A Star Is Born




By Scott Brogan
Founder and webmaster of The Judy Room

SAN FRANCISCO — An uncut A Star is Born (1954) is reported to exist, and its owner is said to be Michael Arick. Film historian and former Pioneer restoration specialist Joseph Caporiccio has publicly alleged at the Home Theater Forum, where he is known as Joe Caps, that one or several prints exist, and he has confirmed in a telephone conversation with me that Michael Arick, the well-known film producer, director and restorer, is the owner. Caporiccio claims to have attended a screening of the complete film in the early 1990s that was arranged by Arick, who could not be reached for comment.

I was made aware of this fact on two separate occasions by two different people.

Last February, I spoke with someone from Warner Home Video, who chose to remain anonymous, about the film’s upcoming Blu-ray release. He told me that due to non-disclosure agreements, he could only reveal what footage would not be included in the Blu-ray disc.  In particular, he confirmed the existence of recently found footage of the Chinese junket sequence — footage, he said, that was mostly long shots and barely showed James Mason (as Norman Maine).  During the conversation, when I joked about the rumors of a mystery fan who supposedly had a print, he said it was common knowledge this mystery fan was Michael Arick.

In April 2010, a few weeks after Warner Home Video issued a press release about the new Blu-ray and standard DVD releases (and how the new restoration was of the 1983 Ron Haver version, plus a few new extras), a Judy Room reader contacted me with information that Joe Caps, posting on the Home Theatre Forum, knew of the existence of not one but possibly three prints of the uncut version of A Star is Born.

I read the posts, contacted Joe Caps by email, and he asked me to call him. A quick Internet search revealed Joe Caps to be film historian and former Pioneer restoration specialist Joseph Caporiccio. During the hour-and-a-half-long conversation, we discussed not just A Star is Born, but a whole range of topics, including classic films, lost prints, musical numbers, and especially the fascinating underground of film collecting – specifically, the people who collect complete prints. The studios have worked with these collectors before, and without their saved prints of some of the uncut, extended, or road show versions of films, the public would never have seen many of the great restorations on LaserDisc and DVD.

Caporiccio explained to me that beginning in the late 1950s and lasting as late as the 1970s it was common for studios to release films in wide screen stereo editions for limited runs, then trim those films and put them in general release. Many times these cut versions were released in mono and trimmed for more showings per day and subsequent sale to television. The studios were neither adept at keeping track of what they cut (a truism to this day) nor conscientious about saving stereo soundtracks. Thus, enterprising collectors, fans, and studio and theater employees began saving prints. There was – and is – an entire underground of these film collectors. This is nothing new. Film fans have been saving film prints since the silent era (the recent discovery of Metropolis is a prime example of this), but it was not until the studios began issuing multiple editions of their films that people began to seek out and collect rare, uncut stereo prints.

Caporiccio, now in his late 50’s, told me about how he and his film fan friends would literally run from theater to theater in New York City to catch the stereo versions of some of these films, as they knew they would have short runs and be replaced by edited, mono versions. “In December 1968, no fewer than twelve musicals premiered, and we ran all over to try and see them because we knew they wouldn’t last very long in their complete format.”

Caporiccio also told me that many of the musical outtakes from MGM that are thought to be lost do, in fact, exist.  “Vault fires,” he said, is a term sometimes used by studios when they clear out vaults to save space.  “You don’t really think these vault fires keep happening, do you?,” Caporiccio told me.  “The studios change administrations all the time, and how do you think new executives show they can save money?  They clear out expensive vaults of discarded footage to save the space and money, and pass it off as a vault fire.”  When this happened in the 1950s at MGM, they threw cut numbers and other pieces of film from a vault into the garbage.  An employee at MGM saved much of the footage, which includes cut numbers from The Pirate, Presenting Lily Mars, Broadway Melody of 1938, Singin’ In The Rain, An American in Paris, Brigadoon, and Kismet, even some black and white on-set footage from The Wizard of Oz, among others.  When he died, the footage was passed on to his son, who currently resides in Santa Barbara.   When I asked Caporiccio why the studio could not get this footage from this individual, he replied that “Mr. Santa Barbara” (no name was given) does not work with the studios because they have a tendency to “screw people over.”  The studios cannot make any legal claim because “they can’t legally go after someone for something they threw in the garbage fifty plus years ago.”  He claims that the studios, and the executives who work there, are sometimes their own worst enemies in that people who have a lot of this lost footage are not willing to work with them.  And these collectors are without doubt well-known to those inside the walls of the studios.

The saga of the lost prints of A Star is Born, as told to me by Caporiccio, falls into this world of hoarding collectors, careless studio executives, and ego.

The saga began in 1954 when Warner Bros. sent their edict to theaters to cut A Star is Born.  They told them to do so if they wanted to get more showings of the film per day.  They did not tell them they had to cut it.  A theater owner in Chicago, who was also a Garland fan, saved his copy of the complete film, and held onto it for a long time, until a wealthy collector from Arizona, who had a major collection of complete, uncut stereo versions of many films, bought it.  This Arizona collector has since died.  Before his death, however, he sold a copy (he reportedly had more than one) to Michael Arick.

Caporiccio made it clear to me that these people know what they have and how to take care of them, keeping these films in cold storage in secret, off-site locations.  That answered my question about the possible deterioration of these films over time. 

I asked Caporiccio why Arick did not work with Haver when he was spearheading the restoration released in 1983.  Caporiccio explained that Haver was not well-liked at all in the film archivist/collector world, and was the wrong person to be working on finding lost footage from private collectors.  Haver was the reason the collector who had the complete “Lose That Long Face” number would not cooperate.  Caporiccio also explained to me the relationship between Arick and Warner Bros..

When I asked Caporiccio why Arick did not, and would not, work with Warner Bros. at present, he responded: “Not as long as George Feltenstein is in power.  And Warners screwed him over in the 90’s when he was working with them. He’ll never give this up to them.”

In the late 1980s into the 1990s, Arick worked with the studios, mainly Warner Bros., in film restoration.  In his capacity as Director of Asset Management for Warner Bros., Arick was instrumental in the restoration (including lost stereo tracks) of films such as Giant, East of Eden, The Searchers, and Blade Runner.

In 1992, Caporiccio attended a private screening of A Star is Born that Arick arranged.  Arick rented a screening room at Universal and showed the film to select friends, including Caporiccio.  Before I could get my question out, Caporiccio explained that the studios do not know, nor care, what is shown in their screening rooms because they are private showings.  They only care about public exhibitions of films, and do not monitor their screening rooms.

Around this same time, Arick provided Warner Bros. with his copy of the only known uncut version of A Streetcar Named Desire.  He gave it to them under the condition that he receive a screen credit.  Warner Bros. refused, gave him no credit, and, to add insult to injury, claimed to have found the footage themselves in their vaults.  The studios never want to admit that they do not have any of this lost footage themselves, and have to go to private collectors for it in order to save face.  Arick left the company.  Had he stayed, he would have eventually gotten to the restoration of A Star is Born.

After leaving Warner Bros. in a huff, Arick tried working with Roddy McDowell and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to get his copy of A Star is Born restored. McDowell died in 1998, ending the deal.  Arick has not done anything with the film since then.

Caporiccio is of the opinion that there must be some legal reason why Warner Bros. cannot get this print through legal channels. “Even if they went to his home, it’s not there, they can’t prove he has it, just what people say – he’s not dumb enough to keep it at home.  If they showed up, he’d say, ‘Go ahead and search, I don’t have it.’”  Warner Bros., according to Caporiccio, will always claim that the footage does not exist because they cannot admit their own fault. Caporiccio is incredibly knowledgeable about film, film collecting, cut films, and stereo editions of films.  After our far-reaching informal conversation during which all kinds of film-related subjects were discussed, he came back to A Star is Born, and made it clear that insofar as the existence of an uncut print, “this isn’t news.”   “Everyone” at Warner Bros. knows a lot of this lost footage exists, purports Caporiccio, but they are unable to admit that they cannot get their hands on it.

So, that is the story, as told to me.  The information contained in the above-mentioned internet postings and telephone conversations concerning an alleged complete print of A Star is Born has not been confirmed by Michael Arick, nor have I seen any physical proof of the missing footage.

©MMX Scott Brogan, The Judy Room