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Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Restoration of Major Dundee: Robert A Harris talks to Grover Crisp of Sony Pictures

RAH: I know you've had a number of projects in the works, to which you return when something positive occurs, such as finding a new bit of film or audio. Is there anything that you're comfortable discussing for public consumption?
GC: You and I discussed the missing elements and various ideas surrounding Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee (1965) years ago when Sony / Columbia had done a thorough search of our elements in known inventories. The problem was that we couldn't find much. The studio did not keep most of the trims and outtakes or sound mix elements (no 1/4" dailies, for instance), and definitely did not keep any lifts or deleted scenes in either positive or negative form. A few trims existed, but most of that is just for what is already in the film. Some minor outs exist in negative form, but no audio pre-mixes, or anything like that, existed. I knew we had a slightly longer version in the separation masters, but they were incomplete. We continued our search and consolidating worldwide inventories and, frankly, struck gold this past year, when we found a complete soundtrack for a longer version. Complete and finished in every way. This led me back to looking for picture to match and, sure enough, the track matched the version in the seps.
RAH: To cinephiles, this is exciting and important - especially to the many Peckinpah fans out there. This material had been thought lost for nearly forty years. When did it all start to come together?
GC: I started looking into this film seriously around 1995, and I believe inspecting the minimal amount of trims that existed was one of the first things Mike Pogorzelski did at the Academy when he started there as an archivist. Michael Friend [founding director of the AMPAS archive] and I decided to bring AMPAS in on the project, the project being to determine just what we had here in terms of picture trims, to see if anything was really of use. It was a useful exercise and Mike inspected other elements, of course, but it led nowhere, looked hopeless, and I did not have time to put into it then. Plus, we were missing some key reels, two records from different reels of the seps and one reel of original negative, all of which had some of the longer scenes. So, in the intervening years, storage facilities closed, we move things around, and we looked for new or misidentified material all the time, but especially in the period of '97 to 2002.
RAH: When did you decide to take on the project in earnest?
GC: I finally decided to tackle this film about two years ago, knowing at the time we had incomplete elements, and decided to work with Tom Heitman at Cineric laboratory in New York. He and Balazs Nyari, who owns Cineric, are some of the key people in the restoration lab business in this country, always willing to push the envelope and try new things. I had worked with Cineric on Funny Girl, the fade process titles like The Man from Laramie, Bell, Book and Candle, My Sister Eileen, etc. Plus, I knew we would have to recombine the seps for about half the film to get the new scenes and Cineric is very good at handling recombination of masters, Tech 3-strip shows, odd formats, and so forth.
RAH: How about the audio?
GC: Initially, I thought we would need to go back to square one with the audio and re-record a lot, which was one of the reasons I was postponing getting into it to begin with, but in the course of going through all the audio tracks - which had been done once years before - the longer version magnetic track, a complete mono DME [A DME is a three stripe containing Dialogue, Music and Effects] was identified. It was never identified prior to that as differing from the other tracks. All audio elements, whether magnetic, optical, English, Music and Effects, all foreign language tracks, including French - every bit of it matches the short version as originally released. So, it was only in deciding to go through all of it again that we discovered this one lone magnetic element that was longer. Same number of reels. Both versions are eight double reels, with four common to both versions, four different. Not much in the way of editing or rearranging of scenes was done. The deleted scenes were basically just lifted - however, and fortunately, not until after the seps had been made.
RAH: There's no doubt that you're looking under every rock and going through every frame of every element. It had been rumored that a cut of the film in the area of 143 minutes was the preferred Peckinpah cut. The current version runs about 124. How close have you been able to come to the grail?
GC: After all the searches and all the work, we are creating the longest version we can for which we have completed English audio. Outside of the approximately 12 minutes of footage in the seps, there really is nothing more and I realistically don't expect to see anything turn up in the future, so we might as well go forward with what we can right now.
RAH: That's a huge difference, if you've gotten the running time up to the 136 minute area. If you can find the time, it might be instructive to discuss several of your other projects. For now, I'm sure the question that's going to be asked on HTF is "When is Major Dundee going to come out on DVD?"
GC: We are rapidly approaching completion of the restoration and will transfer it in HD in the next two months. Incidentally, I screened a work-in-progress print for about half a dozen of the top Peckinpah scholars just three days ago and they were really enthusiastic about it, both the quality of the work and the version we have. It is not, technically, a director's cut, of course, since the director is not with us, but we have put back scenes that they had only heard about before, including from Peckinpah himself, and had never seen. The release for the new DVD looks to be around June of 2005. It will be preceded by a theatrical release, beginning in April in New York.
RAH: This is going to be exciting news in the home video area. We just went online at The Digital Bits with a conversation with Warner's George Feltenstein, who has been working hard to create a higher quality home video software environment with the Warner library. The good news here is that Columbia also has someone in place, not only overseeing asset protection, but working actively to reconstruct and restore their library while holding the line on quality. I understand that you've recently gained a voice in all library remastering and what elements are selected. This portends to be a very good thing for the studio, with more control over original aspect ratios and proper versions. Let's try to talk again soon.

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