Saturday, February 3, 2007

Arranging my DVD movie studio

I was staring at all the spines of my DVD collection, as I am so often known to do, when I started to realize, for the first time, that they all had little studio logos printed on them somewhere. Many of the same logos appeared on completely different DVDs. In addition, films by the same director often were made at several different studios. I began to see the history of film not as the history of directors, but as the history of studios. To further this coldly corporate view of film history, I've decided to count how many DVDs I have from each studio. Here's where it stands:

Warner Brothers: 18
Columbia: 9
Paramount: 6
Universal: 6
Criterion (not a studio): 6
20th Century Fox: 5
MGM: 4
Disney: 2
Dreamworks: 2
Fox Lorber (not a studio): 2
Miramax: 1
New Line: 1

Now what can this tell us about Hollywood history? First of all, Warner Brothers has kicked some serious ass, with a commanding lead of 18 titles in my collection. However, at some point in the 80s, I think, Warner bought the rights to MGM's catalogue, which means that obvious MGM classics like The Wizard Of Oz have been released on DVD by Warner Brothers. What I don't understand, then, is why I have some DVDs released by MGM, like The Graduate and Annie Hall. Maybe Warner Brothers only purchased the rights for MGM movies made before a certain period?

I can also see that some studios suffered long lulls in quality (or at least didn't make any movies I've felt were worth buying). For example, 20th Century Fox has The Grapes of Wrath from 1940, but they don't show up in my collection again until M*A*S*H in 1970. Same with Columbia, which released Mr. Smith Goes To Washington in 1939 but didn't put out anything else I own until Easy Rider in 1969.

It's also interesting to see how directors jumped from studio to studio, especially in the 70s. Scorsese did Mean Streets for Warner Brothers, Taxi Driver for Columbia, and The King of Comedy for 20th Century Fox. Altman did M*A*S*H* for Fox, McCabe & Mrs. Miller for Warner Brothers, and Nashville for Paramount. Other directors, however, seemed to find their studio and stick with it, like Coppola with Paramount and Kubrick with Warner Brothers.

Another thing that becomes apparent is that for a long time there were basically only seven studios in Hollywood, and only recently have we had newcomers like Miramax, New Line, and Dreamworks.

Finally, the biggest difference between the studios is the effort they put into their DVDs. When Disney does a double-disc, they're basically as good as Criterion. Next comes Warner Brothers, which sometimes gives the full-out double disc treatment and sometimes does the half-assed, single disc, here's a trailer and a featurette treatment. Fox is solid but not amazing. Universal sometimes goes for the double-disc treatment but barely puts anything worthwhile on the second disc; the best DVD of theirs is actually the single disc of American Graffiti (I assume George Lucas had a hand in putting that one together). MGM's are the worst; even the covers look cheap.

Well, even though my roommate made fun of me for doing this, I have to say, I found the exercise quite rewarding and educational.


yoggoth said...

So are there really no good movies from Fox between 1940 and 1970? Or do you just not have them yet?

Little Earl said...

I have no idea. Do YOU think of movies in terms of movie studios? We'll find out as I buy more movies I guess.

yoggoth said...

No, I don't really. But it is true that the people that run those companies did have a big hand in choosing who got to make movies. Same goes for the music industry.

Little Earl said...

Just reading Easy Rider, Raging Bulls gave me a whole new perspective on the importance of the studios in film history, even in the 70s. I know that in the olden days, Warner Brothers was known more for its gangster pictures, MGM for its musicals, and Columbia for Frank Capra movies basically. But Universal, Paramount and Fox? Might as well be the same studio to me. Maybe there's a resource on the web that will shed more light on the issue...

Little Earl said...

Here's the list from the 20th Century Fox Studio Classics boxed set:

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), All About Eve (1950), An Affair to Remember (1957), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), Two for the Road (1967), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), How to Steal a Million (1966), Anastasia (1956), How Green Was My Valley (1941), Alexis Zorbas (1964), Peyton Place (1957), Return to Peyton Place (1961), My Darling Clementine (1946), Leave Her to Heaven (1945), Titanic (1953), Gentleman's Agreement (1947), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), Desk Set (1957), The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), The Razor's Edge (1946), The Song of Bernadette (1943), The Mark of Zorro (1940), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), A Letter to Three Wives (1949), The Snake Pit (1948), The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), The Black Swan (1942), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), Orchestra Wives (1942), Anna and the King of Siam (1946), The Best of Everything (1959), In Old Chicago (1937), Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), The River's Edge (1957), The Rains Came (1939)

I guess there's some pretty good stuff in there, and even a few movies I might be buying in the future (Zorba The Greek, All About Eve, The Ox-Bow Incident, The Day The Earth Stood Still), but on the whole, it's amazing how many of these movies I haven't even heard of, let alone seen. Orchestra Wives? Sounds thrilling, doesn't it? The Inn of the Sixth Happiness? I wonder whose definition of "classics" these are. Then again, maybe they're all terrific. I've only seen seven of them.

ninquelote said...

All films in the US, until probably the '50's came from 8 studios I think. They were aptly named the 'Big 5' and the 'Small 3'. The big ones were Paramount, RKO, Warner Bros., 20th Century-Fox after those two merged, and MGM after those three hooked up. The smaller ones were Universal, Columbia, and United Artists (started up by none other than Mr. Charlie Chaplin).
Shame on you LE. Where's your Film History?

Little Earl said...

Well I don't HAVE any damn DVDs from United Artists, so who cares about them you know?

RKO is a weird one. They famously released Citizen Kane, but I'm not sure what else they did. Now Warner Brothers owns the rights to RKO as well (fortunately for us, because Warners put out a terrific 2-disc DVD of Kane).

Little Earl said...

Correction: Columbia released Lawrence of Arabia between Mr. Smith and Easy Rider. I missed it because the Columbia logo doesn't appear on the spine of the LoA DVD.

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