Film preservation marks 85th anniversary event

Warren Beatty joined forces with McG on Tuesday evening to toast Warners’ commitment toward preserving films for future generations.

Unlikely pair lent their solidarity at a kickoff event for the studio’s 85th anniversary campaign on the lot. Homevid division, which hosted the event, unveiled a series of initiatives including “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Dirty Harry” reissues and a PBS docu on the studio that will partially debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May, provided that creator Richard Schickel, a WGA member, can resume working on it in time. “You Must Remember This,” narrated by longtime lot fixture Clint Eastwood, will air on PBS under the “American Masters” banner in September and bow on disc that month.

Studio also unveiled next year’s “catalog tentpoles,” led by a major reissue of “Woodstock” that is expected to contain at least an hour more footage; studio is working with a series of partners, including the new Woodstock Museum on the site of the concert, on this project. Warners will also reissue “Gone With the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “North by Northwest” to mark their respective anniversaries in 2009.

“We take our legacy very seriously,” said Jeff Baker, senior VP-GM of theatrical catalog, during the reception in the studio’s museum afterward.

The studio has a long history of reissuing classic pics on homevideo, and in recent years the vid division has bankrolled a series of major restoration projects with the expectation that DVD sales would more than pay for the costs.

Beatty, who has been working with the studio on the “Bonnie and Clyde” reissue, saluted the tireless efforts by George Feltenstein, senior VP of marketing for theatrical catalog, to bring classic gems to new auds.

“I think we pretty much accept that Warners is the leader in this stuff,” Beatty said. “I’m into this for the preservation — and I don’t mind making some money on it.”

In a typically digressive style, he traced his interest in classic films backwards, moving from a conversation with Mike Nichols about Clifford Odets to a seminal meeting with the playwright and Rita Hayworth at Romanoff’s shortly after he appeared in “Splendor in the Grass,” his first film role. Along the way, he mentioned his appreciation for the beauty of Amazon and Best Buy reps in the aud, before assuring, “I’m not hitting on you.

Beatty stands to make even more in the future: Besides the “Bonnie and Clyde” reissue, the studio is working on a “Splendor in the Grass” reissue as part of a Natalie Wood collection this year.

McG, meanwhile, admitted he might not be the first person who comes to mind for leading the film preservation charge, but stressed its importance to him and other younger filmmakers. Helmer, who is prepping the fourth “Terminator” installment for the studio, said he plans to remain true to the franchise while also updating it in his pic.

Warners, which was formed April 4, 1923, will bow more than 50 classic pics on disc this year. Every year, the studio makes a point of bringing more library pics onto disc; it has released 1,400 pics so far. Among this year’s debuts: “Kid Galahad,” “The Beast With Five Fingers” and “Flamingo Road.” Homevid arm has planned major campaigns around various Frank Sinatra pics (his progeny was also on hand for the reception) and film noir classics.

“The dirty little secret of our business is that it’s also a wonderful opportunity for us to do a few things that we probably wouldn’t be able to do,” said Warner Home Video topper Ron Sanders, citing the studio’s restoration efforts. And this, he said, “allows us to reintroduce these films to new audiences.”

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