Thursday, January 22, 2015

Lost, Found & Future: A Peek into Vinegar Syndrome

The phrase “lost film” is one of the saddest in the English vernacular. For being such a young format, it seems inconceivable that any movie could already be vanished to the ether of time. Of course, most know that a large portion of silent films were lost due to both intentional negligence, since film was considered a culturally disposable medium, and bad storage habits, leading to severely deteriorated prints. Due to the flammable nature of the nitrate, some prints would even spontaneously combust!

There's a new type of lost film, though. There are films that are barely old enough to collect a pension check that are marked as missing. People didn't really know better back in the early days, but what is the excuse for the past forty or fifty years? The flammable type of nitrate film stopped being used after 1952, so it's not really the case of movie prints literally bursting into flames. But then what is it? 

A lot of it is direct kin to the same kind of thinking that dates back to the early 1900's. Film was not considered “respectable” therefor it wasn't viewed in terms of preservation. Fast forward several decades later, with the tide changing enough for people to start thinking in terms of cinematic preservation. Ironically enough, most preservationists were thinking in terms of “respectable” films. Genres and subgenres, like adult, sexploitation, horror and underground, were, much like those early silent reels, were regarded as disposable and crude entertainment.

This kind of ignorance and pigheaded elitism is borderline chilling, but there is a silver lining. As more and more people are debating the future of cinema, there are those who are working hard to fight for the preservation of all film. Especially the type of films that have gone on unloved in mainstream circles for too long. Front and center on this right path is Vinegar Syndrome

Unearthing everything from arthouse gems (Nelson Lyon's “The Telephone Book,” Theodore Gushuny's “Sugar Cookies”) to ultra obscure cult films (Stanley Lewis'Punk Vacation”) to adult film classics (Alex DeRenzy's “Pretty Peaches,” Roberta Findlay's “Angel on Fire”), as well as lurid oddities (Bill Milling's “Oriental Blue,” Howard Perkins' “Baby Rosemary,”), they are more than a mere distribution company. Giving the kind of love and care to prints that is normally reserved by companies thrice as old and twice as big, Vinegar Syndrome first come upon my periphery with their Blu-Ray release of “The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis.” Being someone whose teenage years were spent reading and re-reading and then reading some more books like Michael Weldon's “The Psychotronic Video Guide” and Re/Search's “Incredibly Strange Film Book,” this was a release right after my own heart. 

A simple basic release of such previously lost H.G. Lewis films like “Black Love” and “Linda & Abilene,” would have been more than enough. Especially when you take into account how many a cult film fan had all but given up on these titles ever surfacing. But, even better, not only did they surface but on a lush, re-mastered release to boot. It felt like a gift and it was that key that unlocked for me, the world that is Vinegar Syndrome

 In keeping with their forward-thinking means of preserving and distributing these fringe gems of the past, Vinegar Syndrome have started a fundraiser via Indiegogo. The VinegarSydrome.TV project is a motion to bridge their incredible library of cult films with the digital age by creating a video-on-demand channel for such a treasure trove of cinema. Given that their title database is going to grow by at least forty more titles this year, it is a undoubtedly a project worthy of any film lover's attention.

Now....let's all go to the movies! 

2015 © Heather Drain


  1. What a cool topic... It's always amazing to me when I hear about a movie (or TV show) that is gone. The BBC reused the tapes for some old Doctor Who episodes and so they're... gone. I know the old daily shows like Johnny Carson are largely gone as well.

    It's even more strange and sad to think of a full-length movie being lost to history...

    1. Katy, thank you so much! Yeah, there is sadly so much early and pivotal years of television lost forever due to there being zero sense of archiving back there. Possibly, because not unlike the early days of film, it was viewed as disposable. Extremely sad.

  2. Great article, Heath & you're a very good writer, too! ;-)

    1. Kris, thank you so much and likewise! :)

  3. I see they had released the soundtrack to Night Train To Terror in conjunction with NoVisible Scars records. A lot of movies would just be gone if places like Troma or Something Weird hadn't rescued them. Just yesterday I learned Peter Carpenter (Blood Mania, Point of Terror) had made even another movie that is lost. Hopefully Vinegar Syndrome will keep up the good work and pull some more gems out of the ashes.