Although Retro World Expo is a retro video game convention in name and purpose, it does host some events that are aimed at interests that tend to intersect with gaming. In this particular case, the specific interest is (mostly) obscure horror, grindhouse, exploitation, and yes, even (North American) pornography that is actively being preserved by Vinegar Syndrome.
The group takes these oftentimes obscure films from the sixties through to the early nineties and cleans them up for pressing and redistribution via Blu-Ray. Why? Well, as was explained during the panel, it’s a preservation of culture. Many of the films in Vinegar Syndrome’s wheelhouse were never preserved in any form other than (highly degradable) film, so there’s a lot to potentially lose permanently. Although the group doesn’t handle silent films for redistribution, the fact that 80% of all silent films are gone forever was cited as a big driver for this preservation goal.
A fair part of this panel was dominated by two short videos, one of which showed off clips from recent releases, such as Liquid Sky, Ice Cream Man, and Body Melt, among many other fan favorites (of the non-pornographic variety, as per convention center rules).
The next video was actually from a short done by the SyFy Channel which actually stepped into Vinegar Syndrome’s workshop and archive. The first video showed the machine which scanned the film; this video gave us a much better look at operations. Before we watched this video, the purpose of this machine was explained, and much of its capacities were reiterated in the SyFy video: the type of film it can handle, what it does, and its past. Legend says this particular scanner had been used for the dailies for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.
The machine is monstrous, supposedly over 1000 pounds, and our hosts added that their second film scanner was about the size of a television set. Although the SyFy video contained a quick walkthrough of the process to shipping, far more detail was discussed during the panel afterward. Everything from the creation of the physical disc and distribution was discussed (a completely in-state process except for the manufacturing, which is done in Los Angeles, California), to the steps in just checking and restoring a film. Just a few of these steps are cleaning the film, transferring sound, scanning, and color correction, all of which can be extremely time-consuming, with color correction alone ranging from 80 to 100 hours per movie.
The team also discussed the difficulties of storing film. Nitrate film stock, the norm until the mid-sixties, is highly flammable, so special accommodations must be made. The archives of Vinegar Syndrome’s site are three floors, so there’s a lot to lose. However, if the films are preserved properly, the stock can last from 800-1000 years.
An aspect of the process that was spoken of affectionately was contacting those associated with the films. The licensing process can be potentially frustrating, as licenses pass from parties unrelated, grandchildren, exes, etc., or sometimes lead to naught. But both hosts spoke affectionately of contacting directors, actors, and others involved, who are often excited that their work will potentially be able to reach a larger audience that they ever dreamt.
If you’re interested in Vinegar Syndrome’s unique offerings, you can check out their website here. They’re on release number 240, and judging by the excitement from the hosts when they said they couldn’t say what was coming up, there is some great stuff on the way.
You can also visit Vinegar Syndrome’s associated store, The Archive, which is located in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The store specializes in movies, whether it’s DVD, tape, or laserdisc, though it also carries records, posters, and even books that are associated with smash-hit movies. The store is currently only open Thursday through Sunday, but Wednesday hours are upcoming.