Porn Remastering Pt. 2: Challenging Restorations

Posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster

 

This is a follow up on last Sunday’s blog on some of the simpler remastering processes we go through when preparing classic gay porn films for DVD and streaming release. Many of the movies that wind up more straight-forward to work on turn out beautifully (best illustrated in last week’s example, Hot Truckin’), especially when they meet all or most of the best case scenario criteria: originally being well-shot, us having a well-preserved and fully intact film or video source available, and having a high quality transfer of that source.

When these best case scenarios are not met, the remastering work can sometimes be challenging. I may spend a great deal of time working on a movie and improving upon its image quality and color, but we can’t create new image or color information that is not present in the source. We also sometimes encounter troubleshooting issues, in working with the combination of older formats and newer technology, where the software companies we work with don’t even know how to help us because they aren’t familiar with older formats (like VHS) and their needs and what is feasible to do with them, resulting in us doing a lot of detective work and tests.

Since I’m currently working from home because of the coronavirus, I don’t have access to all of our files, but I would love to provide before and after images from the movies I’m discussing in this blog. I plan on sending out a future blog with a number of before/after examples, as I think they are interesting illustrations of what our remastering work actually has actually done to improve upon the quality of our releases.

The movies we carry that took the most time and were the most complex to work on might be surprising. For example, our recent release, Steve Scott’s excellent 1984 film, Doing It, was one of the most time-consuming projects I’ve undertaken in all my years working for Bijou Video. For this movie, we digitized, in house, several different VHS sources. These appeared to have used the same original transfer, which was lacking in image clarity, and these all had different degrees of aging and of video noise present. I was able to run the best-preserved option through a plug-in that decreases video noise with a lot of success, so I was optimistic about its restoration.

 

Doing It DVD box cover
Box cover for Doing It

 

However, when I cut the shots apart and got into the color correction process, I noticed that, throughout the entire movie, the color within shots wildly fluctuated back and forth between different color schemes. (The same was true of each of these VHS versions.) This meant that I was not able to apply a color correction to a full shot. Instead, I had to make dozens of cuts within each shot to attempt to stabilize the color as much as possible. This was a far more complicated version of what I have to do with some other movies - particularly many Nova films, which often fluctuate in color - but those generally have slow shifts between color schemes and are relatively manageable to balance, whereas this movie had many constant, quick, sharp changes between different adjustment needs. Balancing all of these was a nearly insurmountable time commitment, but I was able to tackle evening out most of them. This source, even as the best option, also had some tracking issues in a few scenes. I was able to eliminate the briefer moments of tracking, but not the more extensive ones.

After this was complete, we happened to track down yet another source for Doing It, and it luckily was in far better shape, without the color fluctuation and with clearer image quality throughout. However, the audio was in worse shape, some shots had extremely dull color, and there were a few short sections that had been eliminated entirely from this VHS release. I synced the previous restoration with this new source. I was able to use almost all of the new source, thankfully, which eliminated most of the remaining color fluctuation issues and all of the tracking problems. I used the previous restoration’s audio and, in the sections with too little color information and for the missing chunks, I used the previous restoration’s image. I color corrected this new source. Then, I eliminated splice lines. None of the audio sources from any tape we checked out were perfect (all sounded slightly blown out during some of the dialogue), but I was able to make the audio less muddy and better sounding.

I’m grateful we found this additional source, because the final version of Doing It feels like a dramatic improvement. It is a good, watchable presentation of an excitingly well-made, very hot movie by one of the major classic porn directors and is one of Bijou’s final additions to the Steve Scott collection in our aim to preserve his work and make it available. You can stream this movie or watch it on DVD - or check out other Steve Scott titles!

 

Stills from Doing It
Stills from our final restoration of Doing It

 

Another great classic that we worked hard to preserve from available materials was the 1979 French porn film, Le Beau Mec (also known as Dude), directed by Wallace Potts (ballet star Rudolf Nureyev’s lover) and co-written by him and its muscular star, Karl Forest. This was another movie where I had to sync multiple VHS sources and pick and choose the best shots from each. Each source had moments of better color or worse tracking issues, but overall, I was able to cut together the best possible version. From there, I worked on matching the color between the shots from the various sources. The color in every source was faded (they also seem to have all originated from the same initial transfer), but I was able to reduce the VHS noise and add some enhancement to the color and clarity. Find this movie streaming and on DVD.

 

Stills from Le Beau Mec
Stills from Le Beau Mec (Dude)

 

We have plans to spend more time with an additional classic French porn film, From Paris to New York (1977), in the near future. Several years ago, we released a version from a Beta source. This source was all we had available at the time and it had limited color information, but we worked with it to try to bring some back in. One unique and exciting thing about Bijou's release of this movie, however, is that it is the only English subtitled version that exists (it contains dialogue in French and English). We had someone translate the French sections and we added in subtitles to our release. Another issue with the Beta source we used was that some scenes were missing. The company that put out that version unfortunately eliminated many of the lengthy and fascinating non-sex scenes from the movie to make for a more purely sex-focused release. We recently found a different source that contains the missing scenes (they’re great) and we are going to add this to our version, also with subtitles. Keep an eye out for that, coming soon!

 

Our goal at Bijou Video is always to release the best possible version of a movie, given the sources, resources, and technology we have available. We are often redoing restorations of movies already in our catalog, and will continue to do so, whenever better options become available to us. One aim is to do more future re-restorations of some of the best classics that we have film prints and negatives of, so also keep an eye out for those down the line, in addition to the pile of entirely new releases - many never before made available on DVD or streaming - that I’m ready to tackle when I get back into the office!

Read Part 3!

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