Studio Library Rights and Film History

It's no new observation that our understanding of film history depends in part on the availability of films, which depends in part on the distribution rights and willingness of media companies to circulate older films. One of the amazing boons to our understanding of Hollywood's studio period, at least those in US and Canada, has been cable rebroadcast of titles, first on AMC (back in the 90s) and now on TCM. Before, scholars could collect prints or VHS, or visit archives, but the new mediascape opens up accessibility to an extent previously unimaginable.

But it's easy to equate TCM with "Classic Hollywood" without recognizing that what it really refers to is MGM + Warner Bros. +UA, with some RKO and a little Fox thrown in. Noticeably sparse is Paramount's library, which has been held back from both home video release and cable broadcast.

A quick tabulation of what's showing on TCM this fall suggest that about 2% of their 30s and 40s films are Paramount productions. The percentage is similarly small going the other way: less than 2% of Paramount's 30s and 40s films are going to be shown on TCM. And if it weren't for Preston Sturges, these percentages would be lower. This, for one of the dominant and most productive studios of the classical years.


Dave Johnson said…
Chris, That's a really interesting point you make here--I'm consistently surprised at how many films have yet to make it from vhs to dvd. I'm wondering (hoping, really) if some of the other studios will follow the Warner's model and make the entire archive available via DVD.

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