The original Matinee at the Bijou series had the tiniest of PBS budgets, restricting the series’ content to films in the public domain. Bijou Bob is delighted to have a proper PBS budget for production of the sequel series. This allows us to kick off the New Year by accelerating the acquisition of films owned by private collectors and the major studios.
To help put all this in perspective, we interviewed veteran film collector and distributor Ron Hall, owner of Festival Films and an Executive Producer on the sequel series.
BB: Among several hats you wear on the sequel series, Ron, you are helping us track down rare and rarely-seen cartoons, shorts, serials and features - both in the public domain and under copyright. How is the search going?
RH: "Unknown public domain gems are constantly surfacing and I’m very encouraged by the response I’m getting from private collectors. Finding 16mm and 35mm original prints is challenging, but I find collectors are generally delighted that the films they possess are highly prized and still in demand. They also appreciate our offer - rare in the entertainment world – of respect and fair compensation for their contributions to this important PBS series.
"Many collectors specialize. Professor Harold 'Rusty' Casselton from Moorhead State University has a large collection of Voice of Hollywood, Hollywood on Parade and similar one-reelers, in which movie stars of the 1930s and 40s are filmed candidly at home, work and play. One features Buster Keaton performing gags in two roles as a young and old man representing new and old music tastes. The whole short is Buster, and he even talks to himself!"
BB: Rusty’s help is certainly welcome. You mentioned another collector you talked with who may provide access to pristine prints from his collection.
RH: "At Cinecon 42 convention last summer I saw a prominent collector's checklist of every Hollywood mystery made between 1929 and 1955. Over two-thirds were checked off, which meant he had original 16mm prints of each. Of course, most are not public domain films, but we can borrow beautiful prints of the Sherlock Holmes, Bulldog Drummonds and Dick Tracy’s. He also has an IB Technicolor print of "Popeye Meets Ali Baba" that will knock your eyes out. I can only imagine seeing that in High Def."
BB: What can you tell us about the process of licensing studio owned content?
RH: "So far the licensing of studio content is in the idea stage. The copyright owners are only interested in the bottom line, so we need to be creative in our approach to licensing their goods. The vintage B-films from MGM, Warner’s and RKO are shown in abundance on Turner Classic Movies, Republic westerns are on the Western Channel and Fox Bs occasionally show on the Fox Movie Channel. However, the libraries of Columbia, Universal, Paramount, United Artists, Monogram and Educational (shorts) do not have their own cable channels. So Universal might welcome the chance for Bijou to show a single Ma and Pa Kettle film - since it would spur DVD sales of the other titles.
Just one Boston Blackie film (unseen for years in any forum) from Columbia could fan demand for a DVD set. The same could be said for creating interest in Columbia's 'Color Rhapsody' cartoon series, many of which were animated by UB Iwerks on leave from Disney. How about 'The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters' (1954) from Monogram or one of the Wheeler & Woolsey gems from RKO? An Olsen and Johnson comedy like Ghost Catchers from Universal might join the acquisition list.
"The first season will start small with Scrappy, Krazy Kat or a Color Rhapsody cartoon from Columbia, and a few shorts and features from the major studios. After that, the effort will grow, uncovering hidden gems wherever they are buried."
BB: Thank you Ron. Content truly is King; and licensed content, along with film preservation and restoration will increasingly become an important fixture on Matinee at the Bijou in seasons to come. And the series home on PBS will make America’s rich film heritage available to virtually everyone in the country. Bijou Bob couldn’t be more pleased about that!