We interview a lot of interesting people here on the Mr. Skin blog, but few of them can say their work is as important as Joe Rubin's.
Joe basically came out of the womb an exploitation fanatic and has been amassing an impressive private collection of vintage exploitation and erotic cinema since he was a teenager. Now he's also launched a digital restoration company, Process Blue, that specializes in rescuing exploitation and X-rated films from obscurity and giving these long-neglected artifacts the respect that they deserve. Joe says that often when he contacts directors about restoring their films, they are shocked and touched to realize (often for the first time) that their work is remembered and appreciated as art. That's something that Process Blue is trying to change.
Process Blue is getting off to an auspicious start by participating in the excellent restorations of Radley Metzger's "Henry Paris" films in partnership with DistribPix and with the very exciting project they're working on now: a Kickstarter campaign to restore three previously "lost" films by exploitation legend Herschell Gordon Lewis.
We talked to Joe at his home base just around the corner from the Mr. Skin offices, where he told us about his massive collection, his work with Process Blue, and the unmatchable elegance of Kelly Nichols:
SKIN CENTRAL: Ok, so the first question we always ask is: do you remember the first time that you saw nudity in a film?
Joe Rubin: I never had cable growing up so I never saw nudity on TV unless it was from a video, but the first...memorable bouts of nudity I saw, probably between the ages of like 5 and 6, was the lesbian shower scene in Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer (1979) and Nastassja Kinski in To the Devil a Daughter (1976). And I actually remember that Borders Books...they don’t exist anymore, but it was downtown...had a pretty decent VHS selection 20 years ago when I was about 5 or 6. I would talk to the guy who worked there who was into exploitation films. I really wanted to find Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and he was like “Oh that movie has tits in it.” I was like 6 years old, but it really didn’t faze me all that much. [It was just] a reason to seek out the film even more. But when I did finally get a copy of it I looked for those tits and to this day, unless they are obscured or just like a very quick side view, I don’t remember any tits in The Hills Have Eyes. [We checked. There aren't any. Perhaps he was thinking The Hills Have Eyes, Part II? -SC]
SC: And so were your fascinated by it? Or what was your reaction?
JR: Well it wasn’t the nudity that was the actual selling point for these films, it was the films as a whole. These were nothing like what I was seeing otherwise...this was obviously not like the early to mid ‘90s kid matinee films that were playing at multiplexes. They probably sparked my obsession with everything from the ‘70s and ‘60s. So it was more the thrill of seeing something that I knew really from the start was obscure and I couldn’t find everywhere.
SC: Right. Are there any later or more recent examples or newer films that appeal to you in the same way? Or is it just that era that appeals to you?
JR: As exploitation? It’s sort of a tricky question because I’ve been asked many times, “Do you think exploitation movies still exist today?” And they certainly don’t within the same context, they can’t. But to me exploitation film isn’t about the era as much. Sure, the genuine ones, the ones that were made in the 1960s and ’70s and early ‘80s, were because of that social and artistic climate. But I think the desire to make films which disregard genre conventions but bring in a very strong amount of genre film elements and are made sincerely without a drop of irony (and that’s really the big thing) [still exists].
For me a recent exploitation film would be the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But there isn’t this sense of winking at the audience like, "I wasn’t alive then but I’m going to pretend I was and pretend I know what was going through the heads of the filmmakers who inspired me" because we don’t know that, really we don’t.
SC: Are there any performers that you're particularly fond of?
JR: Marianne Walter, better known as Kelly Nichols, is I would say the finest actress to ever appear in X-rated films. And a lot of people find that a very contentious argument because Veronica Hart and Georgina Spelvin are usually picked as the finest actresses. And they are great actresses, but I think that Marianne, or Kelly, was just a notch above. She is probably the most beautiful women who ever appeared in X-rated films, and her beauty was a combination of her physical features, her grace and elegance, and her sincerity as an actress. She was a serious actress she gave great performances. The only non X-rated film that she's really known for is as the woman who gets killed by the nailgun in The Toolbox Murders (1978). And that’s a great example. She’s beautiful there, and the emotion that she conveys through her eyes and facial expression is mesmerizing. That’s really what I love about her.
KR: Did you collect VHS and DVD before you started collecting prints? Was it a "gateway drug" thing?
JR: I definitely started buying VHS tapes before I started buying films, but that wasn’t out of a love of VHS. The grandeur and elation of "wow, these movies exist on film, and I can own the film too" sort of came at around seven...I didn’t realize that a movie that I had on tape also existed somewhere on film, and that I could own that. And then at that point film just became my number one preoccupation. VHS collecting was sort of a necessity... if I wanted to see the film, I had to buy the tape.
SC: Tell me about your collection. How many movies do you have on film? On 35mm and 16mm, I assume?
JR: Yeah, I have a handful of 8mm’s, but I’ve never really collected 8’s. I would say that right now in my holdings I have around 2000 feature films on celluloid.
SC: May I ask where you put all this stuff?
JR: Oh, all over. I began really seriously collecting when I was 12 or 13 and then I was really only doing 16mm. I filled up my bedroom at my parent’s apartment with hundreds of prints. I was less discriminating then...as long as it was a ‘70s non-Hollywood production or a Hollywood production that could also work as a genre film I would buy it. [Now] I’m trying to put them all into one place, which is actually the facility connected to my company Process Blue. Because we are lucky enough to be in a building that has film storage space as well, I’ve been allotted quite a bit of space to store my own films. 10 pallets of my films just arrived last week.
SC: Tell me more about Process Blue.
JR: Process Blue is a film restoration facility that I and a friend of mine started with a couple of investors who were willing to foot the bill on some very, very expensive equipment. Unfortunately we don’t have photochemical, but we do digital up to 4k film scanning and digital preservation. We can do full restorations, full color, we support all film formats from 8mm to 65, which is what people mostly know as 70mm.
Our personal interests are working in genre films because it’s the type of films that...are lost outright, exist only in incomplete forms, or don’t exist on film at all anymore. It’s really disheartening to know that almost a third of the time if I [mention] an exploitation, sexploitation or x-rated title I have no idea [where the negative is]. It might exist somewhere out there, but who knows?
So that’s our own inspiration for doing this kickstarter campaign. We want to sort of try and be able to prove to all of the naysayers out there that even if you don’t have government funding...you can still do true archival grade film preservation, with a focus on the films that unfortunately no archives have done anything to work on preserving.
SC: When you find films, are they in poor shape a lot of the time? Are there prints that are so far gone that you can’t restore them?
JR: Yeah, that’s definitely happened quite a bit. There’s a film called Obsessed which is better known by the title Anna Obsessed...it’s an X-rated feature from 1977.For some reason, even though it’s a film that I’m not really in love with, I’ve been on a small quest to find elements for it. Just a personal project. And around 8 years ago I found a collector who thought he had a print. So I bought it, and I get the print and it’s just in tatters, it was missing 20 minutes of the film. And then I made an acquisition of another small collection that there was no inventory for, all x-rated stuff...I was going through some of the stuff and I saw a can marked Obsessed. I thought oh this is nice, how random is this that I find a print of that film in here. Took it out, the print was in ok shape, and it had some scratches but nothing really heavy. Then I’m winding through the last reel...I get to the very end of the film, which is this bloody shooting scene. Right as the two leads characters turn, as it would cut to a double-barreled shotgun- splice, and credits start.
That’s probably the most disappointing thing overall, searching for a film and you think you’ve found it, and then discover that even if it is that film, the elements are just unusable. Or they’re incomplete, and that’s the biggest crusher of all. Like what was this idiot thinking when they did this? Weren’t they conscious of the fact that 40 years down the line this would be the only existing copy?
SC: And now that film is just gone. Well, that’s why we need Process Blue, right?
JR: Hopefully. That’s what we’re hoping.
SC: Can you tell me more about your partnerships with DistribPix?
JR: One of our perpetual clients, he’s also a friend of ours, and I think he has one of the best DVD labels for genre films out there, is Steven Morowitz of DistribPix. [They're] the only label treating X-rated films properly. We do restorations for them, major projects like the Radley Metzger films that he made under the name Henry Paris. The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann (1974), Naked Came the Stranger(1975) and The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976), which we're currently working on.
This past weekend, actually, we started restorations of Chuck Vincent’s Roommates (1981) and Danny Steinmann’s High Rise (1973). Steinmann is better known in the non X-rated world for Savage Streets (1984) with Linda Blair and Friday the 13th, Part V (1985). So there are a lot of projects going on right now.
SC: Right. And then there's the Herschell Gordon Lewis project.
JR: Yeah, our kickstarter is trying to fund digital restorations and a DVD/Blu-ray release of the supposedly lost sexploitation films by Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Ecstasies of Women (1969), Linda and Abilene (1969), and Black Love (1971). They’ve never come out on a video, definitely not in this country, and as far as I know not anywhere else in the world. They had very small theatrical releases.
SC: And they were lost?
JR: I was put into with the owner of a closed lab through a filmmaker friend of mine, Sean Costello. It turned out like many labs that were closed, they had many films that were not claimed, which was a common practice for labs. You have to pay for your work or you don't get your film. And I talked to this guy and he game me a list and those three titles happened to be on it. We worked out a deal and were able to access the negatives for restoration.
We chose to make these films our focus and launch a kickstarter campaign around them because...first and foremost I consider myself a film collector, film archivist and a film preservationist, [so my interest is in] at least restoring it to the way it looked when it came out theatrically...We wanted to keep it in house so we wouldn't have to risk someone saying "well, that step is going to cost too much or take too long or is just not worth it for the size of the market associated with the films."
So we want to hopefully drum up enough support among fans of Herschell Gordon Lewis as well as exploitation and sexploitation films in general who are interested in contributing to film restoration. [We want them to have] the knowledge that if they contribute to our campaign, the money isn't going to line our pockets. It's not going to anything other than making sure that we have enough money to keep the lights on, to pay for little thing like isopropyl alcohol for the film cleaner, and pay our rent and things like that. This is a project that we are doing on our own.
JR: I don't know, that’s our hope. And to a certain extent it's also about putting a new face onto labs, because unfortunately photochemical preservation, which is restoring a film with the purpose of creating a preservation negative or print, is becoming more and more a thing of the past. Unfortunately we don't have the facilities to do that, but if we do raise enough money, that money is going to be used to contract out to other facilities that do and result in the films being restored in what I feel is the real true proper way to preserve a movie.
Right now we are lucky enough to have one of the best film scanners in existence, which was built to accommodate almost all of the problems that can be encountered when dealing with archival film. And for that reason we want to keep it in house, because I don't want to approach a distributor and have them say we always use this place, we have a contract with them… go here. We like these movies, we enjoy working with them. And we want to use this as a launching pad to restore other films in my collection, other films that we’ve gained access to through this lab, including Roger Watkins' much-loved Last House on Dead End Street (1977).
SC: Where can people keep up with what you’re doing, besides the Kickstarter campaign? Do you have a website?
JR: Yeah there is the Process Blue website, which has a side projects page on it. That's where we are going to be doing updates on current projects and hopefully future projects. And we have a facebook page. [But] it’s really been fans and film enthusiasts telling each other [about us], and I think that that’s wonderful because that’s what it ultimately should be. That if the people who love these movies, really love them, and really want to make sure that they are preserved...even if they can’t donate money, even just telling your friend, posting on your own facebook profile or your blog, it all helps.
It’s all about spreading awareness hopefully showing people who appreciate these films that us guys who are out there actually doing the work love them for the same reasons, have the same ambitions, and want to make sure that the quality of the work is just as high as what they expect.
Thanks, Joe! If you want to help make Process Blue's restoration of the lost films of Herschell Gordon Lewis a reality, DONATE to their Kickstarter campaign and spread the word through Facebook. And join us again tomorrow on the Mr. Skin blog for some EXCLUSIVE stills thanks to Joe Rubin and Process Blue!
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