Porn Remastering Pt. 3: Young Gladiators & New Technology

Posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster

 

I wrote a couple of blogs last spring (Part 1 and Part 2 can be read here) about my work process at Bijou on remastering vintage porn movies for re-release on DVD and streaming. We had a slower period during the first year of covid, when we weren't able to put out as many new releases as usual, though we still managed to do a handful of movies during that time. In the past several months, however, during which we've picked back up to our normal pace at the office, we've made some technology updates that should allow for us to put out many higher quality digitally remastered versions of movies. I'm excited about these upgrades, so I wanted to write a new blog on the subject.

Our most recent release, the first to fully make use of the tech updates, is the glossy John Summers-directed J/O video, Young Gladiators (1988), starring Steve Hammond, Tim Lowe, Matt Ramsey (aka straight porn megastar Peter North), and three other guys showing off and jacking off for the camera. This movie turned out to be an ideal candidate for high quality remastering, because it was well-lit and well-shot to begin with and our VHS copy held up well, so we got great results from the new program we have been using for upscaling video sources, Topaz Enhance AI.

 

Matt Ramsey on the cover of Young Gladiators

 

I've spent a million hours tinkering with this program recently, but it has so far provided very promising results (after a substantial amount of troubleshooting). I used to think there wasn't much hope for actually increasing quality when upscaling VHS or Beta sources; I thought it would mostly just be making the same low quality larger, but not better, and this seemed to prove true from older programs and plug-ins we tried out for upscaling. But Enhance AI has done amazing work on several of the movies we have processed through it, and seems to greatly increase the clarity and fine detail in many videos. It not only upscales them, but it helps to remove noise and other artifacts from low resolution video sources and adds crispness to the image.

This program seems to have amazing potential, though it is not without quirks, as it still seems to be in the process of being fine-tuned by its makers, and also because it was not designed specifically to work with and improve the quality of VHS, so the output from it sometimes is full of odd glitches, artifacts, or distortions. Restoring movies at Bijou, we often work with older video sources, and outmoded sources are increasingly unfamiliar to software designers, so determining if and how new pieces of software can actually function well with these older formats requires a lot of hands-on tests. The most persistent initial problem we had with it (an issue with jittery-looking playback from repeated frames) required a lot of testing and consulting forums and software support staff to work through. Processing a full movie in Enhance AI takes around 20 hours on our computer, typically, so the testing process was not a quick one.

In the midst of all this, we had to build a new computer for me to work on at the office, but my new one is very powerful and even better able to handle the heavy-duty processing required by this program. This computer upgrade seemed to eliminate the jittery playback issue, but the resulting files had a new problem; they were not correctly functioning in the program where we do the remainder of our remastering work (Adobe Premiere). After even more research and testing, I discovered that there was an issue with the frame rates of the video files created in Enhance, and I figured out a roundabout, multi-step process to correct for this, which finally produced a high quality file that could be successfully used for color and audio corrections, glitch/tracking/splice removal, and any other steps in my standard remastering process. So that's my new routine until we inevitably figure out new and better ways to continue to improve our procedure in the future, as always!

Even with the additional steps required to produce something usable, it is exciting to come into Premiere to color correct these files that are noticeably larger, crisper, and more clear than what we previously had to work with from video transfers. I've included several comparison images below that show the difference between the initial VHS version of Young Gladiators (left) and the remastered version (right). You can see how the initial VHS version was fuzzy and noisy, compared to the images on the right, which have more smoothness, crispness, and depth of detail. This video further illustrates the before/after results on this movie.

Before and after restoration images from Young Gladiators
Before and after restoration images from Young Gladiators
Before and after restoration images from Young Gladiators

Before (left) and after (right) restoration images from Young Gladiators

 

Prior to the new computer, but as our very first test subject for Enhance AI, I worked on the 1982 Mark Reynolds movie, Summer Fantasy. It was another movie that got a major quality increase from that program, which you can see in the before/after image examples below. This quality increase really benefited the film, as it is very visually lush and seductive.

Before and after restoration images from Summer Fantasy
Before and after restoration images from Summer Fantasy
Before and after restoration images from Summer Fantasy

Before (left) and after (right) restoration images from Summer Fantasy

 

A couple of the releases that we did put out during the fog of 2020/early 2021 were Steve Scott's Gold Rush Boys (1983) and Joe Gage's super-popular Heatstroke (1982). These were done before either of our tech upgrades, but both movies were able to be significantly improved through our old process of noise reduction, color and audio correction, and more.

Gold Rush Boys seemed to take very well to adjustments, and we were able to get richer color, cleaner image, more detail, and crisper quality out of it, as you can see in the images below and in this video comparing the pre- and post-restoration stages.

 

Before and after restoration images from Gold Rush Boys

Before (left) and after (right) restoration images from Gold Rush Boys

 

Heatstroke is an absolute classic that has been begging for a higher quality release for decades (existing ones were in poor shape), and it was a thrill to tackle it. Though hopefully some day there is a new transfer from the film print for the optimal quality release, in the meantime, we were able, with our new version, to put out one of the best copies of this movie yet to be made available on VHS, DVD, or VOD. Of the many video sources for it we looked at, we found one that had thankfully retained its quality fairly well, and we were able to reduce its noise and get good clarity and color from it. We've been happy to hear positive comments about this release from a few of those who have been eagerly awaiting a better version of this important porn film.

 

Images from Bijou's release of Heatstroke

Images from Bijou's release of Heatstroke, featuring Clay Russell, Richard Locke, and Roy Garrett

 

I realize much of this may sound very boring and technical, zoomed in on the minutia, but in the zoomed out perspective that veers into the comical, I'm spending the majority of my time at work very, very slowly going through footage of dicks and asses, squinting and examining them to see if they look slightly better with this effect or that, with a little less orange or more shadow, etc., like some kind of sexually explicit vision test. I've easily eaten the majority of the meals I've consumed during the past 13 years of my life while at this task. (Perhaps why I was inspired to put together our Food Sex compilation several years ago.)

It's always a pleasure to get to make long-unseen porn movies once again available, or available in better quality, and we always aim to continue that process, adding to and improving upon our existing catalog of classics and making use of technological advancements whenever possible. It's particularly satisfying on the occasions, like with the movies mentioned here, that we have a source that held up well to begin with and also proves to clean up so substantially that it comes out looking great. (And all these titles can be found through Bijou on DVD and VOD.)

Anyhow, all this is to say: we're looking forward to remastering many new releases at a higher quality level in 2022!

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Rhythm

Posted by Madam Bubby

 

When I journeyed to New York for the first time in 1994 for the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, I ended up the night before the parade at a wild sex/play party with a hot leather BDSM top I had just met at a dance in the Armory. The location of the party was in some area of the East Village, I think. When I saw the purple and green walls and the coked up bouncer, my first thought was I was in some kind of Fellini movie.

And then I saw it: the orgy. I couldn’t even distinguish the faces, even characteristics of the individual bodies; the guys groping and pulling and grimacing seems liked one writhing body. I was both attracted and repelled. My new friend and I looked at each other curiously; we tried to mask our insecurities in thinking we were above such lowly, ordinary lusts. My friend would have wanted to separate that group, tie up some of the hot ones with the rope he was carrying; he would contain, tame, and dominate that energy, that fervid rhythm. Yes, there would be pleasure, but not equality. He would break any boundaries, and they would follow him, succumb to his power.

 

Orgy scenes from classic gay porn films

Orgy scenes from 10:30 P.M. Monday, Turned On!, The Goodjac Chronicles, and Closed Set

 

Elias Canetti in his profound study of crowd behavior Crowds and Power claims that humans’ instinctive drive to participate in the power of the crowd comes from something at one level simple, something we don’t always think about consciously, rhythm, but the rhythm of footsteps. He makes the observation that we walk on two legs, but the feet attached to the legs strike the ground. A person can only movie if they continue to make this action.

 

And, those “two feet never strike the ground with exactly the same force.” We are different yet the same, and when persons listen to and in some cases merge into the footsteps of others, including animals that naturally congregate in herds, he was drawn to do the same, feeling that power, that ”invincible unity.”

Canetti analyzes a description of the Haka dance of the New Zealand Maoris, originally a war dance, but now performed by rugby teams as both a warm-up team spirit exercise before the game, and, after the game, a victory dance.

 

Haka dance

Haka dance - Source: https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2015/10/14/haka-rugby- world-cup_n_8290712.html

 

What’s interesting is in its original situation as the war dance, the performers were naked. And after much showing off of individual agility, including some form of “perpendicular jump,” the dance escalates to a paradoxically frenzied yet controlled unity of movement; Canetti writes, “it is as though each body was taken to pieces, not only the arms and legs, but also the fingers, toes, tongues, and eyes; and then all the tongues got together, and did exactly the same things at the same moment; all the toes and all the eyes become equal in one and the same enterprise.” They are separate bodies, but it looks as if it one body with many limbs and heads. They are dense, equal, one. Yet ultimately it is a performance, done in times when the culture as a whole encounters boundary moments such as welcoming visitors, funerals, and communal feasts.

The literal hunt for the herd eventually became various forms of the dance, a release of that primal energy that for a brief moment blurs cultural boundaries that deter the power of the crowd, displace and deflect the power away from persons onto computers.

Rather than initiating rhythm from what we heard and felt in those original footsteps, we now try to contain it by digitizing it. It is seen, but we can’t always see who is seeing. Everything becomes a performance, but that means nothing really is one in the new world of Zoom.

 

Group Zoom meeting

Group Zoom meeting - Source: https://www.timeout.com/things-to-do/best-things-to-do-at-home- stuck-inside-bored

 

I just can’t imagine a Zoom orgy, BDSM play party, or even Haka dance. The separate but apart dynamic implodes, and it’s not just because of the physical dimension obviously isn’t there; what’s lacking is that feeling of invincible unity based on rhythm and density. Imagining yourself as a participant of course can evoke that feeling, but it’s like an imitation of an imitation. And you are alone. Not even lonely in a crowd.

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No More Porn on Tumblr! Why?

I wonder if the announcement that Tumblr was banning pornographic content was perhaps inevitable, but not for the official and unofficial reasons currently being disseminated by the media.

The surface reasons seems to be tied into the confluence between technology and profits. The IOS App Store would no longer allow the Tumblr App because of an isolated child pornography incident. Since most Smartphone users rely on Apps, not allowing it would seriously lessen Tumblr’s overall use and scope. But why target Tumblr? Was it simply the, according to some sources, the 20 percent porn content?

It may seem that Tumblr was directly put between the proverbial rock and hard place, even though the microblog is a free service. An article in The Verge succinctly paraphrases the new policy:

“Banned content includes photos, videos, and GIFs of human genitalia, female-presenting nipples, and any media involving sex acts, including illustrations. The exceptions include nude classical statues and political protests that feature nudity. The new guidelines exclude text, so erotica remains permitted. Illustrations and art that feature nudity are still okay — so long as sex acts aren’t depicted — and so are breastfeeding and after-birth photos.” The wording of Tumblr’s announcement seems to both evoke and invoke arguments about obscenity that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.

LGBTQ sexual pioneer Chuck Renslow started out as a physique photographer, and he definitely was pushing social boundaries during the 1950s with his homoerotic (as close to nude was possible, and one could often see that the posing straps were painted on) photos. He, like many other in this line of work, were “coding” their visuals, because it was one of the few ways gay men could experience their erotic desires and fantasies safely and privately. Many outfits mailed nude photos and films in plain envelopes, but these were often confiscated by the Post Office and the perpetrators, both the senders and receivers, punished.

Some of these incidents ended up in the court system. Renslow’s case ended in victory, as the judge made the ruling that if one deemed these photos obscene, so would certain masterpieces of art, especially from the Graeco-Roman period.

The Manual vs. Day case, which went to the United States Supreme Court, held that magazines consisting of semi-nude or nude males are not obscene and the Post Office cannot interfere with their dissemination through the mail. The case is notable for its ruling that photographs of nude men are not obscene, an implication which opened the U.S. mail to nude male pornography, especially those whose audience was gay men.

Tumblr of course is certainly not contained physically in brown, unmarked envelopes, but what is interesting is that Tumblr seems to be agreeing with that 1950s judge. Agreeing to some extent, yes, but also opening up once more some of the time-worn arguments about the complex relationship between sexuality, artistic expression, violence, and how this relationship builds and shapes an audience.

Going back to my initial statement, it seems inevitable that something of this nature would happen, because it’s obvious our means of communication have changed drastically since the days of postage stamps and nudie photographs and envelopes, and later, moving images of sexual acts in theaters that charged admission only to adults: physical mediums that exist in a controlled spatial situation.

What Tumblr and those who support restricting what they deem porn (for them, porn equals genitals which equals sexual acts) fail to recognize is not of course the nanosecond dissemination of mostly amateur depictions of sex which could result in more potentially dangerous situations: no, they fail to recognize the aesthetics (which tie into social contexts, of course) of a wide variety of LGBTQ pornography from the 1970s and 1980s, especially.

For example, Al Parker responded to the AIDS crisis by combining sexual acts and documentary in his film High Tech. Jack Deveau offers what one could claim is a documentary of gay life during the "hippie" era in Left-Handed. So many others of that period usually offer narrative structures: the sex acts aren’t just sex acts per se, but components in forms that explore the larger social issues of the time. And even some of the J. Brian films, which were not made to specifically address any social or moral issues, could be seen as living documents of gay sexual history.
 

Three cast members in High Tech
Three men using vacuum pumps in High Tech

Stars of Left-Handed
Stars Ray Frank & Robert Rikas in Left-Handed

The question remains as to how one could apply any standard of evaluation to any medium which communicates the erotic universally, but it seems a rather generalized case could be made that the older the porn, the more chances it could be determined to be aesthetically or historically significant. But the burden of proof would fall on the user, and in today’s lightning-paced communication environment, time is an enemy, rather than, as before, space.

Yet at this juncture, it seems like the only possible solution here is diversification. Perhaps Tumblr’s free-for-all ethos caused this implosion. Given the fluid nature of social media, those who used Tumblr, especially LGBTQ persons who still exist in various states of marginalization, will have to regroup, and unfortunately, some might claim, not return to closets or ghettos, but establish in their own tech-savvy ways other spaces for erotic expression.

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