Director Richard Tanne (Southside With You) has sent along a video tribute to retired Warner Home Entertainment exec Jeff Baker, called The King of Catalog. The 25-minute video was produced and assembled by Baker’s son, Travis Baker, a friend and colleague of Tanne’s.
Baker senior was one of the leading innovators and locomotives in the VHS/DVD business from the late 1970s until 2015. The King of Catalog, which was shot over a year ago, tracks his 35-year career. Baker was at Warner Home Entertaiment from 2006 to his retirement, and was largely responsible for pioneering their incredible run of premiere collector’s edition DVDs and Blu-Rays. He worked closely with filmmakers like Clint Eastwood and Oliver Stone on packaging, special features and director’s cuts.
Tanne: “In many ways, Baker’s career mirrors the rise-and-fall arc of physical home video. Given your continued love and support of this dying format, I thought maybe you’d be interested in checking it out. And who knows, if it resonates in any way, it would certainly be an honor to see it posted on your site.
As Tanne had no involvement in the making of this tribute, which I feel has problems, I feel free to post some criticisms, which I sent to him directly this morning:
Thanks very much for this, and all hail Southside With You! Still and always a very rich and poignant little film. Nicely written, well performed.
The King of Catalog (good title) is efficient and watchable once it finally gets going — plain-spoken, knowledgable, the straight dope. I respect Jeff Baker‘s achievements and hustle and commitment to the once-glorious home video market. But the piece is a little slow, a wee bit sludgy. It feels too much like a “those were the days” kind of thing.
Jeff should immediately establish himself not just as a guy who was there at the beginning and rode the home video horse for 35 years, but a guy who totally gets the streaming world of 2019. And the present-tense differences between DVD, Bluray and 1080p vs. 4K streaming. And where it’s all going. He needs to disabuse the casual viewer from thinking “oh, this is just some retired Moustache Pete reminiscing about the old days.” Establish his present-tense bona fides as a slick operator who gets the streaming world of today, and THEN go into the past.
Imagine how The King of Catalog would play if Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker were to re-edit it….whoosh! That’s how it should play.
I’m sorry but Travis didn’t show enough hard-nosed discipline in the cutting of this film. Too emotionally indebted to his dad. Once Jeff Baker starts in on the beginnings of the business in ’79 and ’80, it’s fine. But it takes forever to get going.
And the early Wizard of Oz footage is horizontally stretched to 1.78 from an original version of 1.37….UNFORGIVABLE! A rigorous archiver and worshipper of proper video formats and restorations should NEVER, EVER horizontally stretch a 1.37 original…40 lashes!
The piece (to repeat) should begin with a riff on where we are today, and the word “streaming“, which I don’t think is heard during the entire profile, should definitely be used.
And why, by the way, is this video being sent to me when Jeff clearly references 2018 as the present tense toward the end of the piece? It took Travis a year to throw this together? It’s just his father talking with occasional inserts. It’s not a Terrence Malick film.
Anecdote: When discussing RCA VideoDisc technology (’79 to early ’80s), Jeff omits the fact that RCA VideoDiscs had to be played like a vinyl record, with a stylus needle. No laser technology but an analog needle. My father, who used to do advertising for RCA Victor back in the day and who got me some freelance work writing copy for RCA VideoDiscs in ’81 and early ’82, told me early on that the format was doomed because of the needle thing.
The second funniest part is the story about Good Time Video, for which Baker worked for several years, ripping off Disney animated features and putting out lookalike videos for lower-income schmucks who were too dumb to realize what they were buying. Disney was in the right, and Good Times was in the wrong. The latter made a lot of money by hoodwinking people, yes, but let’s not kid ourselves about what their game was. They were piggybacking on Disney product and scamming people in the bargain.
The King of Catalog is nearly 27 minutes long — it should be cut down to somewhere between 15 or 20 minutes, tops. Make it faster, slicker, jazzier. Or at least for posterity’s sake, Travis should create a faster, slicker, jazzier version. The current version just isn’t zippy enough….sorry. But thanks for showing it to me. I got a laugh out of the Disney scam and RCA VideoDisc portions.
Good to hear from you. Let’s keep in touch.
Idea: Make a Trump version of Southside With You, about how Orange Cheeto met and bought Melania…the courting of his money-whore Slovakian wife. Whom he promptly cheated on when she was pregnant. Call it The Transaction. I would definitely pay to see that.
Jeffrey Wells, HE”