Happy news from the “new set” front!
Private Snafu Golden Classics on Blu-ray is finished and starts shipping tomorrow. You can order the set here
Of course, most of you know this already… and know about Snafu… but if you don’t know: the Pvt. Snafu cartoons are a wonderful series, with some of the best early 40s work of the Schlesinger/Warner Brothers studios. They’re among my favorite cartoons, and we’re happy to finally have the set available. I greatly appreciate the funny, beautifully made films the studio did as entertainment for the troops – and we’re all fortunate the National Archives preserved their work in 35mm. For our part, the set was in production here about a year and a half, with the majority of that time involving digital cleanup of the films.
Some of the time was spent trying to track down the best material contained at the US National Archives. The archive folks are wonderful to work with, and went to extra lengths to help us get the best material for the set. All of the films (except one) are from 35mm material, and that one film has the soundtrack from 35mm. I think this is the best we’ll see these films looking any time soon, and while not absolutely perfect, they happily they look quite nice.
The National Archives and Research Administration (NARA) has two archives: Archives I is part of the Mall in Washington, DC and contains all the records of the country through the end of the 19th Century. Archives II, in College Park, Maryland, picks up in 1900 or so, and contains the archived materials from that point on. This archive is much bigger than the one in the Mall – it’s an astonishingly huge building. It contains the majority of the materials archived by the government from World War II. There is so much material in the archives from that period that it’s unclear what percentage of it has actually been looked at since the war, and much remains in only a basic description in the archive.
A majority of the motion picture material produced by the US government is there. Some of the film material is stored at another location, something I was previously unaware of. There is no nitrate at the archives proper, but some is stored offsite, other material ended up at the Library of Congress.
The Pvt. Snafu Cartoons were actually produced on safety film, from negative on, as much of the material produced by the government during WW2 was. Vernon Early, an archivist at NARA, told me in 2005 that the many things were produced on Safety films because the shipment of the material across the country to the capital for various approvals. These original safety materials haven’t survived as well as some nitrate materials, funny enough- the original stock suffered shrinkage. The National Archives preserved this material by making new master positives off the original negatives, and sometimes a dupe negative if only an original master positive exists. The archives makes these materials available to copy.
For those interested in how the process works in getting materials from the National Archives: When you order a film (or other materials), one of the archivists there takes your list and finds the material’s ‘vendor copy’ for you to make a copy from. Usually the ‘original isn’t lent, just in case damage occurs. This copy is then couriered to a lab or transfer house of your choice from their approved vendor list. There is no choice of what quality of material you will receive – it might be only a generation down from the original, or perhaps several down… you cross your fingers and hope to get the best you can.
After a handful of visits to the archive during the first Snafu set (back in 2010), I got to know the folks a little, and learned that it was possible to see all the copies they had on a particular film. This led to retransferring some of the materials we had just done back then, and even more for this newest set. Back then, some of the materials were just not available in 35mm. For the new Snafu Blu-ray, the archives was nice enough (after asking very nicely…) to lend us some of the earliest generation of materials if we we willing to make a new vendor master for them as well.. so of course we did.
The Snafu films and set got lots of TLC from the small but dedicated folks working for Thunderbean on the set. I owe special thanks to Mel McCann, Thad Komorowski and David Grauman for their excellent cleanup work on the set. I worked on a lot of the films myself. Mark Kausler provided a better print of Operation Snafu than what NARA had. David Gerstein tracked down amazing materials for the new still galleries, including original scripts and storyboards (including a Snafu that was never made) along with ‘notes from the field’- feedback from the army camps about the Snafu cartoons. We are very happy to again have Eric Goldberg’s wonderful Snafu portrait for the Blu-ray cover, with Mel (Miller) Bontrager’s background touches.
John McElwee of Greenbriar Picture Shows provided essential help at critical moments- I’m very grateful for this assistance. His blog is always a great read, with many rare stills and publicity items. Go HERE!
John also released a fantastic book called Showmen, Sell it Hot! Movies as Merchandise in Golden Era Hollywood. It’s a unique, well researched and interesting look into the marketing side of Hollywood- and the images in this book are astonishing. It can be purchased on Amazon here.
To me, making sure the sets are done well has become the driving force of Thunderbean, and although things are moving much slower than I had hoped, the kind of of care so many put into this set is something I do hope we can continue to do as we work on growing as a company. The additional care needed in making a quality Blu-ray set is significant, especially when working with rare and varied materials, but worth the time and effort in the results. There are many, many more films, both shorts and features, that I’d love to see on DVD and Blu-ray, and I hope we can grow to the size to be able to do all of these sets. I greatly appreciate all the support and patience given to Thunderbean over these years, especially on these newer releases.
So, now, onto Lou Bunin set, Flip the Frog, Comi-Colors, and lots of things I’ll be able to talk about soon.
Right now I’m in LA for the CTN conference, along with a group of College for Creative Studies students. If any of you see me there, say hi!
Here is a little preview of the set. The set is available on Amazon as of today – Order it HERE. The pre-orders with the bonus stuff are being sent Friday and over the weekend. There may be a special set announced in this space next week if we can get all the planets to align…stay tuned or tooned!