- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

TCM Greatest Classic Films: Best Picture Winners, TCM Greatest Classic Films: Romantic Dramas and TCM Greatest Classic Films: Romantic Comedies (Warner, $27.92 each) — It seems like a savvy marketing move. Warner Home Video and Turner Classic Movies are partnering to release a new series, TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection, on DVD. Both companies are divisions of Time Warner, and it makes perfect sense for the studio with the world’s largest film library to work with television’s most prestigious classic-film channel to give some of America’s best films the video recognition they deserve.

Alas, a look at the first wave of releases in the series indicates the enterprise is more like an object lesson in how not to market vintage material.

The first group comes out Tuesday, timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day and Oscar season. “Best Picture Winners” includes “Casablanca,” “An American in Paris,” “Gigi” and “Mrs. Miniver.” “Romantic Dramas” includes “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and “East of Eden.” “Romantic Comedies” includes “The Philadelphia Story,” “Bringing Up Baby,” “Adam’s Rib” and “Woman of the Year.”

All these films have been released on DVD before, so you might be curious about what TCM is adding to the releases. You wouldn’t know from looking at the slipcases covering the DVDs. The first marketing problem is that they don’t mention a single extra.

Perhaps that’s because there’s nothing new here. TCM regularly programs interesting tributes and documentaries about great films and their makers. For example, it aired “All the President’s Men” two days before last year’s election and had insider John Dean, former White House counsel to President Nixon, sit down with host Robert Osborne. Every month, the station invites a celebrity to join Mr. Osborne and serve as guest programmer for an evening. The program attracts top-notch talent: Sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury was on in November; John Singleton, the youngest filmmaker to be nominated for a best-director Oscar, appeared in September.

TCM doesn’t seem to have brought its usual value-added ethic to this series, though. “Casablanca” already has been released on DVD a few times. There’s not a single new extra here. You get commentaries from critic Roger Ebert and historian Rudy Behlmer and an introduction by Lauren Bacall, all of which already are on past releases. In fact, a new DVD edition of “Casablanca” just came out late last year in an Ultimate Collector’s Edition, which also marked the film’s first appearance on Blu-ray. That three-disc set includes interviews, deleted scenes and more that don’t appear here.

Same thing with “Mrs. Miniver.” The 1942 film has been released on DVD twice already, and the extras here are the same as for the 2004 release — two World War II-era shorts and footage of star Greer Garson accepting her Oscar. It’s a missed opportunity because current events provide an interesting opportunity to talk about how wartime films have changed. Instead of discussing, say, the dearth of big films celebrating American women who had men serving in the Iraq War, you simply get a repackaged rehash.

Some films in the series — the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn classics “Adam’s Rib” and “Woman of the Year” — don’t offer any extras.

Still, if you don’t already own the films, these sets provide a budget- and space-friendly way to get a few great films at once. Priced at $27.92 each, the sets include four films on two discs that fit into a case the same size as that of a single DVD. It’s unclear why TCM’s name is on these packages except to ensure that they get advertised on the network.

Fireproof (Sony, $28.95) — While critics debate whether Walt Disney Co. failed to market “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” properly to the C.S. Lewis series’ Christian fan base (see B1), last year’s highest-grossing independent film in the U.S. proved you can be a box-office success by doing just that.

In “Fireproof,” Kirk Cameron — best-known from the 1980s TV series “Growing Pains” — plays a fireman with an Internet-porn addiction who learns to re-connect with his neglected wife with God’s help. The film was made by Alex and Stephen Kendrick, brothers who are pastors at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., when they’re not making films.

This one cost just $500,000 to make — most of the supporting cast, as well as the crew, was made up of volunteers from Sherwood Baptist and the Albany Fire Department. In its theatrical run last year, it grossed more than $30 million; in its first week, it was No. 4 at the box office. That should provide for some nice renovations for the church. The filmmakers targeted other evangelicals as well as Catholics in marketing the word-of-mouth success.

Extras on the DVD include deleted scenes, jokes and pranks, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a discussion guide and a commentary track with the Kendrick brothers. There’s also a promo for “The Love Dare,” the relationship-advice guide featured in the film that in real life made the New York Times best-seller list.

The Secret Policeman’s Balls (Shout! Factory, $39.99) — Many people call the Secret Policeman’s Balls the forerunner of the big-name charity concert, such as Live Aid, Live Earth and Live 8. That title should go to the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, organized by George Harrison, but there’s no question the Secret Policeman’s Balls were incredibly influential. A funny and informative essay by co-creator Martin Lewis, included in this set, explains how they started. A check from a “Mr. J. Cleese” came into the London office of the human rights organization Amnesty International. The group was barely heard-of at that point and desperately needed money. So someone called up comedian John Cleese, and he immediately suggested what became the legendary “balls.”

This three-disc set is a must-have for fans of British comedy or Amnesty International (some proceeds go to the group) and a good buy for music lovers, too. It includes five complete balls from the event’s heyday from 1976 to 1989 and a slew of extras, including rare performances and TV spots, commentaries by Mr. Lewis and a feature-length documentary.

Where the balls differ most from today’s high-profile charity events is that they had no headliners. A spirit of camaraderie prevailed. That means you can see “Monty Python” members Mr. Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman and Terry Gilliam do comedy bits with Peter Cook of “Beyond the Fringe” and then-young-up-and-comer Rowan Atkinson.

Though comedy-heavy, these concerts also featured plenty of great music, and with the same degree of collaboration. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, who discovered Kate Bush, provides background vocals and a more rollicking, guitar-heavy take on her “Running Up That Hill” alongside the songstress. Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Lou Reed and even Live Aid founder Bob Geldof — who appeared reluctantly after telling organizers that charity concerts were useless — also make memorable music.

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