Recently the splashy rereleases have been prestige films that started life as culture shockers: The Wild Bunch, Midnight Cowboy, Belle de Jour, Taxi Driver. But the incoming tide promises more market value than shock, as the big studios trot out oldies that are goodies…for the bottom line if nothing else. ”Studios aren’t doing it out of some abstract love of film preservation,” says UCLA film archivist Charles Hopkins. ”They’ve discovered there is money to be made.”
Sony Pictures repertory director Michael Schlesinger admits that a refurbished Heavy Metal, the 1981 stoner cartoon, was unveiled March 8 mainly to promote the home-video release. ”Even if you only make a couple hundred thousand dollars, the media attention translates into sales,” he says, adding that preservation was indeed an issue. ”All of my [original] prints were crap.”
Kids’ movies are old reliables. Disney has recycled its backlist for years (Oliver & Company is its latest revival), and this August Warner Bros. has a natural that’s ripe for rediscovery in 1971’s Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Warner’s 40th-anniversary release of James Dean’s Giant is harder to figure in one respect: The studio’s own Dean biopic has been so slow to develop that it may miss profiting from the ongoing Dean resurgence. Meanwhile, vintage eye-openers hang in with 1975’s girl-gang flick The Switchblade Sisters, which Quentin Tarantino’s Miramax division, Rolling Thunder, will offer in May. And now playing at selected midnight shows: Showgirls, rereleased by MGM last week with a whole new shamelessness — as a budding camp classic.