One of the most celebrated movies of all time, Federico Fellini’s 1963 classic 8 1/2, will soon be hitting theaters once again, thanks to Corinth Films. The company is quickly becoming renowned as one of the best distributors of classic, influential movies. For the re-release of 8 1/2, they’ve pulled out all the stops. The movie will be shown in a new 35mm print and receive a nationwide rollout. Corinth Films’ re-release of 8 1/2 premiered at New York City’s Lincoln Plaza Cinemas (and in Los Angeles) on March 26, and opened around the country on April 16.
MM recently caught up with John M. Poole, the president of Corinth Films, to discuss the re-release strategy of 8 1/2 and why his company is emerging as a haven for classic movie lovers around the country.
Michael Walsh (MM): What is Corinth Films’ general philosophy when choosing a classic film to redistribute? Is your first goal to choose films that are very likely to do well commercially, or are you more interested in bringing relevance to movies that have been forgotten and deserve their place in the history books?
John M. Poole (JP): It is a combination of the two, with the main goal being to choose films that are exceptionally good, have a firm place in cinema history and should not (and will not) be forgotten. Corinth has for many, many years (we were founded in 1977) re-released cinema classics like Aleksandr Nevskiy, Battleship Potyomkin, Ivan the Terrible (parts one and two), Breathless, The Earrings of Madame de…, Hiroshima mon amour and Woman in the Dunes when 35mm was the main format for theatrical and 16mm for non-theatrical exhibition. We were involved in the early years of rediscovering and re-releasing such seminal classics as Luis Buñuel’s L’âge d’or, which previously had never been shown theatrically and enjoyed a very successful run at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater [in New York City].
The key to re-releasing these great films was to find a balance with spending enough to acquire, make prints, advertise and promote them—without spending too much and going out of business. We were successful, to a degree, at both.
MM: How has the world of distribution and restoration changed since the company began in 1977? How has Corinth been able to keep up?
JP: Mainly, it is the costs for making 35mm prints, which are three times what they were when we started out. Also [different is] the rapidly evolving delivery technology—from huge, 35mm ICC cases to thin wafers today—which is good, but causes continual remastering to reproduce the end product in new formats. With a large library like Corinth’s, this is a very substantial cost.
Also, the difficulty getting financing for various acquisitions was a major issue. With a small company such as ours, banks won’t loan against film rights and profits are never large enough for major investors. Today the market is much more fragmented, lowering the price per viewing of our movies. For instance, the costs for manufacturing black-and-white prints have tripled since we started out, yet film rental minimum guarantees have stayed the same—certainly not a good prospect for staying in business.
Restoration is another big problem, cost-wise. Corinth has been trying to restore several films such as Edgar Ulmer’s classic Detour and William Cameron Menzies’ Invaders from Mars, part of the incredible Wade Williams Collection that Corinth distributes for producer/archivist Wade Williams. The problem is locating all the original elements necessary to correct deterioration in existing elements and the enormous cost of doing frame-by-frame digital restoration, which can easily run over $100,000. The key here—and I can’t say that we’ve overcome this hurdle—is to choose only those films that will give you the best return on your investment. Do you go with your heart or with your business instincts? I believe it is a balance, probably slightly favoring what your heart tells you, otherwise you don’t take the risk—and no risk, no reward.
The other major concern today is, you’ve got great classics like Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thieves, which Corinth just re-released, and Fellini’s 8 1/2, but how do you release these in today’s climate of fragmented viewing, with advertising costs relatively high and exorbitant print costs? In the not-too-distant past, exhibitors would help with the advertising, but today it is all in the hands of the distributor. And if you don’t do it, the theater won’t and the film dies. The only good thing, which we are trying to perfect, is doing a good job of creating and placing ads, posters, trailer; getting good publicity; and utilizing the incredible communication network of the Internet. Above all else, though, you must have a really good film that tells a strong story and has characters that you can identify with and feel empathy for in the circumstances of their celluloid world. Your heart must really be in it, or else you will fail.
MM: When was the idea of releasing 8 1/2 first brought up? How did it come to be?
JP: 8 1/2, being such a great film, is always in most cinephiles’ “Top 10” lists, and you always have to consider re-releasing after a hiatus of 10 years or so. But you must have a good reason to do it to rouse the public. With The Bicycle Thieves, we hadn’t done a re-release since Kino International did it for us in 1999, so in 2009 we hit the 10 year mark. In addition, it was the film’s 60th anniversary, having premiered in New York on December 11, 1949.
After the smash hit Broadway musical Nine and most recently The Weinstein Company’s release of Rob Marshall’s Nine, this was obviously a good time to do it since the public would be most receptive to the idea of seeing the original film, which has been the inspiration for so many major filmmakers. My first thought was, ‘Oh my God, we must do it, or else Corinth would be remiss in not making this film available to a new audience in the format originally intended, in a movie theater.’ But it is really scary when you have to spend upwards of $60,000 just to launch a re-release with some semblance of credibility, and then turn around and do it all over again, and again, and again.
MM: Were there any specific challenges in remastering 8 1/2 for these new 35mm prints?
JP: Many! First and foremost [we ask], ‘How good is the 35mm picture and track negative we have been storing for all these years?’ Fortunately, the answer turned out to be positive.
MM: Where do you see the future of Corinth Films? Will its main goal always be to distribute classic films or will contemporary films ever fall into the mix?
JP: Corinth will certainly continue to re-release and distribute classic films, but it is now paramount for us to work on acquiring contemporary films to complement, and hopefully continue, our long line of great classics. That is the key to our future: Finding the next gem in the rough of all that is available at the many film festivals and other film markets. But we are also looking for more edgy films, which was the staple of Corinth release schedule in the past with films like Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization, Lech Kowalski’s D.O.A., The Who’s Quadrophenia, directed by Franc Roddam, and films on the edge of the independent scene.
Good commercial films are plentiful, but film masterpieces are very rare and don’t often spring full-blown onto the public consciousness—some even go undetected. This is our mission: To find them and give them a proper send-off. Of course, we will certainly welcome good commercial films, as long as they have the ingredients of a good story and appealing characters.
For more information on Corinth Films, please visit http://www.corinthfilms.com.