EXCLUSIVE: I’ve confirmed what I first heard on Monday: that Universal Classics has sent out an email to about 35 art house exhibitors and other film bookers of classic films alerting that the Universal Studios fire destroyed nearly 100% of archived 35mm prints kept in the so-called “video” vault on the lot. So, in the short term, Universal has canceled bookings of anything archival coming directly from Universal City and can’t honor any film bookings of prints that were set to ship from there. Let me be clear: I am assured by insiders that the negatives are not affected, thankfully — only the actual 35mm prints used for repertory circulation of classic films. Prints from that very rich vault which also includes pre-1950 Paramount include such classics as Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, Duck Soup, Hell’s Angels, Brides of Dracula, Incredible Shrinking Man, Buck Privates, Hold That Ghost, and so many, many more. Some Industry types are emailing me that, with these prints gone, and the expense of making new prints, they fear that art houses and cultural organizations and film societies and festivals may never see these films theatrically again. But I’m told that Universal has already committed itself to making new prints. Of course, there will be delay and disappointment in the immediate future. But that’s only a timing issue. I’m told it’s possible that some of these prints may have duplicates in storage at other locations. So, over the next few weeks and months, Universal will be piecing together what extra prints, if any, it does have elsewhere. I still can’t get a straight answer to all your questions about why the video vault wasn’t fireproof. In part because the Uni people just sound completely frazzled still about the fire’s aftermath. But Universal does have an extraordinary history as a leader in film preservation. Still, Hollywood must, repeat must, do everything to preserve its history. So everyone try harder, spend more, and just do it.
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