HE regulars know who Barber is, or more precisely his longstanding policy of malignant neglect towards the 70mm version of John Wayne‘s The Alamo (’60). I’ve been writing for over three years about the refusal of this South African pirate to to allow restoration guru Robert Harris to independently finance a high-def, large-format restoration of Wayne’s epic.
(l.) MGM chairman & CEO Gary Barber; (r.) George Washington sometime during the French and Indian War.
Here’s the whole story. In July of ’14 I persuaded several elite filmmakers to sign a petition in favor of Harris’s restoration plan — Darren Aronfosky, J.J. Abrams, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, Rian Johnson, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Bill Paxton, Bob Gale and Matt Reeves among them.
A private request from Harris to Barber was recently passed along through an intermediary, and Barber’s response was akin to the swatting of a fly. Harris only wants Barber’s permission to allow him to save as much of the film as possible. Barber and MGM wouldn’t shell out a single dime, and yet Barber refuses to budge, a mule to the last.
I recently asked a respected industry figure to drop Barber a note that would point out two things: (a) it couldn’t hurt to allow Harris to restore the film with independent funds, but (b) it does hurt or at least compromise Barber’s industry rep by refusing to do anything (i.e., deliberately standing in the way for no apparent reason whatsover) and allowing the large-format 70mm elements to wither and self-destruct through age and whatnot.
In a 6.9.16 Deadline profile an industry exec described Barber as a “movie fanatic” to Peter Bart. What kind of movie fanatic would stand in the way of preserving and restoring a piece of movie culture without the slightest expenditure on his or his company’s part?
We all understand that The Alamo is a respectable but less-than-world-class film (too speechy and jingoistic), but it’s indisputably handsome and wears its patriotic heart on its sleeve, and no one would dispute that the original 70mm elements deserve to be fully preserved as best they can.
Update: The 202-minute 70mm version is toast — degraded beyond hope. What Harris is trying to do is restore the short version (i.e., 167 minutes) in 70mm.