To Recap: Carl Macek and Jerry Beck established Streamline Pictures in 1988 with a mission to accurately dub Japanese animation after years of substandard, dumbed-down dialogue and replaced music – and to distribute anime in the U.S. (first to art theaters, then on VHS) to an audience that was not being served by the traditional Hollywood studios. Between 1988 and 1990, Beck and Macek dubbed Miayazaki’s Totoro and Kiki, and began distributing Laputa: Castle In The Sky, Twilight Of The Cockroaches, Lensman and Akira to cinemas in the United States.
Continuing my story: I was hired as Streamline Pictures’ first employee in January 1991. For this post, let’s switch to an outline format to see what Streamline accomplished from 1991 through 1993.
Robot Carnival premiered theatrically at the Cinema 21 in Portland, Oregon, on January 25 – 31.
The Zillion #2 and Zillion #3 Video Comics were released. Streamline also distributed Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation #1 on video for Spike and Mike’s Mellow Manor Productions.
The first fan-magazine article about Streamline appeared in Animato! #21, Spring 1991; “Dateline: Streamline — Carl Macek on Streamline Pictures and Life After Robotech“, by Bob Miller (4 pages).
The Castle of Cagliostro (subtitled) premiered theatrically at the Film Forum in New York City, NY, on April 3 – 4. We got a 35 m.m. print from TMS, which had subtitled it in English to try (without success) to sell the movie for American general theatrical release. Despite what has been said on Retro Junk and elsewhere about MGM doing the subtitling in 1991, this was the same subtitled print that TMS had been showing in 1980.
The Zillion #4 and Zillion #5 Video Comics were released.
The Comic-Con moved to the new San Diego Convention Center in 1991. Streamline Pictures had an exhibitor’s booth there every year through at least 1996, with a professional portable display backdrop, beginning in 1992, that Carl brought every year. We may have had a booth in 1997; I don’t remember. We had definitely stopped attending as an exhibitor by 1998, although Carl and I still attended as individuals.
Carl was most enthusiastic about “rediscovering” the “lost” Colonel Bleep TV cartoons, made by the long-closed Soundac studio in Miami, and getting in contact with the director of Colonel Bleep, Jack Schleh. By this time Schleh was severely arthritic, living in a retirement community in Miami Florida. He was gratefully enthusiastic to have Colonel Bleep remembered, and eager to help us get it out on video. He bombarded Streamline with long handwritten letters with his memories of the Soundac staff producing the cartoons, covered with his distinctive Colonel Bleep art in water-color and colored pencil. Jerry Beck visited Mr. Schleh on behalf of Streamline and handed him a copy of Streamline’s first VHS release of Colonel Bleep shortly before he passed away. More sadly, all the Colonel Bleep masters that had been in storage in a Texas warehouse for decades, for 104 five-minute episodes, mostly turned out to be beyond restoration. Streamline got only two half-hour videos out of them, with covers in Schleh’s art style by Mike Kazaleh.August
Space Angel #1 Video Comics was released. Space Angel had been made by Cambria Productions, the same studio that produced the better-known Clutch Cargo, also using the Synchro-Vox “living lips” process. Carl thought that Space Angel videos might be even more popular than Clutch Cargo because of its science-fiction/outer-space plot, and its Alex Toth art design; but they weren’t.
Fist of the North Star premiered theatrically (dubbed by Carl) at the Tower Theatre & Video in Salt Lake City, Utah, on September 27 – October 3. By this time, more of L.A.’s C/FO members wanted to help out around Streamline. Carl invited them to come to the audio studio during the Fist dubbing sessions and provide the background “wallah” crowd-noises. Since none of the fans were in the Screen Actors Guild, Carl would not let any of them have real speaking roles.
Clutch Cargo #2 and Zillion Special: Burning Night Video Comics were released.
Colonel Bleep #2 Video Comics was released.
Lensman and Robot Carnival became Video Comics releases; Streamline’s second and third theatrical features to enter the video market. Space Angel #2, with a cover by animator Peter Chung, was also released.
Capital City Distribution named Akira as its top-selling video title for 1991, as reported by sales statistics by over 1,800 comics-specialty retailers throughout North America.
Streamline’s Twilight of the Cockroaches was released on laser disc through Lumivision. This was the first American anime laser disc title.
The features Planet Busters, Robotech II: The Sentinels, and Windaria, and the TV series Nadia (#1), were released as Video Comics. I don’t usually approve of changing the titles of foreign films when they’re “Americanized”, but I had to agree that the Japanese title of Planet Busters – Birth – would be deadly for American sales. Carl had high hopes for the popularity of the new, American-made Robotech II: The Sentinels, since almost none of the American fans of the Robotech TV cartoons had been able to see the undistributed movie, but I don’t recall that it sold much better than usual for anime on home video at the time.
Vampire Hunter D (subtitled) premiered theatrically at the Cleveland Cinematheque in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 26 – 28.
The Nadia #2 and Vampire Hunter D (dubbed) Video Comics were released.
A collection of David Hand’s classic late 1940s British theatrical “Animaland” and “Musical Paintbox” cartoons was released as David Hand’s Animaland #1, on the Video Comics’ Archive Series.
Streamline produced four promotional buttons at the VSDA Eleventh Annual Convention, in Las Vegas, Nevada, featuring Kaneda from Akira, Ken from Fist of the North Star, Lupin III from The Castle of Cagliostro, and D from Vampire Hunter D. They quickly became collectables.
Nadia #3 was released.
Nadia #4 was released.
Protoculture Addicts #18, July-August 1992, profiled Streamline Pictures and featured a “video fest” extensive review of all its titles, in “Spotlight: Streamline Pictures”, by Fred Patten & Emru Townsend; ed. by Claude J. Pelletier (11 pages).
Fist of the North Star and Twilight of the Cockroaches (dubbed) were released on video.
The Professional: Golgo 13 premiered theatrically at the Brattle Theatre, Cambridge, MA, on October 2 – 3.
The Castle of Cagliostro (dubbed) and Nadia #5 were released as Video Comics.
3 X 3 Eyes #1 was released on video.
The Neo-Tokyo / Silent Möbius double-bill premiered theatrically at The Biograph, Georgetown, Washington, D.C., on November 20 – December 3.
Streamline began to release the Robotech series on video, with the regular series Robotech: The Macross Saga #1, Robotech: The Robotech Masters #1, and Robotech: the New Generation #1 (four episodes per video), and Robotech Perfect Collection: Macross #1, Robotech Perfect Collection: Southern Cross #1, and Robotech Perfect Collection: Mospeada #1 (two episodes in the original Japanese versions, with subtitles, and the corresponding two episodes from the American Robotech versions).
Sometime around here, Carl negotiated with a rich Malaysian investor to put so much money into Streamline Pictures that he would essentially have bought the company. He claimed that he had been knighted by the Sultan of Malaysia, and Carl instructed us to address him as “Sir Lee” (or “Sir Li”) whenever he came around. The theory was that he would become the figurehead president of Streamline Pictures, with Carl as General Manager or some similar title who would continue to run the company, using Sir Lee’s money to considerably expand operations. Carl worked out a very favorable deal; a contract was drawn up; and just as Carl was about to sign it, he asked to reread it. The contract was NOT what Carl had been shown earlier. It essentially fired the entire Streamline staff; made Sir Lee’s son the General Manager with an exorbitant salary; and looked like what Carl could tell from a hasty reading would have turned Streamline into a money-laundering front. Carl figuratively threw Sir Lee out.
Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex Theater in Santa Monica, CA presented a two-month Festival of Japanese Animation, featuring eight of Streamline’s theatrical anime features: Fist of the North Star, The Professional: Golgo 13, Neo-Tokyo/Silent Möbius, Lensman, The Castle of Cagliostro, Robot Carnival, Twilight of the Cockroaches, and Wicked City.
Dirty Pair: Affair on Nolandia, Nadia #6, Robotech: The Macross Saga #2, Robotech: The New Generation #2, and 3 X 3 Eyes #2 were released as Video Comics.
Lensman was released as a bilingual laser disc by Lumivision.
The Speed Racer Show, 80 minutes, premiered theatrically at the Ken Cinema, in San Diego, California, on May 13 – 16. This was the only “original” theatrical feature that Streamline Pictures produced. It was almost entirely Jerry Beck’s project. Here is his description of it:
“Carl had known father and son John & Jim Rocknowski for years. They had the U.S. rights to Speed Racer and were exploiting them – getting the show on MTV around 1991 (or so) was a big deal which boosted the show’s popularity anew. I met them a few times with Carl during the early Streamline days – and one day in (I believe) 1992, Carl walks into the office and tells me we can distribute a Speed Racer movie. I say, ‘Great – what is it, where is it?’ He says, ‘I don’t know, we will have to put one together’. I insist that I take a larger role in producing this film because it’ll be my neck on the line if it isn’t good – and I wanted to make sure it was at least a “decent” theatrical program.
“First thing we did, with the Rocknowskis’ approval, was to go to a film warehouse in the Valley (I forgot where it was) and look through their film holdings. Everything was 16mm, and most of the episodes had their color fading. The only useable thing we found there was a can of 35mm with the original Mach GoGoGo show opening in Japanese.
“Because of this, I inquired about if the show was shot in 35mm – and was there any way to get original negatives? The Rocknowskis contacted Tatsunoko and we found out that they would send us a duplicated neg of any episodes we wanted! I selected ‘The Car Hater’ (because it explained the Mach 5 and how it worked) and ‘The Race Against the Mammoth Car’ (just because I liked that one) and they sent us the uncut negatives. We matched this material against the English track re-recorded off a 16mm print. There were a few scenes in the Japanese version that weren’t in the US TV version as I recall, but they were action shots that did not require new dialogue. Once I knew we had Speed Racer with good color and crystal clear 35mm elements, I knew we had a viable ‘movie’.
“We wanted to ‘plus’ the film beyond just Speed Racer episodes – so we used the original Japanese opening titles and mixed it with a rock Speed Racer track that the Rocknowskis had the rights to. Streamline had been trying to make a feature out of old commercials from Playhouse Pictures – so we used several of those in the places where there was a commercial break – a Bondex commercial, a Smokey The Bear spot, A Flit bug spray commercial and a Milk Carton ad. We also restored the Colonel Bleep cartoon episode ‘The Treacherous Pilot’ and added that between the two Speed Racer story lines.
“The Rocknowskis then sold The Speed Racer Movie to USA Home Video… Beyond assembling the feature and the theatrical release, Streamline had nothing else to do with it.”
Streamline’s theatrical poster for the movie was seen on the wall of Ross Geller (David Schwimmer)’s apartment in the first (pilot) episode of the 1994-2004 TV series Friends (click to enlarge frame grabs below). The Speed Racer Show was renamed Speed Racer: The Movie by USA Home Entertainment (aka Family Home Entertainment) for VHS release and was commonly known under that title by the general public, and is often confused today with the live-action Speed Racer theatrical feature produced by Andy & Lana Wachowski and their company, released in May 2008.
A Los Angeles gala premiere of The Speed Racer Show on June 9 at the Nuart Theater was hosted by KROQ-FM d.j. Richard Blade, and featured personal appearances by the original voice actors Peter Fernandez (Speed Racer) and Corinne Orr (Trixie). They were interviewed on KTLA’s Morning News and on KROC radio. The first day was a sellout at the Nuart.
Lensman, Robot Carnival, and Vampire Hunter D appeared as a Festival of Japanese Animation on The Sci-Fi Channel, on June 19th.
Doomed Megalopolis #1, Nadia #7, Robotech: The Robotech Masters #2, 3 X 3 Eyes #3, and 3 X 3 Eyes #4 were released.
Jerry Beck left Streamline Pictures to pursue other animation projects. Jerry had always been interested in animation in general, not just Japanese animation specifically, and he began to get frustrated by being seen as “only” an anime specialist. The immediate reason for his leaving was getting a contract with Ted Turner’s Turner Publishing in Atlanta to write the book The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals. This was a lavish, full-color, coffee-table book that helped elevate Jerry to the ranks of a “Well-Known Animation Expert” amongst those in the industry and the animators in the field. The 50 Greatest Cartoons was published in October 1994. Jerry did not return to Streamline Pictures. He went on to become a producer with Harvey Entertainment (The Baby Huey Show), an executive at Nickelodeon, Disney, and later freelance consult to Warner Bros., Columbia, and other American animation producers; writing more animation books; creating online animation-specialty websites; and more.
Meanwhile back at Streamline – Wendy Horowitz (a friend of Jerry’s) took over the film distribution duties. On video, Doomed Megalopolis #2, Nadia #8 and The Professional: Golgo 13 were released as Video Comics. This was Streamline’s final production of the Nadia series, even though the Japanese TV serial went on for a total of 39 episodes. The series completed its first story arc with episode #8, and Carl used the eight episodes that he produced in English as a promotional mini-feature to try to sell Nadia to all the TV networks. If he had made a sale, Streamline would have used the network’s money to produce the remaining episodes in English. Carl never succeeded, and Streamline went out of production before he gave up and returned to dubbing further episodes as Video Comics VHS cassettes.
Six of Streamline’s Video Comics titles were released in mass-market sell-through editions by Best Film & Video: The Castle of Cagliostro, Lensman, Robot Carnival, Windaria, Zillion: The Beginning (episodes #1 – #3), and Zillion Special: Burning Night.
Vampire Hunter D was released as a bilingual laser disc by Lumivision.
Wicked City premiered theatrically at the Drexel Theatre, in Columbus, Ohio, on August 20 – 26.
Streamline Pictures moved to its own address, a large, airy two-story building (former warehouse) at the inland edge of Santa Monica, about thirty blocks from the beach; 2908 Nebraska Avenue, Santa Monica, California 90404. I got a large office all my own on the second floor, with a big picture window. At this time or just before, Streamline began to hire more employees, including a full-time secretary, Kara Redmon. We ended up with about a dozen employees overall, most in the new Streamline 3-D division. The building was tastefully decorated by Svea Macek in a red, yellow, and blue motif. I asked if there was any Romanian tie-in, since those are the Romanian national colors. She said that that was just a coincidence; she chose them because they looked pretty together. She also chose Streamline’s modernistic new furniture, and all aspects of the interior decoration.
Streamline started a separate division, informally dubbed Streamline 3-D, to design, manufacture, and market high-quality resin model kits, of figures taken from Streamline Pictures’ popular animation titles and (eventually) other licensed properties. The new division, managed by Al Zequeira, was set up in the rear of Streamline’s new building, with large resin vats and molds. Its first four models were 1:25 scale models of four of the Speed Racer racing cars.
Doomed Megalopolis #3 and Lupin III: Tales of the Wolf #1 were released, along with Neo-Tokyo and Silent Möbius as separate Video Comics titles. Streamline got a lot of flak from the anime purists over publicizing Lupin III as “The Wolf”.
Robot Carnival and Robotech II: The Sentinels were released as laser discs by Lumivision. Akira was released by Voyager/Criterion as a bilingual CAV three-disc laser boxed set, with Streamline-supplied supplemental material including samples of the Japanese and American editions of Otomo’s original manga, storyboards, production materials, and more.
I don’t have a date for this, but I remember it as happening very soon after Streamline moved into its new building, around the end of 1993. Carl called everyone into the lunchroom and announced that Streamline had a brand-new logo. He had never been fond of the old logo that Jerry had chosen. Streamline Pictures had no connection with a streamlined locomotive, and a “Streamliner” design may have been cutting-edge in the 1930s, but it looked too old-fashioned today. He had gotten a friend (I promptly forgot his name — It wasn’t Chris Casady) to create a new CGI logo of the name “Streamline Pictures” in golden, then silvery chrome rising from molten lava and soaring into outer space; with a musical background. The new Streamline Pictures lettering (based on that of our Comic-Con display backdrop, which we’d also used at the 12th VSDA convention in July 1993) would be featured in black-&-white on our new stationery and business cards. We agreed that this was a big improvement over the old logo, and looked more competitive with the more modern-looking logos of the other anime specialty video releasers. This new logo was used through the end of the company.
Next week: Streamline Pictures, 1994 to 1996.