Precious Prints Lost to Fire

You’ve probably heard about the big fire at Universal Studios, and about how nothing irreplaceable was destroyed. While that’s true in the technical sense, economic realities control what does and does not get replaced. Thus, thanks to that fire, many an old Universal and Paramount movie will probably never be properly screened again (Universal owns the pre-1950 Paramount library).

According to an article in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, Universal stores its negatives in Philadelphia, far from its studio/amusement park and the fire. But it stored archival 35mm prints of its older films in an on-studio vault. According to one Universal estimate, the “fire destroyed nearly 100% of the archive prints kept here on the lot.”

Of course, Universal could strike new prints from those Philadelphia-based negatives, but will they? Striking a new print off of an old negative costs thousands of dollars. I could see them doing that for something hugely popular, like Vertigo, but not, say, for King Kong Escapes.

I didn’t randomly pick that last example. The Cerrito scheduled King Kong Escapes as part of a June 13 Thrillville event. According to Speakeasy programmer and Thrillville host Will Viharo, writing to the Speakeasy mailing list, “the single existing 35mm print…has…gone up in flames, and it is highly unlikely it will ever be replaced, because of its, shall we say, selective appeal.” Viharo will screen the movie off of a DVD. The Cerrito has a good DVD projection system, but it’s no substitute for 35mm.

Viharo has dropped one other previously-screened movie, Curse of the Werewolf, from a future Thrillville booking.