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Film Classics Still Eluding Video Viewers

April 30, 1988|CONNIE BENESCH

Apparently, there's nothing video fans crave more than the gems they aren't allowed to see--either because of rights disputes or because a movie studio has decided it can make more money by saving its films for re-release in the theaters.

At Music Plus stores alone, patrons make 2,000 requests a week for films that aren't on video, according to Mitch Perliss, director of purchasing for the 50-store chain in the Los Angeles and Orange County area.

Such requests may occasionally get titles out of the studio closets, according to video insiders. In the words of one video executive: "The more pressure there is on companies from the public regarding specific titles, the more often the companies are reminded to look into those titles."

One victory for video viewers: Universal Pictures' recent decision to release a cassette version of Steven Spielberg's 1982 blockbuster, "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," one of the most requested cassettes.

But many films are still locked up--and may stay that way for years. A few examples:

"Bringing Up Baby." This 1938 RKO screwball comedy starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant is "the title that's requested the most," according to Ellen Wander, vice president in charge of home video distribution at Turner Entertainment Co. Martina Navratilova, whose workout tape was produced by Turner, even called recently to ask for it, Wander said. "It's her favorite film." But there's "a dispute over the ownership to the movie--whether the rights are held by Fox or RKO Pictures, which in turn would be Turner Entertainment." Turner acquired RKO's film library in 1987.

"Sorcerer." Even director William Friedkin ("Exorcist") wants to know why fans can't rent or buy his film in which Roy Scheider trucksnitroglycerin to an outpost in the South American jungles. "I get literally hundreds of pieces of mail a year asking me where, how and why people (can) get a video of 'Sorcerer'--mostly from young people," Friedkin said. "The requests I get are from all over the country."

According to spokesmen for Paramount and Universal, which co-produced the film in 1977, neither company acquired the cassette rights. Instead, the rights are held by a foreign corporation, according to Sheldon Mittleman, house counsel to Universal.

"In any event, I suspect (the holdup) is more of a marketing decision," Mittleman said. "A lot of pictures have not been released because it's decided that they were not commercially viable at a particular given time."

"Heavy Metal." This 1981 animated film, released by Columbia, features almost wall-to-wall music by Black Sabbath, Devo, Cheap Tricks, Stevie Nicks and other artists. "In cases where there's an awful lot of music, it can take a number of years to even locate everybody who has to be cleared," said Larry Estes, vice president of programming and acquisitions for RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video. "Protracted negotiations to get the necessary permissions and clearances" are therefore now under way for 'Heavy Metal,' " Estes said.

"Baby, It's You." Legal clearances also couldn't be obtained for all the music to this John Sayles-directed romance starring Rosanna Arquette and Vincent Spano, a Paramount Home Video spokesman said.

"Fantasia." People are clamoring to see Walt Disney's 1940 animated classic at home, but it may never be released on home video, said Bill Mechanic, president of Buena Vista Home Video. Disney's first feature cartoon, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937), might never make it to the small screen either.

"These really are . . . treasures of the past (that endure from) generation to generation," Mechanic said, speaking reverentially of "one of the most recognized symbols of the company. It ("Fantasia") is (reserved for) theatrical distribution, and it will stay in theatrical distribution." ("Fantasia" will return to the big screen for its 50th anniversary in 1990.)

Other Disney films such as "Bambi" and "101 Dalmatians" are in demand, too. In fact, of the 23 animated films in the company's library, only seven have been released on video, and Buena Vista plans to release only one more each year.

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show." This is the film "that people would go cuckoo over" if they could get it, said one video insider. But squealing, foot-stomping, rice-throwing, costumed audiences still go to midnight showings of "Rocky" 13 years after its release by 20th Century Fox. So since this campy musical satire of classical schlock Hollywood horror movies is still a money-maker, it won't be released on video, a Fox spokesman said.

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