Eric K. Federing is 28 years old too young to have a clear memory of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" when Stanley Kramer's epic-length comedy was released in 1963.
But the elaborate farce, which featured a "who's who" of comedians - including Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney and Buster Keaton - had the kind of larger-than-life showmanship that Federing appreciates.And like many big-budget Hollywood productions of the 1950s and '60s, especially musicals and historical epics, it was marketed as a major event. Those films were released as "road shows" in wide-screen formats and dressed up with musical overtures and formal intermissions. Now they've taken their places on video shelves, stripped of their grandeur and frequently altered.
Six years ago Federing founded the Mad World Campaign, dedicated to restoring the 193-minute version that was first released in stereophonic sound and Cinerama, a wide-screen process, to 14 North American cities. And he was a driving force behind a 25th-anniversary celebration of "Mad World" Nov. 3 in Hollywood.
The original version of "Mad World" shown then ran 154 minutes; it included a recorded overture and the soundtrack that was played during intermission on the film's initial release. Soon after it opened, Federing said, United Artists began whittling the picture under pressure from exhibitors. Theaters wanted "Mad World" shortened so they could schedule more shows.
"This is not a fan club, it's not a cult, it's not anything like that," Federing said in a telephone interview from Washington, where he's press secretary to Rep. Norman Y. Mineta, D-Calif. (Not entirely by coincidence, Mineta in April introduced a House resolution to honor the film on its 25th anniversary. The bill died.)
The campaign accepts no money, and its purpose is simple: to convince MGM/UA, which owns the film, to make new prints from a restored version and release them to the kind of theaters where the film's showmanship and visual qualities can best be appreciated.
Despite Federing's efforts, releasing a restored version of the film is hardly a top priority at the company. Richard Berger, who assumed the MGM/UA presidency Oct. 31, said, "I've got a lot of things on my desk I need to take care before I get to that."
Yet Federing presses on. Through the years, the Mad World Campaign has gathered about 30 minutes of cut footage, including some scenes without sound, most of it from private individuals.
"When the studio took something out, they didn't just take the excised footage and put it in a box. They got rid of it," he said. "If a studio threw something away, then some collector has it."
Federing despises what he called "slice-and-dice, hole-in-the-wall" theaters, and the Mad World Campaign has lent its support to the restoration of classic movie palaces around the country.
How did he come to launch a one-man crusade to restore "Mad World"?
Aside from being the first Cinerama film to use a single lens, Federing said, the movie was historically valuable on a higher level: The actors "represented Hollywood and comedy at its finest and collectively represented half-a-century of movie comedy. It was really a celebration of comedy."