Beck did indeed say) is that, regardless of how insensitive the films can be from our distant past, Warners protected and nearly restored it all, or they are allowing for restoration at some point, if they can be convinced of its profitability!! Universal is willing to let collectors have what they want, but they don’t really do much in the way of protecting their properties, and the fact of this fire proves my point—and, again, these are my opinions, not necessarily fact!! Those who want the whole story should check out “STU’S SHOW” on www.shokusradio.com. The show itself was enjoyable. I only wish I heard the whole show upon its first live run because I certainly was aching to call in as I listened to the rerun!!

Have a listen, and let’s hope that we can “never say never” regarding a third set and future volumes of WOODY WOODPECKER AND FRIENDS. It’s too soon to stop now!!


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