Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Joe Sarno 1921 - 2010

I received a call late last night that friend and filmmaker, Joe Sarno had passed away. All of us at the studio were very close to Joe the last twelve years, re-releasing his films around the globe, allowing fans of old and new to enjoy the wonderful movies that Joe wrote and directed.

Our deepest sympathy goes to Joe’s wife, Peggy and her family.

We are all devastated by the news. Joe was a great man and loved by everyone at Pop Cinema who had the wonderful opportunity to work with him.

Michael Raso
Pop Cinema

Joe Sarno / Portrait by Pazsint

Film historian and Joe Sarno biographer Michael Bowen released the following message this morning.

Joe Sarno
1921 - 2010

One of the Titans of the American erotic cinema, Joe Sarno, has died at the age of 89.

I loved him dearly and commend his spirit to the cinematic firmament.

His achievements will far outlive the frailty of the human body and the ephemeral prejudices of taste and morality. For me, he was the consummate filmmaker, a man who drank deeply of the medium’s essence and dared to trade in its most profound truths: simplicity, directness, and an insuperable faith in the power of human presence.

His death last night, Monday, April 26, marks the passage of a robust and innocent genius.

Godspeed, dear friend. The ravages of war can no longer touch you; your long afternoon of creative idleness has come to an end. The runway is once again clear for take-off.

My deepest condolences to Joe’s beloved wife, Peggy Steffans Sarno, to his children, and to the legion of actors and technicians who had the good fortune to work with him. His visionary gifts will not be forgotten.

Michael Bowen
New York City
April 27, 2010

About Joe Sarno
A pioneer of sexploitation cinema, American film director and screenwriter Joseph Sarno’s prolific career spans the evolution of the genre, beginning with Nude in Charcoal in 1961 and culminating in his 2004 feature Suburban Secrets. His early black and white films are praised for their chiaroscuro lighting and their complex psycho-sexual plots; but it was his more explicit art-house film, Inga, shot in Sweden in 1968, that brought him international attention and catapulted its young star, Marie Liljedahl, to fame. Joe continued to write and direct adult films through the 1970s and 80s, often working under a pseudonym or offering his director’s credit to the film’s female lead (A Touch of Genie, Inside Jennifer Welles). Among his most noted films are Sin in the Suburbs, Inga, Abigail Leslie Is Back in Town, Confessions of a Young American Housewife and Butterflies.

Recently, his work has been the subject of retrospectives at the New York Underground Film Festival, the Lake Placid Film Festival, The Vienna Filmmuseum, The Cinemateque Francais, The Turin Film Festival, The Alamo Draft House, the British Film Institute and the Warhol Museum.


Joe Sarno screening at the Alamo Draft House 2008

Friday, April 9, 2010

SHOCK FESTIVAL DVD Interview With"Devil Sister" director Paige Kay Davis

Interview by Joshua T. Gravel

Paige Davis, Head of Business Development for POPcinema and Camp Motion Pictures and Co-Producer of STEPHEN ROMANO PRESENTS SHOCK FESTIVAL, talks about her obsession with classic (and not-so-classic) possession films, and how they inspired DEVIL SISTER

Shock Festival DVD - "Devil Sister"
Paige Davis and Ed Douglas, director of “The Dead Matter” and founder of the dark music band, Midnight Syndicate

Would you give the Alternative Cinema audience some background information on your career in film or the arts in general?
I have a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Maryland, and for the better part of 15 years worked in traditional sales and marketing positions. The opportunity to come on board with POP / Camp some 6 years ago couldn’t have come at a better time – I’d been working as an outside sales rep for a national company and was a) creatively frustrated, b) stressed out and c) bored to death. New technologies had made producing and directing my own projects an option and I briefly considered starting my own company. Ultimately, the financial and logistical hurdles convinced me I would be better served by learning all aspects of the business from inside an established company.

As for my interest in cult and horror films, John Stanley’s “Creature Feature” is firmly entrenched in my childhood memories. My grandmother belonged to the Redington Beach “Beach Club,” and each summer I would accompany her to the club to swim, then watch GODZILLA, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON or similar horror- sci-fi films while she played bridge and gossiped with her friends. When I was 7, we moved to Oahu and “Creature Feature” was replaced by “Ultra Man” and “Denjin Zaboga” (and on rare occasions a classic Universal Monsters film). It wasn’t until my late teens that I rediscovered my love for dark and obscure cinema after taking a class in which we watched POSSESSION and The MAFU CAGE.

Shock Festival DVD - "Devil Sister"

How did you meet Stephen, and what was the genesis of the DVD?
I met Stephen as the result of a poster he created for Richard Griffin’s 2008 feature film, BEYOND THE DUNWICH HORROR. I initially called Stephen to gage his interest and availability in creating original art for one or more of our upcoming DVD releases; however, we soon got off-topic and embroiled in a discussion of exploitation and horror genres, our favorite films, trailers, his background and book…apparently, he’d always wanted to put out a trailer compilation, and the concept of tying in the DVD to his book and brand grew from there.

Shock Festival DVD - "Devil Sister"

What was your production or direction experience before undertaking DEVIL SISTER? And, why did that particular faux film interest you?
Prior to DEVIL SISTER, I’d produced several “mini-docs” (short form supplemental media shot and edited in documentary fashion to “flesh out” a DVD release), but I’d never undertaken a project remotely like this one.

Los Angeles SHOCK-A-GO-GO FESTIVAL video produced by Paige Davis

The moment I stumbled across Stephen’s description for DEVIL SISTER, I knew I wanted to produce and direct the faux trailer for it…the qualities I found exciting about the project were the same ones that proved the most challenging: how to effectively convey dread, suspense and horror while maintaining ambiguity (regarding the “possession” of the main character). Of course, several contemporary films have done this effectively (THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, REQUIEM) over the period of an hour or so…but I had to convey this in less than 4 minutes. Frankly, it’s unlikely I would have attempted the project if I hadn’t recently produced a highly exploitative piece of key art for a 2009 Bloody Earth Films release, STASH, in which young women are kidnapped, tortured and raped by a back-woods drug dealer. The model, Erin Russ, was absolutely amazing – when she first arrived on set, I gave her a brief run-down of the film’s plot and asked her to try to convey a near-catatonic state – she immediately “got it” (and was so convincing I was a bit freaked out), and I knew I had the lead for DEVIL SISTER, should I move forward.

Shock Festival DVD - "Devil Sister"
Erin Russ as the Devil Sister

Justin Wingenfeld, who plays her brother (and is an amazing character actor and experienced director), stepped in to assist in a variety of ways; and Joe Kolbek (also an experienced director) shot, lit, edited, bought worms, and explained how the vomiting scene in the EXORCIST was achieved.

Shock Festival DVD - "Devil Sister"
Editor Joseph Kolbek, “Devil Sister” Erin Russ and “Brother” Justin Wingenfeld

Luckily, my favorite possession films are THE CHILD, BEYOND THE DOOR, THE NIGHT CHILD, THE TEMPTER and THE SENTINEL…so I felt confident that if I could capture the off-beat, low-tech ‘vibe’ of these trailers my project would succeed, regardless of exercising restraint. Honestly, I would have loved to explore the psychosis of the priest – but there’s only so much footage I could justify shooting when the end result is a trailer! In the end, we cut at least 30% of the edited footage out of the trailer – it was simply too long and unnecessary.

Shock Festival DVD - "Devil Sister"

Shock Festival DVD - "Devil Sister"

Shock Festival DVD - "Devil Sister"
above: Scenes from “Devil Sister”

Any upcoming projects you’d like to discuss?
I’m currently finishing two feature-length scripts: an extremely dark, surreal, fantasy-horror project and an exploitation-horror film with a nearly all-female cast. However, if I can make the time to direct something again soon, it’s likely to be another short – a dark fantasy inspired by VIY and Russian folklore, featuring Baba Yaga.

Buy Shock Festival DVD

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Interview with Michael Raso - ARCHIVE, RESTORATION and RELEASE

Interview by Stefan Elnabli,
NYU - Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program

Michael Raso - Film Photography Podcast 2010

Motion picture producer, filmmaker and photographer Michael Raso has been working professionally in the visual arts for over 20 years. In 1994 he launched his filmmaking studio and distribution companies, Seduction Cinema, Shock-O-Rama and Camp Motion Pictures. In 1998, Michael began his retro line, finding, restoring and releasing lost and forgotten horror and exploitation films to home video - a passion that continues to this day.

Q. Your companies Pop Cinema and Alternative Cinema distributes new films as well as films of the past. Your "Retro 80s Horror Collection" offers some pretty wild titles in independent exploitation horror. What is the process like when you are producing a DVD for distribution in a collection like that, from the acquisition phase to final release?

I’ll use the movie “Video Violence” as an example: shot in 1987 and released as part of the “Retro 80s Horror Collection” series from my home DVD company, CAMP MOTION PICTURES, it embodies all of the characteristics of this era and style of “film”: shot on video, micro-budget, and originally distributed Direct-To-VHS.

Retro 80s Collection - Distributor Ad Campaign
Video Violence 2007 DVD Ad Campaign

When acquiring a vintage film for distribution, the first step is to do an inventory of materials. Writer/director Gary Cohen’s office is a short distance from my studio and he was kind enough to deliver the materials personally. In the oversized box were dozens of Sony U-Matics (a broadcast tape format that was introduced in 1971). The Sony U-Matic was solid, durable and was heavily used for shooting news on video through the 1990s. Unfortunately, the box did not contain any edited master tapes. According to Gary they were lost during the “VHS distribution” days. Luckily, there was a VHS copy of the film in the box.

Once the materials were inventoried, I decided that the VHS master was not high quality enough to be released on DVD and the movie would have to be reassembled from the original U-Matic camera tapes. The VHS master served as the template for editing the raw footage on the U-Matics and thus the film was lovingly “restored” from the original elements.

Q. What about the retro-sexploitation film releases that you put out, where original film elements could possibly be up to 50 years old?

The same process applies for motion picture films – first, inventory of materials. With film materials, proper storage is usually the key to preserving the original materials. Unfortunately, climate-controlled storage is expensive, and many films are badly damaged or lost due to improper storage or neglect. Some films were abandoned by their producers in film labs, only to be thrown into a garbage dumpster when that lab moved or went out of business. Kudos to Chris Nebe (producer, Joe Sarno’s “Butterflies,” “Bibi,” “Veil of Blood”) and Sam Sherman (producer, Independent-International Pictures) - both men were scrupulous regarding proper storage of their negatives as well as the prints to the films they own.

Motion Picture Film Restoration / Telecine

pictured: well maintained motion picture elements

Motion Picture Film Restoration / Telecine

Q. When dealing with original film elements, do you perform inspection/repair and any other conservation actions to prep films for a video-transfer, and what kinds of tools does it take to perform this kind of film work?

With film elements, initial quality control is performed by hand: I inspect the print for any visible damage such as sprocket damage or rips. Then, I view the film on a telecine machine. The term telecine refers both to the film-to-tape transferring machine, as well as the process by which film is transferred to tape. A qualified film colorist sits in on this process with me. The colorist alters and enhances the image electronically, then the film is mastered to a hi-definition video format.

Q. During a film-to-video transfer, what kinds of restoration actions do you take when thinking about the final distribution product?

Most every time, a film negative or print that is 25 years or older has faded and lost some of its original color. First step before telecine is to clean the film. Film cleaner can remove grease, ink, adhesive, smoke stains, soot, fungus and other oils from the film negatives or prints.

Self - Endless Archiving

Motion Picture Film Restoration / Telecine

Electronic devices like the Da Vinci telecine machine make near miracles possible during telecine. The Da Vinci System is one of the manufacturers of high-end post-production color grading and film restoration systems. Many times, the original brilliant color can be restored.

Q. Do you work with any of the original filmmakers during this process?

Whenever possible, I work with the original film director. In the past I’ve been fortunate to have Joe Sarno (Swedish Wildcats, Inga), Carter Stevens (Punk Rock), Sam Sherman (Mean Mother, Dracula vs Frankenstein) and others to sit in during the telecine process.

Filmmaker Joe Sarno / Michael Raso
pictured: filmmaker Joe Sarno and Michael Raso at DuArt Film & Video, New York City 2009

Zarela's NYC December 16, 2008
pictured: Carter Stevens (right) laughing it up with film historian Michael Bowen and exploitation screen legend Jamie Gillis – December 2008

Q. Have you found that there is a limit to the amount of restoration that someone can do on a film, where going so far might betray the original experience of seeing a print of a film during the time of its exhibition?

I do feel it is important to keep the final product authentic to the original viewing experience. And frankly, it’s an amazing and time consuming challenge just to get a film to its original state.

Motion Picture Film Restoration / Telecine
Color correction process on Joe Sarno’s “Daddy Darling” (1970)

Film to HD Transfer - "Undying Love"
pictured: colorist Bruce Goldstein, Ascent Media East using the DaVinci film-to-tape machine.

Q. Are there any films that you've released that you've also done film preservation work on, whether that's making an inter-negative, a new print, or any other preservation related actions? If so, what is that process like, from securing funds either through grants or your own investment to working with film vendors and finally securing some kind of archival storage for the finished preservation work?

Many, many times I have wished to take finished restored digital Hi-Definition masters to the next step, which would be the process of striking a new film print. Unfortunately, the cost involved was prohibitive when release on DVD was the end goal. Having said that, one of my dreams is to coordinate a program of important vintage sexploitation films for international film festival exposure, utilizing a combination of original film elements and new prints struck from my restorations – this would be a dream come true.

Q. Have you ever began working on a project that led to the discovery of a film thought to be lost, or the discovery of film elements that are in better condition or have more content than any of the other known film elements of a particular title? Can you comment about any of your experiences with these kinds of discoveries?

I’m thrilled to say, “yes”! I’m in the process of evaluating and releasing a vintage erotic film library stored on 9th Avenue in New York City. As part of this process, during the summer of 2008, I worked almost daily archiving and reviewing film elements from this library. One day while working, I was visited by film historian and colleague Michael Bowen. He was looking around the room and noticed the scribbling on the unassuming box on the shelf. “I don’t believe it, but I think that the box above your head reads All the Sins of Sodom,” he said. We pulled the big box down and opened it, and inside were the complete negative and sound elements for All the Sins of Sodom, a film previously thought to be lost (no film, no VHS, no screenings were ever documented since its original theatrical run). As I’ve worked closely with Joe Sarno for years (and own the rights to many of his films), this was a particularly amazing moment.

The Box Above My Head
“We pulled the big box down and opened it, and inside were the complete negative and sound elements for All the Sins of Sodom, a film previously thought to be lost!”

Motion Picture Film Restoration / Telecine

Motion Picture Film Restoration / Telecine
images from the film negative “All The Sins of Sodom”

Q. Do you work with film archives, collectors, or film historians during the production of a video release? If so, how do they contribute to your restoration/distribution projects, and how would you describe your contribution, if any, to them?

Yes, and working with film historians like Michael Bowen and Ed Grant has been particularly invaluable. Their historic perspective “rounds out” the work I do and adds value to the final release. Historians, filmmakers and fans are often in some way, shape or form emotionally connected to a particular film or series of films. While fans of Joe Sarno or Carter Stevens are overjoyed to see rare unreleased films restored and released, I firmly believe that the bonus features (interviews, historical data that places the film in context) are also an important part of the restoration and release process. Liner notes, interviews and audio commentaries are all an important part of the “magic” of the process.

Motion Picture Film Restoration / Telecine
pictured: film historian Michael Bowen during the 2010 commentary track for Joe Sarno’s “Abigail Lesley is Back” (1975)

I’m also very fortunate to have been technically trained as a cinematographer and editor before I started my first home entertainment companies (Pop Cinema / Camp Motion Pictures). This training provided me with a “global” view of all the media that my company handles. Meaning, I have the technical knowledge of what the media is, which is essential for getting to the marketing stages, and I don’t have to rely on third-party handlers to deal with film and tape elements.

Joe Sarno - New York City, January 2010
Preparing for the French release of “All The Sins of Sodom” (1968) – Michael Raso, French filmmaker Virgile Iscan, filmmaker Joe Sarno and producer Dave Copeland in New York City, January 2010

Many times a film is discovered only to then languish on a shelf. I spearhead the project by negotiating the deal with the film owner so that we can get the film off the shelf and back on the screen, be it the silver screen or the screen in one’s living room or laptop.

Q. Film archivists today use the term "orphan film" to describe any film that has been abandoned by its creator or copyright holder, neglected, or relegated to limited or no access. Do you consider independent exploitation horror and sexploitation as orphan genres, and what are your thoughts about the general state of archiving and preservation for titles in these genres?

I believe that exploitation or sexploitations films are as important to our culture as film classics like “Gone With The Wind.” It’s so fascinating that our “secret cinema” – the sex film - is not treated with the cultural respect that it deserves. I’m happy to say that this attitude seems to be changing: respected institutions like the British Film Institute, the Torino Film Festival, the Cinematheque Francais in Paris and the Warhol Museum recently honored the films of Joe Sarno by inviting Joe to events that showcase his work.

Filmmaker Joe Sarno - Torino Film Festival 2006
Joe Sarno at the Torino Film Festival 2006

It’s a thrill and an honor to continue to work with newly found and forgotten films. With the amount of films currently “earmarked” for restoration and release, I expect my work will continue for many, many years to come.


NYU - Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program

Michael Raso’s Film Archiving Photo Gallery

Michael Raso’s Film Photography Internet Radio Show

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