Filmhydra
A still from “Kansas City Princess”
Above: Dynamite gives Quincy some last advice in Warner Bros’s Kansas City Princess.

Does the new Warner-Discovery care about movies?

Even now, when it seems so easy to show anything, companies continue to hide our cultural history for profit.

Reading time: 3 minutes.

I’ve been watching the purge of content from HBOMax with a kind of resigned hopelessness. When HBO Max launched a while back, it was exciting because it had such a depth and breadth of material, from new drama series like The Flight Attendant to old, classic films from the early days of movies. It was almost like I had the disc-based Netflix of twenty years ago back. You know, when people who loved movies instead of statistics ran Netflix.

Warner Brothers has certainly had a tough time of it. It’s been owned for several years by AT&T, an old and busted telephone monopoly that’s never seemed to learn how to operate a successful venture without significant market leverage.

Nick points a finger at Nora

Pre-code and very influential, The Thin Man series languishes on the Warner Archive label.

Although streaming companies have been predicting the death of physical media for a decade or more, discs are getting collector-like treatment from a lot of different companies. These companies thrive on picking up niche films, producing a ton of extras, lovingly restoring them, and even giving them new artwork.

Warner Bros. — a genre film studio from way back — has literal stacks and stacks of niche films. It’s a treasure trove, but so far they’ve refused to take advantage. Instead, they’ve relegated everything but the most successful movies to their Warner Archive label. There, you can get the movies with few (if any) extras, indifferently packaged.Warner Archive used to have their own site (and streaming service!), but a few years back they bought into Amazon’s brand storefront. As Comixology customers found out, that’s a toolkit better suited to small businesses, not large companies with a deep catalog. Now when Warner Archive has their periodic sale, they rely on Movies Unlimited.

Color shot showing a wax museum floor.

Movies like Mystery of the Wax Museum challenge many people’s expectations of old movies — even when it comes to technology.

This is a terrible situation for those of us who like to dig in dusty stacks of movies. And, as we see with the HBO Max belt-tightening, none of this is likely to get much better with unscripted television king Discovery now in charge of Warner.

And all of MGM’s great catalog is now in the hands of Amazon — who doesn’t really want you to buy discs at all.

Streaming has not been what cinephiles had hoped. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff out there. But there’s a ton of stuff that’s not. Or, if it’s available, you have no idea what cut you are getting. When Horror Virgin watched Night of the Living Dead, they had a terrible time finding an unmangled cut. (That’d be the Criterion edition, by the way.)

The torture chamber of Fu Manchu

While some old movies seem surprisingly modern, others — like The Mask of Fu Manchu — capture racism and sexism many like to pretend didn’t exist.

I think a lot of us had hoped a time had arrived when studios would finally restore the old films and make them available for us all to watch. But the major players continue to seek the largest audience for the least cash.

For these old films, we’re seeing a retrenchment of film hoarding — companies that sit on the IP in their vaults refusing to share it or show it. They may not be interested in making money from it, but they sure as hell won’t let anyone else try.

Which is the way it’s always been; few people seem to care about movies less than the major studios.

Glenda Farrell and Joan Blondell in Kansans City Princess

Comic actor Glenda Farrell (left) made a ton of movies before 1940, but most of those are only availble on cheap DVD productions. That is, if you can get your hands on them at all.

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