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8mm Format Gets Big Boost From 2 Movie Companies;'Wrestlemania II’ Will Bounce Out on Cassette May 22

Times Staff Writer

Movies are finally coming to 8 mm.

So far the fledgling mini home-video format has been used primarily for making home movies because there has been little pre-recorded software available. This week both Paramount and Embassy announced plans to release movies and some original programming in 8mm.

Sony, the giant in the 8mm field, will distribute the Paramount cassettes. Embassy’s distribution deal is with Kodak.

Over the next 18 months, Embassy will market at least 46 titles. Ten, including “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “The Cotton Club,” “A Chorus Line” and some how-to’s, will be available in June. Paramount has scheduled 15 films for summer release. The list is headed by “Witness,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Flashdance” and “Trading Places.” Even though some movies are recent releases, both companies will charge $29.95 or less for the titles.

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Many rumors have circulated in the last year about companies with huge movie catalogues entering the 8mm market. What finally convinced Paramount to make a move?

“The quality of the hardware was the determining factor,” explained Tim Clott, Paramount Home Video senior vice president and general manager. “We didn’t want to put our films out on systems that didn’t play them back properly. The picture quality of 8mm has improved greatly over the last year or two. It’s now comparable to the best half-inch (VHS and Beta) systems. Now there’s good-quality digital sound too. The earlier version of 8mm didn’t have digital sound.”

A limiting factor of 8mm is that only two-hour cassettes are available. “Naturally we could only put movies on 8mm that are less than two hours,” Clott said. “There will be longer tapes one day, but we’re not sure when.”

Until now, the big attraction of 8mm has been size. All the equipment is considerably smaller than its VHS and Beta counterparts. The basic 8mm cassette is approximately the size of an audiocassette.

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The introduction of movies to 8mm may be just the boost this struggling format needs. It may stimulate hardware sales, which in turn might inspire other video companies to market movies.

The big question, though, is whether consumers, who now seem sold on the VHS format, are willing to plunge into 8mm. According to a Fairfield Group survey conducted in February, 55% of consumers who are planning to buy a VCR might purchase 8mm equipment if all things were equal among the various formats. All things are basically equal, except that 8mm has been lagging behind in software availability.

Embassy and Paramount’s entry into the 8mm software field may be the beginning of the end of that final stumbling block.

ODDS ‘N’ ENDS: Steelman Rocco, Video Insider magazine’s wrestling expert leaked the news two months ago of Monday’s matches at the L.A. Sports Arena, Chicago and New York that would wind up as “Wrestlemania II.” Now he reports the release date of “Wrestlemania II” will be May 22. Coliseum Video will package two hours of highlights into a cassette selling for $39.95. According to Rocco, who saw the matches Monday at the Sports Arena live and on closed-circuit TV, the best moments are the Chicago free-for-all featuring William (the Refrigerator) Perry and the New York boxing match between Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. T.

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Embassy can’t be happy that another Pete Rose how-to baseball tape has surfaced. Its “Baseball the Pete Rose Way,” due out April 23, has to compete with an updated oldie, “Pete Rose: Winning Baseball,” from Video Gems. Both are $19.95. The Video Gems cassette was formerly “Masters of the Game.”

Having trouble finding Beta prerecorded cassettes? It’s going to get worse. The Beta market continues to collapse, confirms the trade publication Video Week. The good news is that those Beta VCRs are getting cheaper and cheaper.

Collectors of the Disney animated features should note that “Alice in Wonderland” is being rereleased at $29.95 at the end of May. That reduced price will be in effect through the end of the year.

OLD MOVIES: MGM/UA is dropping the price of some of its best musicals to $29.95, beginning April 29. There are some gems in this bargain package: “An American in Paris” (1951), featuring Gershwin’s music and Gene Kelly’s second-best dancing sequences (“Singin’ in the Rain” is considered his best); and the 1944 Judy Garland musical “Meet Me in St. Louis,” highlighted by her famous rendition of “The Trolley Song.”

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“Mon Oncle” (Embassy, $29.95), the French comedy starring Jacques Tati as Mr. Hulot, is low on dialogue but high on sight gags. According to some film historians, it satirizes our passion for gadgetry as cleverly as Buster Keaton did in his silent movies. This movie won the 1958 best foreign film Oscar.

Reportedly, James Cagney’s recent death has caused a surge in popularity of his movies on cassette. If you go on a Cagney hunt at your local video store, here’s what to look for: “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (CBS/ Fox, $59.98), which won him a best actor Oscar in 1942; “Angels With Dirty Faces” (CBS/Fox, $49.98), a 1938 gangster movie with Humphrey Bogart; “The Roaring Twenties” (Key, $59.98), an even better 1939 gangster movie co-starring Bogart; and the 1955 comedy-drama “Mr. Roberts” (Warner, $24.95), featuring Cagney as the oddball ship’s captain.

If you stumble onto copies of “Public Enemy” (1931) or Cagney’s best gangster movie, “White Heat” (1949), consider yourself lucky. They’ve been out of circulation for a while. CBS/Fox has no information about when they’ll be rereleased.

NEW AND COMING MOVIES: “Witness” (Paramount, $79.95) and “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (Charter Entertainment, $79.95) are in the stores this week. They’ll be in such demand that finding weekend rental copies may not be easy.

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“Sweet Dreams,” starring Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline, will be released next week. Lange was a best actress nominee for this performance. Next week’s other notable releases: Chuck Norris rids America of Russian terrorists in the “Rambo"-like blood ‘n’ guts saga, MGM/UA’s “Invasion U.S.A.”; Lauren Hutton stars in a bizarre comedy about a veteran vampiress hungry for the blood of a male virgin in Vestron’s “Once Bitten,” and James Woods plays a novelist flashing back over his life in the unusual drama “Joshua Then and Now.”

The week of April 2O: “American Flyers,” “Krush Groove” and “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.” The flood of releases in the last week of the month include “Cocoon,” “A Chorus Line” and “Agnes of God.”

“Stranger in Paradise,” director Jim Jarmusch’s offbeat comedy, is due out May 20 on Key Video. It was the surprise winner of the National Society of Film Critics best picture award for 1984. Another comedy, “Macaroni,” the first teaming of Jack Lemmon and Marcello Mastroianni, is due in June.

CHARTS (Compiled by Billboard magazine). TOP VIDEOCASSETTES, RENTALS 1--"Return of the Jedi” (CBS-Fox).

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2--"Prizzi’s Honor” (Vestron).

3--"Silverado” (RCA/Columbia).

4--"Rambo: First Blood Part II” (Thorn/EMI/HBO).

5--"Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” (Warner Video).

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6--"Mask” (MCA).

7--"National Lampoon’s European Vacation” (Warner Video).

8--"The Goonies” (Warner Video).

9--"St. Elmo’s Fire” (RCA/Columbia).

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10--"Weird Science” (MCA).

TOP VIDEOCASSETTES, SALES 1--"Jane Fonda’s New Workout” (Karl-Lorimar).

2--"Return of the Jedi” (CBS-Fox).

3--"Beverly Hills Cop” (Paramount).

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4--"Jane Fonda’s Workout” (Karl-Lorimar).

5--"Pinocchio” (Disney).

6--"Rambo: First Blood Part II” (Thorn/EMI/HBO).

7--"Silverado” (RCA/Columbia).

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8--"The Goonies” (Warner Video).

9--"The Best of John Belushi” (Warner Video).

10--"Prime Time” (Karl-Lorimar).


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