Wim Wenders fans can screen their own retrospectives of the West German director's career thanks to Pacific Arts Video, whose Wim Wenders Film Festival hits the rental market today. While Wenders' best known films, "Paris, Texas" and "The American Friend," are already on tape, the eight movies in the current release offer a valuable look at his work from the past 15 years, including "The State of Things," the 1982 Venice Film Festival top prize-winner, 1975's "Wrong Move," which offers a 16-year-old Nastassja Kinski in her first movie role, and "Lightning Over Water," a documentary record of "Rebel Without a Cause" director Nicholas Ray's last days.
While video always offers viewers the opportunity to assemble home fests of their favorite auteurs' films, it is usually on a do-it-yourself basis. Despite the increasing celebrity of a growing number of directors, the video companies rarely promote a director's body of work as such -- in large part because directors these days work at so many studios that their movies aren't in the hands of a single video label. Rights to the Wenders library went all at once only because his American theatrical distributor, Gray City, was holding on to them while Wenders decided whether he wanted to release them on video at all; it took PAV founder Michael Nesmith more than a year to persuade him to do so, according to PAV President Robert Fead. One notable exception, a collection of 11 Alfred Hitchcock films that MCA promoted together last year, came about only because MCA-owned Universal negotiated video rights when it engineered the 1983 theatrical rerelease of five previously unavailable Paramount and Warner Hitchcock classics -- thus enhancing the market appeal of the less popular films he did at Universal at the end of his career.
Even when the rights are all in one place, however, video companies usually decide that the video market doesn't follow directors closely enough to support such promotions. Hitchcock's popularity with the masses is unique, according to Ned Nalle, the VP who struck the deal for MCA, which is just now releasing some vintage films from such directors as Preston Sturges and Josef von Sternberg and the Gene Shalit's Critics Choice line of sale-priced classics trading on the popularity of "curator" Shalit. Says Nalle, "I don't know if the video audience knows the name Von Sternberg."
Nor does it embrace much of anything foreign beyond " 'Crocodile' Dundee," worries Fead, who fears that the Wenders collection will get lost in the new-release shuffle, and may be hard to find. "The video rental market is not receptive to foreign films," says Fead. "Video retailers in general don't know how to market or merchandise anything other than major film titles, because I think there is a preconceived notion that films of this type are of very limited appeal." The six films in the collection filmed in German will be presented on video with English subtitles, the film buff's preference over dubbing, according to Fead.
Stars for Sale While most MBA-types in the video business don't consider directors bankable on tapes, the performers in front of the camera do enjoy that status, and a number of video suppliers have started marketing collections of sale-priced films from their catalogues on the basis of their star appeal. The first to do so, Key Video, has cut the price on its "Spotlight On" series by one-third, making its 61 films available at $19.98. Among the luminaries on whom the spotlight shines are Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Woody Allen, Sidney Poitier and Marlon Brando.
Even Movie Studios Do It What would Adolph Zukor say? Here in its 75th anniversary year, Paramount is going into the video business' equivalent of the world's oldest profession -- dirty movies. This month, Paramount Home Video will release the "Hollywood Erotic Film Festival," a 75-minute compilation of live action and animated erotic comedy shorts for viewers who are looking to punctuate their heavy breathing with the occasional chuckle. Unrated during its limited theatrical release earlier this year, the video carries an "adult oriented material" warning rather than an MPAA rating, and Paramount is seeking to place it in the tradition of the "art films" of the '60s rather than the current skin-flick grain -- the fact that many of the shorts were made in Europe is offered to dealers as its major selling point. While it's not triple-X, the release does mark the completion of a full circle in the industry: It was the success of pornography on tape that helped get the video business going, and demonstrated to the studios that there was a market for watching movies in the privacy of the home