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Previews of Not-Coming Home Video Attractions : Movies: Most vintage films are not out on video-cassette--and they'll stay that way as long as studios feel there aren't enough viewers to justify their release.

January 03, 1992|DANIEL CERONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

* "Valley of the Dolls," Mark Robson's unintentionally campy 1967 adaptation of the Jacqueline Susann potboiler featuring Sharon Tate and Patty Duke.

Although these films are not being sold on video, a handful of them--"Laura," "Two for the Road," "Valley of the Dolls"--are available on laser disc. Because lasers offer better picture and sound quality than videotape and are more durable, movie buffs, who are the major buyers of laser discs, generally are willing to pay a premium for pristine editions of classics.

"The home video companies are most interested in new releases," said Norman Scherer, owner of the New York specialty outfit Video Oyster, which trades in the estimated 4,000 movie titles once available but now removed from the video market. Last week, Scherer sold a used copy of "Two for the Road" for $300, and one of "Laura" for $350.

"Laser-disc companies, meanwhile, want something different for their consumers," Scherer said. "They want to offer titles that are not available on VHS as another way to lure people to laser."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday January 4, 1992 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 3 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Video release--"The Wings of Eagles," director John Ford's 1957 aviation drama starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, has been released on videocassette but is currently out of print. It was erroneously reported in Friday's Calendar that it had never been released on video.

Still more old movie titles have been held back or pulled off the video market because of the expense in negotiating legal clearances for music and story rights.

"Certain film products are very difficult to clear because the rights holders, in some cases, want an exorbitant amount of money that may not be realistic given what the income to the studios will be for the title," said Herb Fisher, president of West Coast Video Duplicating and former president of MGM/UA Home Video.

Despite ongoing negotiations, MGM/UA has been blocked from releasing "Annie Get Your Gun" because of red tape in obtaining music rights from the Berlin estate. MCA/Universal has said that it would be too expensive to buy the music rights to release its library of old Crosby movies.

"I talked to (director) Henry Jaglom," said Steve Feltes, president of the mail-order company Evergreen Video. "All his films are on video except for a Tuesday Weld film with Orson Welles (and Jack Nicholson) called 'A Safe Place.' And (Jaglom) said it would cost about $100,000 to get music clearance on it, and the feeling is it's not going to generate $100,000 in video business."

Studios have often gotten around fat rights fees by substituting songs on the video release. "The Great Gatsby" video doesn't have Berlin's songs, and in the John Hughes comedy "The Breakfast Club," Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" was replaced with a version sung by an unknown, more affordable crooner.

"I believe what happens now," said Maltin, "is when a movie is being made they anticipate home-video release and try to clear all rights ahead of time forever."

At one time, the future of old movies on video appeared bright. In the early 1980s, movie studios rushed to cash in on their voluminous libraries of films. Limited-time deals were struck with video distributors that sprang up overnight, and movie titles were dumped into the marketplace willy-nilly by such unlikely companies as Fotomat. The scattershot release patterns, however, favored low-budget exploitation fare, leaving movie buffs scratching their heads.

"You couldn't get Greta Garbo in 'Camille' or 'Anna Karenina,' but you could get 'Hospital Massacre' or Lou Ferrigno in 'The Adventures of Hercules.' You couldn't get MGM's (Oscar-winning) version of 'King Solomon's Mines' from the 1950s, but you could get the silly remake with Richard Chamberlain," said George Feltenstein, vice president of sales and marketing for MGM/UA.

By the late 1980s, the earning potential of the home-video business was clear--and it wasn't in old or B movies. Star-driven, A titles fresh from the local theater lifted the video industry above the film industry in annual revenues. (Domestic box-office revenue for 1991 has been estimated at $4.7 billion, down from 1990's record $5 billion. But those numbers are dwarfed by rising revenues in home-video rental and sales, estimated at more than $15 billion for 1991, up from $14.5 billion a year before, according to the New York research firm Alexander & Associates.)

In the ensuing excitement over huge profits from the sales of mega-hit video releases, which were reduced to low sell-through prices, the studios' libraries of vintage movies went largely overlooked.

"What I find frustrating about this is there seems to be an attitude from the companies releasing older video titles that aims everything at a sort of general cross-section of the American public," said Feltes, whose Evergreen Video specializes in rare and foreign videos. "There's a core audience looking for the movie that gets dumped for a general audience who maybe you can persuade to buy the movie.

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