In earlier editions of MSB we noted two important ways in which archives have been utilised by media industries. In the 1980s Hollywood studios (and other controllers of large film libraries like StudioCanal) realised that the value still wrapped up in library titles could be exploited by the new technologies that introduced multi-channel television and its insatiable demand for product. Hollywood had always re-released major films like Gone With the Wind at regular intervals but the value of all film libraries certainly increased when the opportunities to exploit them multiplied.
Music recordings were slightly different before the 1980s since many consumers already owned significant collections of shellac and vinyl discs. Clever marketing then helped to persuade them to buy some of the same recordings again on new formats, first on cassette and then CD. The new formats promised better quality and greater convenience – and perhaps less chance of accidental damage. However, when the move to digital came the music industry found that the next new format, digital MP3 files, allowed easy copying and instead of boosting sales through re-selling popular recordings, the loss of revenue threatened the industry’s long term future.
Now, it appears, the music majors are looking more seriously at their archives of unreleased material – alternate takes, aborted sessions etc. As it becomes more expensive to develop and promote new music acts which don’t necessarily sell recordings commensurate with the popularity of their music, why not turn to material by established stars that has already been paid for?
As the market ages – remember the “£50 bloke” of a few years ago? – releases of “never heard before” material from Pink Floyd are due to join Kate Bush’s explorations and re-interpretations of her back catalogue on the ‘Director’s Cut’ Album. These releases although probably ‘copiable’ in digital format do offer something different, something ‘extra’ as suggested by the ‘generatives’ proposed by Kevin Kelly (see MSB5 p254). Collectors may be willing to buy a box set of alternate versions of well-known Pink Floyd songs, especially when packaged with material that can’t be copied so easily. The packages are known as ‘Immersion’ releases.
Digital cinema has seen another twist on the use of archives that is the product of the economics of digital distribution. Cinema re-releases of classic or cult films has again had a long history. Even so it required careful judgement of the market to make it work financially. A 35mm film print costs around £1,000 to produce. So it was often only possible to put out a single print that toured cinemas and which without the benefit of promotion and marketing could only attract small audiences. Now a 2K digital print on a hard drive costs a few hundred pounds to master and duplicate so that a digital copy of an archive film can be stored on the ‘theatre systems’ of several cinemas at the same time. Perhaps you saw Meet Me in St. Louis or It’s a Wonderful Life over the Christmas period? Perhaps I can interest you in the restored version of Les Enfants du Paradis as well? In truth this is a development that hasn’t been fully exploited yet – it needs to reach the multiplex in areas where there isn’t an established independent arthouse cinema. But if you’ve never seen a classic black and white film on a big screen in a brand new digital print, I’d urge you to take the plunge. There’s nothing like it! In the next few weeks one of the three completed films by the cinema’s first great youth rebels, Jean Vigo, goes on release. Read about L’Atalante here and discover some of the first screening dates.
Here’s a clip from YouTube: