Hollywood loves an anniversary. In fact, for the studios to squeeze out more money from an old title, every year seems to be an anniversary for some movie or other.
And sometimes the studios get so excited they can’t wait. Last year brought the 75th anniversary Blu-ray box set for “The Wizard of Oz” … even though it was only the 74th anniversary.
Get ready for the one-year anniversary of “Frozen” in November.
This year has led to a number of such observances — and if a reissue or new box set of a beloved title will tempt us to dip into our pocketbook to buy another version of a film we already have on our shelves, well, why not?
So far we’ve noted:
• The 75th anniversary of “Gone With the Wind,” the most popular movie of all time (measured by the number of actual tickets sold), which will have a new Blu-ray box set released in September, to include a hardback book of photos. (Uh oh, that means it’s also the 75th anniversary for all of those other great movies that came out in the much-touted movie year of 1939.)
• The 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” which is now being shown in theaters around the country, has just been reissued in Blu-ray by the boutique label Criterion Collection with bounteous bonus features.
• The 40th anniversary of Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles,” which was reissued in a new Blu-ray set in May. (It’s also the 40th anniversary of Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” — where’s that Blu-ray set?)
• The 30th anniversary of “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai,” although I don’t know if anyone besides me cares about that one.
• Hey, it’s also the 25th anniversary of “The Last Starfighter,” “Supergirl,” Clint Eastwood’s “Pink Cadillac” and “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” (although it wasn’t). But that’s just getting silly.
This is also the 100th anniversary of a number of notable historical events in motion pictures.
Although there had been prototypes as early as the mid-19th century, early devices that led to the creation of motion pictures as public entertainment, it wasn’t until the 1890s that public exhibition of celluloid images began in earnest.
And in 1914, a number of significant events and a great deal of burgeoning artistic talent came together to bring a level of maturity to the movies that would pave the way for its rapid development as a serious form of public entertainment.
• The Strand Theatre in Manhattan’s Times Square opened for business, believed to be the first lavish auditorium created exclusively for motion-picture exhibition. It cost $1 million to build, sat 3,300 and stood for 73 years. It also helped the fledgling movie industry gain respect from New York’s society crowd, which had previously shunned movies as “undignified” (according to an issue of the American Showman trade magazine published at the time).
• The now-lost short film “Hearts Adrift,” with Mary Pickford, was the first time the name of a star was billed above the title on theater marquees. As a result of that film’s ticket sales, Pickford asked for, and got, a big raise. And the immense popularity of her next film, “Tess of the Storm Country” (also released in 1914), made her the most popular actress in America and possibly the world.
• Paramount Pictures was established and is now the oldest surviving American movie studio. Among its first films that year was the full-length feature “The Squaw Man,” which was Cecil B. DeMille’s first directing assignment (and the year’s second biggest moneymaker after the now lost 26-chapter serial, “The Million Dollar Mystery”). This year, Paramount became the first studio to go all digital for its film productions.
• Charlie Chaplin was hired by the Keystone Studios in December 1913 and began making his first films under the tutelage of Mack Sennett in January 1914. Chaplin appeared in 35 films that year, directing more than 20 of them, before moving on to another studio. He earned enormous popularity with the public almost immediately as he donned the familiar persona of The Little Tramp in his second movie.
• This was also the year that D.W. Griffith developed “The Birth of a Nation,” although it was released in February of the next year, 1915. And whatever we may think of that film’s controversial aspects now, there’s no question that it pioneered an array of camera work, technical effects and storytelling techniques that are still in use today.
It should also be noted that 1914 was the birth year for future stars Alec Guinness, Tyrone Power, Dorothy Lamour and Richard Widmark, as well as silent-era child star Jackie Coogan, and future directors Martin Ritt and Robert Wise.
True, sound was still more than a decade off and color wouldn’t become the standard for another half-century, along with widescreen and stereo. And who could possibly foresee the elimination of film in favor of digital recording?
But everything has to start somewhere. And for movies, a lot of it began 100 years ago.