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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Fantastic Journeys: The Fanex Files - Volume 2: Samuel Z. Arkoff
Fantastic Journeys: The Fanex Files - Volume 2: Samuel Z. Arkoff
Other // Unrated // October 28, 2008
List Price: $9.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted January 20, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Fantastic Journeys: The Fanex Files - Volume 2: Samuel Z. Arkoff (shorted to Fanex Files - Samuel Z. Arkoff for the cover art) is a better-than-you'd-think interview and clip show produced by Midnight Marquee Productions and Longthrow Multimedia International. Rooted in a July 29, 2000 appearance by its subject at a convention in Arlington Virginia, the 91-minute show alternates between comments by the colorful producer and a jumble of trailers, publicity stills, and supplementary interviews. Modeled somewhat after A&E's Biography, it's clumsy here and there and strictly for fans of Arkoff's oeuvre, but it's still a valuable overview of the man near the end of his life (he died the following September, at 83).




Lawyer Samuel Z. Arkoff (1918-2001) - not to be confused with the mythical Samuel L. Bronkowitz - co-founded AIP in the mid-1950s with former Realart Pictures sales manager James H. Nicholson (1916-1972). This was during the "product shortage" era of movies, when the major studios - suffering huge losses from the growing television audience and for other reasons - had cut way back on the production of in-house movies, especially second features. Theaters owners needed movies, and AIP was a godsend to smaller chains, independents, and especially the drive-in market. Back then drive-ins had to wait months for an "A" picture - they were at the very end of the movie distribution chain - but AIP provided them with brand new movies for a fraction of the price.


AIP was also the first company to really cash-in on the teenage demographic. These same drive-ins that initially catered to baby-boom families in the years immediately following World War II by the end of the fifties had become a hangout for teenagers. AIP cannily seized upon this, making double-bills for, about, and even starring teenagers just like them. AIP also refined the States-Rights manner of film distribution, of proto-High Concept film marketing, and perhaps most famously, its signature methodology of coming up with the title and the movie poster first to test the waters, often before a script had even been written.


Arkoff outlived his business partner by nearly 30 years, and in the years since a lot of speculation has arisen over just who did what at AIP, and who was really responsible for its creative and financial successes. Arkoff always came across as a bigger-than-life, cigar-toting, self-styled mogul, while it has generally been assumed Nicholson was really the creative half of AIP. Arkoff doesn't denigrate Nicholson's contributions, but he marginalizes him somewhat by hardly ever mentioning him. I think he says Nicholson's name twice in the documentary.


Still, Arkoff is full of acerbic, eyebrow-raising and often apocryphal (or at least highly misleading) stories that are notably short on specifics. ("[Vincent Price] was a pain in the ass, but a terrific human being.") There's been only one book on AIP that I'm aware of, Mark McGee's Fast and Furious: The Story of American International Pictures and its amusingly-titled updated edition, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures. Both are enjoyable reads, but they don't really get at the nuts and bolts of AIP. Arkoff liked to tell a good yarn, but it's a shame no one (apparently) was ever able to pin him down on exactly how his films were financed, what his deals were with actors and exhibitors, how he worked with exhibitors with such disparate needs and demands, how he negotiated with foreign producers of films AIP acquired, etc. (and, obviously, who did what at AIP). Some of this archival material survives at MGM, though what's there is spotty to say the least. I suspect a lot of Arkoff's deal-making involved boiler-plate legal documents and under-the-table dealings, the specifics of which Arkoff took to his grave.


Despite being interviewed by credited host Tom Weaver (we don't see much of Tom, though he guffaws occasionally just out of camera range), Arkoff tends to ramble, though there are little nuggets of informative or at least amusing comments here and there.


The rest of the show does an okay job mixing trailers - some awfully dog-eared, others obviously culled from MGM Midnight Movie DVDs - publicity stills, public domain historical clips, and supplementary interviews with the likes of producer Gary Svehla, actress Leanna Chamish, actor / film fan George Stover, and briefly, Roger Corman.





Video & Audio


Fantastic Journeys: The Fanex Files - Volume 2: Samuel Z. Arkoff (2008) is presented full frame (with some of the trailers, sourced from 16:9 enhanced sources, left "squeezed") and looks quite good for a low-budget documentary, perhaps not quite up to the level of an A&E Biography, but pretty close. The audio is surprisingly good; there are no subtitle options and the disc is not closed captioned. There are no Extra Features.


Parting Thoughts


Fanex Files - Samuel Z. Arkoff is strictly for hard-core AIP fans but for that limited audience the film delivers a surprisingly professional, nostalgic show of modest interest.



Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest book, The Toho Studios Story, is on sale now.

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