REVEAL SHOT

A SOPHISTICATED LOOK AT FILM AND TELEVISION

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Network television covers the March on Washington – Aug. 28, 1963 (Part II) (UPDATED)

(UPDATE: This post now includes the beginning of CBS News’ continuous coverage of the march, starting at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time  on that Aug. 28, as well as the very end, at about 4:30 p.m.)

Reveal Shot presents Part II of its look at Big Three network coverage of the March On Washington, 50 years ago next Wednesday. In this installment, two of the most fascinating broadcast elements that survive — the start of CBS’ continuous coverage of the march at 1:30 Eastern time, and the first half-hour of NBC’s 4:30 summary of the day’s events.

Read Part I here.

The Aug. 25, 1963 telecast of  NBC’s “Meet The Press” made plain the conventional fears many white Americans had about the March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom, coming up in three days. NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were the guests that Sunday evening, and “Meet The Press” co-creator Lawrence Spivak began the questioning.

 

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Two things strike me about this excerpt from the beginning of the program.

1) Spivak’s reference to “10,000 militant negroes” and whether or not they could come together without rioting. Aside from the low estimate of a crowd that ended up exceeding 250,000, the notion that the entire contingent would be militant, and that it might be incapable of civilized behavior, is one that would be just as likely to be brought up today, especially on outlets like Fox News.

2) Wilkins, who is clearly aggravated by Spivak’s repeated questions about the “great risks” the march’s organizers are taking, makes it clear that he’s bemused by the turnout estimate, saying he doesn’t know if it’ll be “110,000, 145,000 or 190,000.” I’m sure he knew the number would be closer to the actual total.

The entire program,which was re-aired on many NBC stations on Sunday, is worth seeing, even if only to see how these distinguished black leaders control their anger when reporters question the wisdom of the march and the entire direction of The Movement. King is asked about the Communist ties of Bayard Rustin, deputy director of the March, forcing him into the uncomfortable position of  either having to speculate about Rustin’s affiliations or deflecting the question by pointing out its irrelevance. NBC News reporter Robert MacNeil, later the co-founder of the “MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour,”  irritates Wilkins by pressing him on the possibility of violence, as does Spivak when his turn comes up again. King is asked, inevitably, if it isn’t a better idea to proceed more slowly in the pursuit of civil rights for African Americans. 1

CBS, NBC and ABC present a special report: The March On Washington

The networks readied themselves for the events of Aug. 28, as the march, originally planned as a demand for better jobs and economic opportunity for African Americans, had evolved into a demonstration in support of the civil rights bill President Kennedy had proposed in June, legislation that ultimately became the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Variety described it as, “logistically … a Cape Canaveral moon shot, an Inauguration Day and an Election Night bundled into one and topped off by a total measure of unpredictability.” 2

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Warner Bros.’ George Feltenstein on Warner Archive

Shop.WarnerArchive.com ­5-13During the 2013 TCM Film Festival, Reveal Shot featured an interview with George Feltenstein, senior vice president of catalog marketing for Warner Bros. Digital Distribution, who discussed the studio’s painstaking restoration of “Giant” (1956), which screened on Day 2 of the festival.

Now, here is the second part of that interview. Feltenstein talks about the ongoing success of the Warner Archive.

Feltenstein founded the Archive in 2009. Though Sony had announced early in 2008 that it would bring some of its niche titles to DVD on a made-on-demand basis, the Warner Archive was first to market with the concept.  As Feltenstein explained to me in an interview at the time, there was a great deal of “pent-up demand” for many of the titles in Warner’s movie and TV library, the largest in the world.

The home video market seemed to be in full decline. The U.S. was still in the throes of the economic recession of 2008-09, and an increasing number of people seemed to prefer DVD rental to purchase. Retailers were returning many unsold discs to the studios, saying they could no longer justify the shelf space. Worse, important outlets like Tower Video and Virgin Megastore disappeared from the landscape.

However, Feltenstein noticed that a number of older titles had sold very well in the retail market over the previous year. He knew there were much-requested A-list films and TV shows that would generate solid sales if sold directly by the studio at WarnerArchive.com.

Initially, 150 films were made available, and the program was an immediate success. Today Warner Archive offers more than 1,500 titles, many of them either remastered or brought up to a standard of quality just below that of a full remastering.

Feltenstein said in the April 26 interview that it is gratifying to see other studios, including MGM and Fox, move ahead with their own on-demand disc offerings, because “imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.”

One of my favorite Warner Archive releases, “Don Juan” (1926), starring John Barrymore and Mary Astor, the first film with synchronized sound effects and music score.

“We would like to see every studio that has a large film library make their movies available as we have done. We make the caveat that we make sure that there is a significant level of quality improvement from what had been offered on television or VHS or whatever the case might have been.”

Other studios have stumbled, at times, in this regard. Fox has raised the ire of film buffs with its Fox Cinema Archives initiative, launched last year, which frequently issues movies shot in the CinemaScope widescreen format in so-called “pan-and-scan” versions, when anamorphic widescreen has been the accepted home video standard for many years.

In the pan-and-scan process, a telecine operator pans horizontally across the image to find the middle of the wide frame  to give viewers a sense of what’s happening on the screen. The result is a loss of about 30% of the picture.

Warner Archive has of course recently begun a streaming offering, an indication that Feltenstein isn’t concerned that the technology will cannibalize Blu-ray and DVD sales.

A fascinating Internet discussion last month focused on the concern of cinephiles Stephen Bowie and Stuart Galbraith IV that too many film buffs appear to be settling for streaming, when the superior Blu-ray experience has become quite affordable.

“I think streaming is additive, and complementary [to Blu-ray],” Feltenstein said. “For the consumer who wants to own a film, Blu-ray provides the opportunity to own a film at the highest possible quality. And having the ease and access of being able to watch content on several different devices is only a plus.

“The use of Blu-ray for catalog titles is a growing business,” Feltenstein went on, despite the ongoing weakness of the economy and the ascendance of streaming.

“.. It’s all about the right format and the right availability, and it’s a call to action for all of the studios to make sure their libraries are well-maintained so that the quality is sufficient to justify a Blu-ray presentation.”

— David B. Wilkerson

 

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The implications of streaming for cinephiles: two experts discuss

To digress briefly from the 1930s gangster series, I wanted to point out a very interesting discussion about online video streaming, and what it means for true aficionados of cinema.

TV historian Stephen Bowie, who runs The Classic TV History Blog: Dispatches From The Vast Wasteland and works as a curatorial assistant at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and Stuart Galbraith IV, film historian, critic for DVD Talk and author of Cineblogarama, have posted an absorbing instant message discussion on their respective blogs about the ways in which streaming represents a step backward for cinephiles.

Among their main concerns are:

1. Inferior picture quality of the streamed image when compared to Blu-ray, in some cases reverting all the way back to VHS-level PQ.

2. Movies that are interrupted several times because of network problems, with no solution available to the consumer.

3. Streaming presentations — including movies, at Hulu Plus — that are interrupted for ads.

4. The lack of bonus materials — commentaries, documentaries, newsreels, et cetera — on streamed video.

5. The fact that a very good plasma TV and Blu-ray player can be obtained for less than $1500 in today’s marketplace, and still people prioritize convenience over this superior experience, often opting to watch movies and TV shows on tiny screens.

6. Cinephiles have largely taken this state of affairs lying down, with nothing like the hue and cry that led the studios to release films in their proper aspect ratios for home video, rather than the old “pan-and-scan” paradigm.3

There is a lot of nuance to the conversation, enough so that Bowie and Galbraith make it clear that they are not Luddites by any means, and they have carefully considered all the reasons for the studios to pursue this path.

Complaint No. 6 is the most disturbing, in my view. I have friends — parents, primarily, who have opted to get rid of their entire CD collections in favor of hooking up the iPod to the stereo. They say they can’t tell the difference between music files compressed to 256k or less and a CD, and they just don’t have room or the time to maintain a physical music library.  I sort of get this if one lives in a tiny apartment, but some of these individuals have houses, with plenty of room. Either sound quality matters, or it doesn’t.

I think it is much the same with video.

What a shame.

In my Links section in the lower right hand corner of this blog, you’ll find a permanent link to Bowie’s Classic TV History Blog, and a link to DVD Talk’s TV reviews, which include many by Galbraith. Among these are examinations of several seasons of “Gunsmoke,” including the recent issues of the first hour-long season (1961-62). Vol. 1 Vol. 2

I did an email interview with Galbraith (and a phoner with Digital Bits founder Bill Hunt) at MarketWatch three years ago, on Best Picture Academy Award winners on DVD and/or Blu-ray.

Aside from lots of fascinating interviews and other material at his blog, Bowie also conducted many video interviews with television actors, directors, producers and writers of TV’s halcyon period for The Archive of American Television.

Here, he talks to director Walter Grauman about working on the classic ABC crime drama “The Untouchables.”

— David B. Wilkerson

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