The growing scarcity of quality 35 mm prints for classic film screenings

posted by JohnMLauter on November 10, 2008 at 3:48 pm

A theatre I am involved with has been finding it harder to get quality prints of classic films of late. We book a movie in our schedule. Then we advertise only to find that the print the vendor/source thought they had is damaged, or non-existent.

Have others found this to be the case? Have any other theatres set up arrangements with print collectors? It just seems as though there isn’t enough money in most retro films these days for the distributors to keep quality prints available.

The whole collector thing is a two-sided sword. They preserve product that the studio/distributor loses (financial) interest in, but they keep the product to themselves. And what is art (and our financial vehicle to produce income) is a collectible, and there is the collector’s mindset to have more all the time. I have seen a screening of a pristine 35mm copy of “Fantasia” that I’m sure “fell off of the truck” somewhere.

What are other retro cinemas doing for quality product? Going over to Digital projection?

Comments (45)

KenLayton on November 10, 2008 at 4:22 pm

Universal lost all of their 35mm rep prints in that big fire early this summer. They said no to striking new prints.

I certainly would NOT attend a theater running video projectors.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on November 10, 2008 at 4:37 pm

Most prints are not avialable in digital.Digital projection is not video projection as that is a dvd or video tape.

markp on November 10, 2008 at 4:48 pm

I agree with Ken. I would NEVER go to a rep house using digital. And as longisland said, most prints are not available in digital. And finally, companies like Warner Brothers, and the above mentioned Universal have said NO to striking anymore 35MM prints. When they’re gone, thats it. Which means in all likelyhood that given a few more years, retro cinemas will probably just fade away, just like all these big companies want 35MM to just fade away.

MPol on November 10, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Ouch!! I’d hate to see that happen. It would be a real shame if the retro cinemas and retro movies were to just disappear altogether. Making quick money hand over fist has become the American way, and DVD is the way to do it. If that comes true, there’ll be only two rather unpalatable choices: either going to a multiplex cinema that shows really junky, schlocky movies, seeing today’s art movies that may or may not be particularly interesting, or “biting the bullet” and getting DVD players and older films for DVD watching. This is something that I don’t want to do, and hope doesn’t happen, which is why I now hold yearly memberships to both the Brattle and the Coolidge Corner Theatres.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on November 10, 2008 at 5:25 pm

We open LARWENCE OF ARABIA this week.Cant wait to see print condition.

PeterApruzzese on November 10, 2008 at 5:30 pm

The above information re: Universal is not exactly correct. They did not lose all of their rep prints in the fire. Many, many prints of theirs were stored off-site at various depots/storage facilities, etc. And they have been going back and striking new prints of several titles lost in the fire.

KingBiscuits on November 10, 2008 at 6:52 pm

Several of Universal’s rep titles are still cirulating in 35mm. Recently, prints of titles such as Animal House, Tremors, Jurassic Park and this week, Repo Man, have played in my area.

Jonesy on November 10, 2008 at 7:25 pm

In the past year or so, some of my best moviegoing experiences have been: Jaws, Blade Runner, Poltergeist, The Terminator, Back to the Future, The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended), and even Madagascar 1. Every one of them had a BEAUTIFUL 35mm print.

I do my best to document rep screenings at my blog, with the hope that they will become more popular, more succsessful, and more common. Get out and see a great film Back on the Big Screen!

View link


MPol on November 10, 2008 at 10:50 pm

I recently saw “Jaws” at Brooklline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre. Wonderful print, and the film was good, too.

MPol on November 10, 2008 at 11:02 pm

Thanks for the correction, PeterApruzzese. That’s good to know.

btw, longislandmovies, where is Lawrence of Arabia opening for you? Just curious.

MPol on November 11, 2008 at 1:48 am

Oh, wow. Have a great time. Lawrence of Arabia periodically comes to our area, also.

markp on November 11, 2008 at 2:57 am

Yes Peter, I too was curious where longisland will be showing “Lawrence of Arabia”

markp on November 11, 2008 at 2:59 am

Opps, my bad, I just noticed it was answered 2 posts above. You have to forgive me, I just got off work from the multiplex in which I am employed.

moviebuff82 on November 11, 2008 at 2:49 pm

Clearview does a classics program in which they show fully restored 35mm prints for smaller theaters and 70mm prints for bigger theaters like the Ziegfeld. Don’t forget that Bluray offers a picture that’s just as good as 35mm.

PeterApruzzese on November 11, 2008 at 3:04 pm

Blu-ray as good as 35mm? Really? Cinema DLP isn’t even as good as 35mm, so how could a consumer format with lower resolution equal it? When was the last time the Ziegfeld ran a 70mm print other than Lawrence of Arabia a couple of years ago? And those ‘fully restored 35mm prints’ that Clearview gets are the same that circulate to other theatres. Hopefully, the other theatres get them first before Clearview’s platter jockeys tear them up.

JSA on November 11, 2008 at 5:24 pm

Regarding the fire at Universal, only the video library and a few of the sets were damaged. None of the stock in their main vault at the site was affected.

As far as the 35 mm classics, there’s no chronic shortage of quality prints in my area.


pkazee on November 11, 2008 at 5:56 pm

35mm is ideal, but digital & dvd are godsends for those in markets outside the largest cities. Until recently, we had just one 2nd Run cinema, and though we did well with 2nd Run blockbusters and higher-profile arthouse fare, we could not afford to present more esoteric indy fare (and we could not even THINK about importing films that lack a U.S. distributor). Recently, however, we opened a 425-seat theatre, enabling us to screen both digitally (via “Emerging Pictures”) and from DVD. This has allowed us to screen a much wider range of films without losing our shirts. It has also allowed us to present genre fests like our recent 24 Hour SciFi Fest and Midnight-To-Dawn Halloween Horror Fest. Next on the agenda… Midnight Motocycle Mahem!

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on November 11, 2008 at 7:00 pm

San Francisco’s infamous Castro Theatre seems to get quality prints for their on-going classic film series -check with them as to who their distributors are. I’m sure they would share if you’re not to close for competition.

A decade ago, when I presented a collection of early Alec Guinness British pictures at the Fine Arts Cinema in Berkeley, Ca., owner “Auntie Jo” returned the faded/trashed junk and received beautiful “vault” quality prints. It always pays to pre-screen your programme first!

Finally, do Union Projectionists receive the best prints, especially for reel-to-reel projection and NOT platter butchered material?

William on November 12, 2008 at 12:53 am

Simon, No Union Projectionists do not receive the best prints. It all depends on the theatre and who the studios let use the finer prints for projection.

JohnMLauter on November 12, 2008 at 3:14 am

We get “preferred status” from the distributors due to our great track record and the fact that we don’t use platters, we do it old school, 20 minute changeovers. Disney let us run “Swiss family Robinson”, which was a very nice print. What distributors do you get your prints from?

markp on November 12, 2008 at 4:07 am

Man did Peter ever hit the nail on the head. Clearviews platter jockeys, dont I know them. The same bunch of little popcorn poppers that put me out of work 4 years ago. And I thought that if youre running classics, you cant platter them. At least thats what Ive been told by some very reliable people. And as far as Justin with his Blue-ray, he likes anything digital or high tech. If you read his posts from various North Jersey venues, you always see he cant wait for digital, and “oh theyre only showing it in 35mm” Give me 35mm and reel-to-reel anyday, anytime, anywhere.

MPol on November 12, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Where’s that, JSA?

btw, longislandmovies, “Milk” is coming to our area too; The Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, MA., later this month. Enjoy “Lawrence of Arabia”. It, too is a wonderful film, although, like most films, it admittedly doesn’t hold the same special place in my heart regarding movies as “West Side Story”.

William on November 12, 2008 at 10:08 pm

I’ve been running “Milk” for the last month.

MPol on November 12, 2008 at 10:36 pm

Sean Penn, who stars as Milk in the movie, is a good actor, so I’d go partly out of wanting to see him
perform, too.

JSA on November 13, 2008 at 1:54 am


I’m in the Los Angeles area. Some of the theatres screening regular classics in 35 mm include the Aero in Santa Monica, the Egyptian in Hollywood and the Bay in Seal Beach.


Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on November 13, 2008 at 4:29 am

We have a series called “AMERICAN CINEMA CLASSICS” We run about 6 to 8 films a year.

MPol on November 13, 2008 at 6:40 am

Thanks, JSA. I’ve heard of the Egyptian, but not the Aero or the Bay.

Btw, longislandmovies, that “American Cinema Classics Series that you run every year consisting of six to eight films sounds terrific. What films have you run so far? Just curious.

nerwall16 on November 15, 2008 at 5:04 am

once a month i was showing a 35mm classic film but the company who owns my building wasnt promoting and the show times were being clipped back and numbers fell off even at 3 and 5 bucks so they put an end to this fantastic event in december. i looked forward to working on these amazing classics every month and its sad to see the classics die but as im told over and over by those who make the rules no one cares about these films anymore

MPol on November 15, 2008 at 5:23 pm

That is so sad, newt wallen. Although I’m not in the Los Angeles area (I’m on the east coast), I, too hate to see the classic films die, but I don’t think they’ll die off altogether, as those kinds of films (Classics) will always have an audience. There’ll always be people who prefer going to the movies and seeing them as they’re meant to be viewed….on a great big, wide movie theatre screen. Again, I’m really sorry to hear that your once-a-month Classic Film event had to end. Let’s hope that you’re able to revive them again soon.

With very rare exceptions, I avoid the big suburban multiplex cinemas like the plague, because they play schlocky movies, have ruder, more immature audiences (both kids and adults alike), they’re too antiseptic-looking for my tastes, the whole atmosphere is sort of plastic, if one gets the drift, plus it gets SUPER-expensive, especially with concessions, etc. The two left-over rerpertory movie houses in our area, the Coolidge and the Brattle, are the only hope, altlhough I’ve driven to neighboring states on a number of occasions to see my alltime favorite film, West Side Story.

nerwall16 on November 15, 2008 at 9:58 pm

i have 2 classics left before they pull the plug on movies alltoghter, the maltese falcon on wednesday and its a wonderfull life in december, but my shows for the christmas movie have been chopped in half so this is the last hurrah. hey i gave it a good fight no matter how many people wanted to see it go down in flames i kept plugging away pitching and getting rejected for all sorts of special film events i would pay for just to have in house. i gave it all i had but as my father told me at some point in my 27 years on this earth “most of the time the things you love will never love you back”

MPol on November 15, 2008 at 10:38 pm

Hey, again—I’m really and truly sorry to see that happen to you, newt wallen. At least you didn’t go down without a fight. I think that the vast majority of people don’t appreciate many of the older classics, because there’s an anti-arts, anti-intellectual streak that’s prevalent all through our society and culture today, and, frankly, not to get too, too political about this, I sincerely doubt that the election of a new president will help remedy that.

However, I do tend to differ somewhat with your father’s analysis of this whole situation, and retain some bit of hope that the great old classic films will once again become popular. I think there’s a meanspiritedness in today’s society that doesn’t make a whole lot of room for small pleasures, but, again, here’s hoping that things will come together again for you at some point. All the best.

nerwall16 on November 16, 2008 at 7:32 pm

thanks, in the end i just couldnt make it work and the plays and concerts make money hand over fist so i cant fault the people who make the decisions but i just feel my fight was all for nothing and its alot for ones pride.

MPol on November 16, 2008 at 11:32 pm

You’re welcome, newt wallen. I understand how you feel. Ordinarily, I’d encourage you to keep plugging away and persevere, but from what you’re describing here, it sounds like this was a fight that you just couldn’t win, and that it wasn’t for lack of trying. It’s too bad that the company that owned the building that your theatre was situated in wouldn’t promote the classic films that you so liked to show. It is a great deal for one’s pride to lose something that means a great deal to them, and, again, I understand how you feel. Anyway, all the best of luck in whatever else you opt to pursue.

KingBiscuits on November 17, 2008 at 5:38 am

I feel for you, Newt. In the area where I live, there is no respect for the arts and those same people run the state government so spending on the arts is considered wasteful spending. In fact, lots of those same people will consider arts as satanic (I wouldn’t be surprised if they were Fred Phelps people). Also, these people will also cut arts spending in schools but won’t cut the more wasteful in spending cheerleading programs. Not only is that wrong but it limits the role models and job opportunities in young and adolescent females.

I would encourage that we should get the state and city governments to help the arts before it is too long. I’m considering trying to get our new governor-elect to pass a bill that would bring film production to the state. Not only does it help the arts but it also promotes the state and it boosts the area’s income. But it would get voted down by the same people who find the arts wasteful spending but not electric chairs or taking money from oil companies.

MPol on November 17, 2008 at 5:57 am

I agree with both of your points, KingBiscuits and newt wallen. However, here’s a question: Do you think it is it possible that our badly-tanked economy is at least part of what’s driving the above-mentioned situation where people have little to no respect for the arts? Quite honestly, the more I think about it, the more I’m of the opinion that this economy has contributed a great deal, and, unfortunately, in an economic downturn, the arts are generally one of the first, if not THE first to go. That being said, I wonder if it’s possible that overall attitudes might change if and when the economy improves.

nerwall16 on November 17, 2008 at 6:22 am

in my case lack of respect for the films by those who run the live theater lack of promotion and internal conflict is what sunk the films

when your tickets are 3 and 5 dollars and there are no weekend show times available how am i to compete with concert tickets set at 40 a piece and plays at 26 each

MPol on November 17, 2008 at 6:28 am

It sounds as if the owners of the building where your theatre was housed really did lack respect for the films that you were showing. You’ve made some good points, newt wallen.

nerwall16 on November 17, 2008 at 6:34 am

but they pay the bills and in the here and now during these trying economic times i should just smile and do what im told

MPol on November 17, 2008 at 6:37 am

I’m not saying that at all, newt wallen. That’s clearly THEiR attitude, which stinks.

KingBiscuits on November 17, 2008 at 7:20 am

It’s been going on since before the crisis, Pol. These Bible Belt people and family values/“We hate different people” folks just don’t want to change their minds.

MPol on November 17, 2008 at 2:10 pm

I’m aware of that, KingBiscuits, and I agree with you. It’s part of the process called the “dumbing down” of America, which has been going on for many years, and it’s not just in the “Bible Belt” area, either. Pretty much the whole country is shot through with those attitudes, and, unfortunately, the present economic downturn has worsened it. I also agree that it ’s inexcuseable..and shameful.

nerwall16 on November 17, 2008 at 5:06 pm

my last response was prompted by the fact the theaters accountant looks at my myspace and facebook all the time so im just covering my bases

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