It can be easy to lose track that no matter what; the movies should always come first.
We live in a truly unique time right now and film fans are spoiled with the choices available to them, to the point that on occasion we forget about some of the gems that have come before us.
The Republic Pictures label operated between 1935 and 1967 specializing in westerns, serials and action films of the time very often being labeled as a ‘B’ movie studio. However it was also a proving ground for some genuine pieces of art that inspired countless other films and it was a place for storytellers to hone their craft and have some genuine artistic freedom…as long as they came in on budget, which was usually never that much.
It’s a studio that harbored the talents of people like John Wayne, John Ford, Nicholas Ray, Joan Crawford, Frank Borzage, Vera Ralston, Natalie Wood and countless others in films like Johnny Guitar, Moonrise, The Quiet Man, Accused of Murder, Come Next Spring, The Red Pony & Three Faces West just to name a few. That’s why Martin Scorsese, The Film Foundation and the good people over at Paramount Pictures have put in such great work on launching 24 of these classic efforts from Republic library and making them available for purchase or rent via the Apple TV platform.
I got the unique pleasure to talk with Andrea Kalas, Senior VP Archives for Paramount Studios to talk about the process of getting these films out there for the masses to see, the importance of saving this content and how we need to move away from ideas like “new” and “old” and focusing on the quality of storytelling and filmmaking which translates beautifully even today.
Dave Voigt: I was a very happy man when I heard the news of the Republic Pictures catalog hitting Apple TV and making sure that a lot of these classic films have a chance to have some extra life breathed into them. Can you talk to me a little about the origins of all this and the impetus to get them somewhere like Apple TV and continue their chances to be seen.
Andrea Kalas: We started preserving the films in the Republic library which we own about 8 years ago and we preserved hundreds of them because if we had, plain and simple we would have lost some of them. Some of them were in real dire shape and we were very lucky that Paramount was very supportive of this process to go on this massive spree of preservation. Then when I met with Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation as I do pretty regularly and showed them the list of films that had been preserved and he had a pretty long list of films to choose from for a film festival that he wanted to curate at MoMa and that happened. The next step was for us to figure out the most effective way for us to release these movies ourselves so we could share them with home audiences everywhere. The good people in our Home Entertainment group worked really hard to get Apple highlight this particular collection. It took awhile, but it’s all good things happening to a really good end.
Oh for sure! Can you tell us a little more about the need to preserve a lot of these films because especially at a consumer level, it’s not something that is always really understood.
Oh yeah, and I mean once again I have to some props to the executives here at Paramount because when I gave a presentation to the higher ups about what was needed to restore these films and how fast we had to do it all they could not have reacted better in saying “Yes, this is our property, lets preserve it and take care of it” and it’s true that it just doesn’t always happen that usually come around to money; do we have enough? Will it make anything? Are all questions that legitimately get thrown around but I feel like we are really lucky here because we had a chance to do a “If you build it, they will come kind of scenario” around these features. It’s so satisfying to see this whole project come to fruition and I really hope that a lot of people end up buying and downloading these on Apple TV.
Of the 24 titles that have been released, was this basically Martin Scorsese’s wish list? I noticed that a couple of these titles have been licensed out to other companies for physical media releases but for a lot of these films, it might be the first chance since the initial release for a lot of audiences to get a chance to enjoy films from this catalog.
Martin has undoubtedly been involved in the Republic Pictures library for decades now and there had been some work that had previously been done photo chemically with the UCLA Film & TV archives so Film Foundation and Martin Scorsese have actively carried the flag for film preservation for quite some time now, especially when it comes to Republic Pictures. Ultimately though our work we gave him a longer list of films to choose from.
I’m also quite curious how he whittled down the list and if there was any specific criteria used, because I know that the Republic Pictures catalog is actually quite big?
100% it was all Scorsese’s choice, granted there were some that weren’t in his series at MoMa, some of the bigger titles like Johnny Guitar & The Quiet Man but it all came down to his selections based on the knowledge of the directors and elements of production from the film and things like that. That’s really what made up the selection of everything now available on Apple.
This will sound like a ‘lofty’ thing to ask but how important do you feel it is to keep the legacy of the moving image alive? I can even reference past Paramount releases and the relationship there with the John Wayne estate and making sure that many of these classics keep finding new life on Blu-Ray.
I think about what has happened in the music industry as people don’t necessarily think about older music versus new music and really it’s just all about that song that they have never heard before. It’s really my hope that ultimately that will be what happens with movies as well, right? New or old will hopefully become less relevant and consumers just refer to these movies as “something that I have never seen before” as the focus on the decade that something was made in shouldn’t be nearly as important as it is right now. Granted, we’re not there yet but that’s why I am putting in the work on movies like this in the hope that people can look on the entire history of motion pictures as a wonderful place where all these treasures can be found.
How do you see these movies managing to carve out a niche for themselves in a world that is overrun with options, particularly with all the streaming services now starting up and really gaining some traction?
I think it’s really amazing that there are common themes throughout so many different kinds of films no matter the decade that they may have been made in. I think of a film like Come Next Spring which is about a recovering alcoholic and is a REALLY poignant story that is well told with a great cast. Nothing in a film like this is an “old idea” it’s just GREAT storytelling. I always hope that people, much like I do appreciate a film that is WELL MADE and WELL TOLD.
Are there more archives for you to dig into or is that just “To Be Determined”?
Well there’s still plenty of work to be done in the Republic catalog that could be released via Apple or other platforms. We’re doing our absolute best to make sure that the people we hire to go out and sell this content is well educated on what we have and what we’ve preserved. Our goal is preservation first and foremost with what we have and then hopefully we can generate some interest in them going forward.
Push comes to shove, out of what has been released so far, is there a personal favourite of yours that you’d recommend?
I just love That Brennan Girl (Laughs) I think the performances are just fantastic and the really the great thing about the Republic catalog is that pretty much everything was done on a shoestring budget and there’s truly no waste in any of these films. Everything moves along at a quick pace in That Brennan Girl and it tells this fascinating and intricate story about this incredibly compelling woman.
I felt the same way about Moonrise because it’s just such a simple story that is told with such care and detail by one of those directors that really hasn’t been discovered all that much in the main stream and it’s this immaculate piece of pure cinema that just demands to be seen.
That’s just it right? These films aren’t these obscure little things that will be forgotten these are some truly great works of art, and it’s just so fantastic to have been able to preserve so many of these films.
And it’s fascinating to see how the content business in general has been evolving as of late. Sure it’s popular for people to complain and cry about the death of physical media and talking about sales being down but the reality is that there are so many different options in how we can consume our films and/or TV that we are living in somewhat of a golden age where you can basically see what you want…when you want.
I’m really glad that you said that because you’re right; it’s really common to hear questions like “When’s the Blu-Ray coming out?” and for some of these old movies it’s just tough out there to get traction on physical media. A platform like Apple TV allows people to get MORE and get deeper into our catalog than ever before. For me it’s just really exciting to have a new way and a new venue to get these films out there.
These first 24 in the Republic Pictures catalog are available for rent or purchase via the Apple TV platform now, with god willing more to come. For anyone who really wants to dive deep and discover some genuine cinematic art that you may have never heard of before, it’s time to get to searching.