Mike, Jay: In talking about The Theater of the Imagination we are really referring to the Voyager Company, which became gradually one of its own divisions, The Criterion Collection. But in the beginning, Voyager, which became Criterion, committed a lot of sound material to Laserdisc, such as The Theater of the Imagination." This extraordinary venture was begun by a firebrand named Bob Stein, who was inspired to form the Voyager Company (named after the space probe) by buying the electronic rights to CITIZEN KANE and KING KONG for ten thousand bucks. Here is a snippet of a longer essay on the history of the company, "The Teachings of Bob Stein" by Amy Virshup:
" In 1980, Bob Stein was a former student radical, political organizer, and confirmed Maoist who had completed a BA from Columbia, an MA from Harvard, and about a week's worth of work on a PhD. He also had a wife and a family. He and Aleen had married in 1978; she already had two children, and they'd eventually have two more together. Living in LA, Stein had reached a point where he "realized that fundamental change - as in revolution - was a long way off, and I couldn't wait that long." He worked as a waiter and went looking for his future in the public library. He found it in a handful of articles in magazines like New York and Publishers Weekly that touted the capabilities of a new technology involving optical videodiscs and the work of a little-known media lab at MIT. "I read until I got interested in something," says Stein. "And I got interested in this."
"Over the next few years, Stein went from one consulting gig to another - for Encyclopaedia Britannica, for Alan Kay's Atari Research Group, for Warner executive Stan Cornyn - preaching the gospel of the electronic future. Finally, in 1984, the Steins bought the electronic rights to two classic movies, Citizen Kane and King Kong, for $10,000 and went into business with a former Warner exec named Roger Smith. They called their new venture the Criterion Collection. Looking for more product, they approached New York-based Janus Films, run by Becker and Turrell. "Roger and Bob never came together, they always came separately," recalls Turrell, who until recently worked out of Voyager's satellite office in Irvington, New York, a half-hour's train ride from Manhattan. "Roger would show up in three-piece suits and take me to very expensive lunches. Bob would show up two weeks later in his pajama pants, we'd go out for pizza, and he'd say, 'You have a couple of bucks you could lend me?'" Not too surprisingly, the Stein-Smith partnership soon fell apart.
"But about three months later, Turrell got a call from Stein. "He said, 'Did you see what we did?' Roger had in fact sent me King Kong and I'd watched it. I said, 'King Kong. Movie. Seen it, been there, done that.' He said, 'You don't get it. Let me come up to the office and show you something.' He brought Citizen Kane, and he showed me the opening scene - of the window in the Hearst Castle - and he said, 'If you fast-forward through this, you'll see the window never changes location.' That's true. Seven different shots and the light just dissolves, and you enter through that light." With a laserdisc, you could move through the movie frame by frame, seeing not just what Welles had done, but how he'd done it. "Bob said, 'This is what it's about.' And it clicked." By the summer of 1985, with several hundred thousand dollars in capital, the Steins and the Janus team had founded Voyager, naming it after the space probe then headed for distant planets." http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.07/stein_pr.html
To think that all of the good works flowing from Criterion began with CITIZEN KANE and KING KONG! And that the deal was sealed by the new Laserdisc medium's ability to capture just how Orson Welles created the opening scene of his first masterpiece.