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Home Entertainment : Kultur Video Is Home for Classical Arts

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras have been very good for Kultur Video. But then, Kultur Video has been very good to the Three Tenors, as well as other performing arts luminaries.

Founded in 1980 by Dennis Hedlund, the New Jersey-based company pioneered the distribution on video of fine arts programming and is credited with helping pave the way for the crossover success being enjoyed by the tenors three.

Beginning with two tapes, recital performances by violinist Jascha Heifetz and pianist Arthur Rubenstein, Hedlund has amassed a catalogue that encompasses the worlds of opera, classical music, ballet, jazz, theater and art.

In a hit-driven industry, such titles as “Victor Borge in London,” “Backstage at the Kirov” and “Art of the Western World” are not likely to challenge “‘Speed” and “City Slickers II” on the rental charts. This is one reason Kultur has endured while other independent companies have gone bust trying to beat the major studios at their own game.

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“We are an entertainment and a historical label,” said Hedlund. “We are in the business of preserving great performances of legends we could not see otherwise, and that makes our product highly collectible.’

There was in the beginning “tremendous resistance” from mainstream retailers and distributors, Hedlund recalled. “We were the first company get into mail order,” he said. “Not because we were doing anything brilliant. We were trying to survive.”

The turning point for Kultur came in 1984 with the release of an interview and performance by Mikhail Baryshnikov. With limited distribution, the tape sold 10,000 units in the first six months, according to Hedlund. “That’s when we realized we really had a business,” he said.

The majority of Kultur’s catalogue comes from abroad, “where there is such a thirst and a high regard for this type of product,” Hedlund said. “We were able to license programs that in many cases had run the gamut on European and Japanese television but was really virgin product over here.”

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In 1990, Hedlund established a new label, White Star (named after his favorite brand of champagne) to accommodate a five-volume series, “The Best of Ernie Kovacs,” that did not fit into the Kultur niche.

White Star “is more mainstream,” Hedlund explained, but, like Kultur, the accent is on programs that are deemed collectible. Recent releases include “Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie,” priced at $19.95 retail, and the video and compact disc set “Bob Hope Remembers . . . World War II--The European Theater and D-Day,” priced at $49.95 retail.

* For a Kultur/White Star catalogue, call (800) 458-5887.


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