Brian Jamieson's passion for cinematic treasures was evident last fall when he came to Victoria with actor Nancy Kwan to showcase To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen's Journey, his documentary on the screen legend.
Now the veteran Warner Bros. marketing and distribution executive is conveying that passion through another labour of love Twilight Time, a limited edition label devoted to meticulously restored classics never before released on video or DVD.
Jamieson and fellow film aficionado Nick Redman, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and music restoration specialist, have signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Screen Archives Entertainment. Their specialty DVD label's ambitious slate of 100 films will be released on the Washington, D.C.-based retailer's website, beginning this week with John Huston's 1970 thriller The Kremlin Letter.
Beginning next month, 3,000 units of each film will be released on the second Tuesday of each month for the first six months, he said. They hope to ramp it up to two releases per month, and then three titles monthly by the end of their first year.
Each film will be accompanied by an eight-page booklet with an original essay, stills and poster art. Most packages will include the film's original trailer and wherever possible a bonus for fans of film music an isolated score.
Screen Archives, the largest independent distributor of specialty soundtracks in the U.S. with 50,000 subscribers worldwide, is the ideal venue, Jamieson says, because it targets cineastes who have been clamouring for such screen gems.
Initial offerings will include Violent Saturday (1955), Richard Fleischer's crime melodrama; Fate is the Hunter (1964), starring Kwan and Glenn Ford; the Susan Hayward vehicle Woman Obsessed (1959); and The Egyptian (1954), with Jean Simmons and Victor Mature.
"There seems to have been a void going back to the days of VHS," Jamieson says. "Film buffs crave certain titles. Most studios have deep catalogues but they're not always available for release. The negatives or elements might have been damaged, and it would cost a certain amount of money they'd have to recoup to bring the masters up to standard for release."
Although it has taken a year of negotiations to seal their initial deal with Twentieth Century Fox, the studio has been very receptive, Jamieson says.
It granted them permission to work with Fox's technical gurus to ensure beautifully restored presentations in original aspect ratios.
"When you're dealing with studios it can take forever," says Jamieson, who collaborated with Stanley Kubrick on the late visionary's release of his films from Full Metal Jacket (1987) to Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
It helped that Jamieson is well-connected, has executed worldwide campaigns for movies including The Deep, Spider-Man and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and is a respected film preservationist. He oversaw restorations of a host of classics during his tenure at Warner Home Video, including Sam Fuller's The Big Red One and Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch.
"The advent of DVD brought about restoration," he says. "The studios realized they had to preserve their cinematic legacy."
Twilight Time is a "win-win" project, Jamieson asserts, as it lets a studio test the waters of the release potential of under-valued titles without the high overhead it would have to factor in if the studio did it itself.
Studios tend to spend their money more on repackaging A-list titles, he says.
"We're just two people a lean and mean model," says the New Zealander, whose company is under-writing all the manufacturing costs as they go.
While Fox gets a guaranteed royalty without incurring costs, the title then reverts back to the studio, which can later release it through its general catalogue once the last unit is sold.
Jamieson is already being inundated with emails and attention from bloggers and film collectors who are notorious for criticizing studios for not releasing more obscure titles like The Kremlin Letter.
"Fox was constantly taking heat for that, so it was worthwhile for them from that point of view," he says. "We're getting lists from all over. "Someone said, 'From Hell to Texas. Can you do that?' It's creating a lot of excitement."
The enthusiasm of cineastes willing to purchase a restored film shouldn't be underestimated, Jamieson says.
"Take Boy on a Dolphin, a film that's never been released on home entertainment. They put a soundtrack out, just 2,500 units and it sold out in seven days through Screen Archives. It's very hard to find such soundtracks."
They even got a call from John Guillermin, the director of Fox's Rapture, wondering if they would be interested in releasing his 1965 coming-of-age drama starring Melvyn Douglas and Dean Stockwell.
"We researched it and the elements looked good," he says. "It's a lost title in many ways, but highly releasable."
On the web: screenarchives.com