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Restoring Stanley Kramer's "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"
April 27, 2012 3:09 PM   Subscribe

What you see here is a prime example of what happens to film that is neglected and improperly stored. This is an original reel from It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World that is now untouchable. The film has turned acidic, sporting the strongest and most foul vinegar-like odor I have ever smelled. In fact, Robert Harris told me a story of how his contact lenses were singed by the fumes the film produced, causing temporary retinal damage to his eye.

Efforts to restore the soundtrack by Ernest Gold have been of interest to The Rosarita Beach Podcast.
posted by Trurl (37 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was just looking at clips of MMMMW recently. My sister and I used to "love" that movie (in that we watched it faithfully once every few months). Amazing how they crammed an hour's worth of movie into 3 hours like that.

I plan to inflict it on my kids soon.
posted by DU at 3:13 PM on April 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was my all-time favorite movie as a kid. I don't think I've seen it since mid 1970s... and it's on YouTube! Danke!
posted by mrgrimm at 3:22 PM on April 27, 2012


are you trying to make Stav cry?
posted by Busithoth at 3:25 PM on April 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


(I think it's place of honor was usurped by another classic ensemble comedy, Murder by Death ...)
posted by mrgrimm at 3:25 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


My dad's favorite film (that, and Cat Ballou). I remember being dragged to the Indiana Theater when it came out, to watch it in glorious Cinerama.

Film restoration is fascinating stuff. I often wonder how hard it would be for an old fart to get a job working in restoration...
posted by Thorzdad at 3:25 PM on April 27, 2012


We live in an age where the things we want to preserve disintegrate and the things which shame and humiliate us are permanent.
posted by Renoroc at 3:37 PM on April 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was my all-time favorite movie as a kid.

Mine too, and so you can imagine my shock when I discovered that my beloved Mrs. Fnarf not only hates that movie with a passion but starts waving her hands in front of her and shouting "NO NO NO NO NO AAAHH NO NO" when I even start to suggest maybe watching it, even watching it when she's not home. This is a woman who willingly sits through later Elvis Presley movies! It was the occasion of our first fight as a married couple.
posted by Fnarf at 3:42 PM on April 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


As a film nerd there are a few releases I still hang on on LaserDisc, in spite of the small snag of not having a functioning LaserDisc player currently. MMMMW is one of them, simply because of the intro music and animations, which is still not (to the best of my knowledge anyway) on any DVD. I'm aware my version is still missing a few things, but dammit, I want to see as much of the original film as possible, and knowing that I'm being intentionally deprived makes me fume a little inside and shake my angry, beleaguered fist at those fools who felt that archival processes weren't worth the time and money back in the day.

Also: Han shot first, Criterion commentaries are almost always worth the effort to find and I still haven't stayed awake throughout the new "more complete" version of Metropolis, but someday I hope to.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 3:51 PM on April 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's a sad, sad, sad, sad thing that happened. I loved this movie as a kid. That movie executive who ordered all of that film to be dumped into the Pacific? I'm going to go out on a limb and call them a tool.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 3:53 PM on April 27, 2012


Harris's erstwhile column for The Digital Bits (linked above) is fascinating reading for anyone interested in film preservation, if you can get past site formatting.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:58 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just to nitpick, his retinas are nowhere near his contact lenses so, no, it did not temporarily damage his retinas, corneas maybe.
posted by karlos at 4:00 PM on April 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is the roadshow restoration?
posted by Ideefixe at 4:05 PM on April 27, 2012


I don't believe the retinal damage bit.
Surely he meant corneal damage, unless perhaps he has some special internal contact lenses in contact with his retinas.
Maybe I'm just being too urethral anal.
posted by isopraxis at 4:19 PM on April 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


(on preview - hi5 karlos)
posted by isopraxis at 4:20 PM on April 27, 2012


I was 8 years old when this film came out. My parents didn't take us to see it, but the kids were talking about it in school -- it's when I first learned about the expression "kick the bucket" although their description of that scene (so comical to them) didn't sound very funny to me. Decades later, I finally saw the movie, and somehow wind up watching it again every few years. I kinda like certain scenes. anything with Jonathon Winters, that beautiful airplane, and being a Top Cat fan I like seeing Arnold Stang; but overall, what a peculiar picture.
posted by Rash at 4:54 PM on April 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is the roadshow restoration?

Yes.

Those who are familiar with James Rolfe at Cinemassacre (better known as the Angry Video Game Nerd) may be aware that "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is his all-time favorite movie.

A while back he took a trip to California in an effort to find many of the original filming locations, culminating with his quest to find the remains of the "Big W"
posted by ShutterBun at 4:55 PM on April 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


We fell into yellow, all right?!
posted by Spatch at 6:09 PM on April 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


he took a trip to California in an effort to find many of the original filming locations

What is he? The hostess??
posted by DU at 6:12 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Somebody has done some kind of restoration on the film (though maybe not that reel), because I saw an absolute beautiful version of it on PBS a while back. I was in 1080i, so I assume there is probably a 1080p version out there.
posted by gjc at 6:13 PM on April 27, 2012


Martin Scorsese participated in a 1997 documentary on this subject. It's called The Race To Save 100 years. Of course it's a bit outdated now, but I've seen it two or three times now and find it pretty darn interesting.
posted by Clay201 at 6:19 PM on April 27, 2012


To clarify; the documentary covers the subject of film preservation and restoration in general. It doesn't mention IAMMMW specifically, as far as I can remember.
posted by Clay201 at 6:21 PM on April 27, 2012


Somebody has done some kind of restoration on the film (though maybe not that reel), because I saw an absolute beautiful version of it on PBS a while back. I was in 1080i, so I assume there is probably a 1080p version out there.

From the "versions" section of the Wikipedia page:
The film was broadcast in high definition for the first time on April 1, 2010 on MGM HD. This version contained the full overture and exit music, but no intermission music (it only used the music leading into the intermission).

The film was shown on TCM & TCMHD on July 6, 2010. This version contained the full overture, intermission music, and exit music.
posted by hippybear at 6:31 PM on April 27, 2012


I'm also one of those that loved "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" as a kid and was shaped by it. Growing up I spent a lot of time on the UHF channels watching any movie or TV show with anyone that was in IaMMMMW. It brought me great joy to spot someone like Terry Thomas or Dick Shawn in a movie I previously didn't know had an IaMMMMW connection. I still hope to some day see it on the big screen.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 6:57 PM on April 27, 2012


Maybe I'm just being too urethral anal.
posted by isopraxis at 4:19 PM on April 27 [2 favorites +] [!]


(on preview - hi5 karlos)
posted by isopraxis at 4:20 PM on April 27 [+] [!]


Shouldn't that be "on postview"?
posted by euphorb at 7:00 PM on April 27, 2012


I so want the It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World soundtrack to be in rotation on my iPod when we drive across the country this summer on a family vacation.

I love this film.

My favourite trivia [via wikipedia]: Kramer considered adding a fifth "mad" to the title before deciding that it would be redundant but noted in interviews that he later regretted it.

posted by mazola at 7:09 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I work with multiformat collections (as an archivist), and by far moving image materials seem to be in my experience among the most fragile formats. One of the collections on which I'm working was improperly stored by its creators (think basement), and the result is vinegar syndrome for much of the acetate stock. Even the polyester stock picked up some of the odor.

All of this is background to a very. special. moment. last week when I opened a small container with three mag track acetate film items. I swear on a stack of molecular sieves that a cloud arose and caught me in the face. The rest of the day my eyes were a little sore. The acetic acid had increased in a couple of weeks to an intolerable level.

Moral of the story: even when you know there is a problem, it gets more severe as time goes by. Even after storage in better, if not optimal conditions, once film starts to go, it's a race.
posted by datawrangler at 8:56 PM on April 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Kramer considered adding a fifth "mad" to the title

Kramer tells that anecdote in a reunion interview which is featured in the "Something a little less serious" featurette. He ends it with "Because it really is a mad, mad, mad, mad, MAD world!"

It seems that a lot of purists and fans of the movie *insist* on watching it with not only the overture, but also the intermission, and entre'-act music intact. While I agree that it's nice to *have* those things, (the 1991 laserdisc box set has it all, including restored footage inserted at the proper moments) but honestly, it's pretty demanding to have to sit through it all. Granted, the opening credits with Saul Bass' animation are fun (if a bit unreadable at times) but they are absolutely interminable. Add an overture to all that, and ass-fatigue becomes a problem before Smiler even cashes in his chips.

A lot of the restored footage is somewhat gratuitous and not really necessary, though it's hard to argue with "more of a good thing," particularly if one is already very familiar with the film. One of the best re-additions is during the "dividing up the shares" scene where Sid Cesar is going nuts trying to figure out a way to make everyone happy. In the more common version, he only discusses a few options, but in the extended version, he goes through a lot more permutations, which invariably pisses someone off.

Another fun thing about the movie: watch any group scene which features Milton Berle. He is nearly ALWAYS the last one to leave the scene, regardless of the circumstances. It's hilarious when you know to watch for it.
posted by ShutterBun at 12:32 AM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I assume there is probably a 1080p version out there.

It's available on Blu-Ray as of a few months ago. Alas, it's the shorter version, but it's nice to see that they've preserved the Ultra Panavision aspect ratio, which is an absolutely svelte 2.75:1
posted by ShutterBun at 1:41 AM on April 28, 2012


Whoa. Maybe it's time for a new installment of Decasia: Decasia II: It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Decay.
posted by muckster at 2:51 AM on April 28, 2012


Blu-Ray ordered. God damn Metafilter, costing me money. I swear this is at least the 5th time I've bought this movie (Beta, VHS 2-tape set, Laserdisc box set, DVD, now this. Only surpassed by Star Wars, which I've undoubtedly bought about a dozen times by now)
posted by ShutterBun at 4:29 AM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


... last week when I opened a small container with three mag track acetate film items. I swear on a stack of molecular sieves that a cloud arose and caught me in the face.

SPOILER ALERT!
posted by hal9k at 6:27 AM on April 28, 2012


last week when I opened a small container with three mag track acetate film items. I swear on a stack of molecular sieves that a cloud arose and caught me in the face.

I can't help but be reminded of the conversation here a few weeks ago about digital vs. film archiving, and the "nostalgia" associated with film preservation.

I guess we can add "deadly vinegar vapors" along with "spontaneous combustion" on the list of hazards of pre-polyester film stock. Jeepers.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:45 AM on April 28, 2012


Why hasn't anyone made It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Max World? A race through the desert for untold riches. And gasoline.
posted by hanoixan at 8:11 AM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


ShutterBun, it's more like flat-out nasty vinegar vapors. There may be a study on the effects, but luckily most people take precautions before handling acetate stock. Given what I knew, using a fume hood would have been the informed precaution.
posted by datawrangler at 2:30 PM on April 28, 2012


Blu-Ray is now in hand. It looks *fantastic*. The intro song is preserved (though to be honest I can't remember if that counts as the "overture" or not) as well as the multi-colored title segment, instead of the "default orange/red" seen on some releases.

I've just started watching, but it's probably safe to say that unless you were somehow lucky enough to see an early release of this film, chances are *this is the version you remember*.

I enjoyed seeing the restored footage when it was released on Laserdisc in 1991, but the image clarity of the Blu-Ray release more than makes up for it.
posted by ShutterBun at 12:57 AM on April 30, 2012


(and yes, I will be playing the "Milton Berle is the last guy to leave the scene" drinking game for the duration)
posted by ShutterBun at 1:03 AM on April 30, 2012


Renoroc: "We live in an age where the things we want to preserve disintegrate and the things which shame and humiliate us are permanent."

It was always thus.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:36 AM on April 30, 2012


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