CED presents 'The Devil in Miss Jones.'

How It’s Done: Remastering Porn Classics

Love it or hate it, porn is an important part of popular culture.

Its history as a mass-market product dates back to the 1970s, a particularly fruitful period for cinema as a whole. In Hollywood, studios gave unprecedented creative control to young directors like Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, and Martin Scorsese.

In adult cinema, shifting cultural attitudes finally permitted fully developed productions with elaborate storylines, strong technical credits, and wider distribution patterns. Movies like Deep Throat, The Devil in Miss Jones, and Alice in Wonderland helped define the era’s zeitgeist just as surely as Jaws, The Godfather, The Last Picture Show, and Taxi Driver did.

Remastering porn classics

“The films of that era, the Golden Age of Adult Cinema, challenged a lot of censorship, puritanical views, and even some laws, helping establish many of the creative, artistic, and sexual freedoms people enjoy today,” said David, a representative from CED (Cable Entertainment Distribution), in a recent email.

While Hollywood’s classics of the era have been lovingly preserved, restored, and remastered by labels like the Criterion Collection, porn’s pantheon has often languished. For much of home video history, watching a porn classic on VHS, DVD, or VOD has been like squinting to see nudity on the scrambled analog signal of the old SpiceTV or Playboy Channel.

Thankfully, home video partners like CED and Arrow HD are stepping in to bring vintage porn films into the high-definition era. “Restoring pictures like Deep Throat, Devil in Miss Jones, Alice In Wonderland, among others, is certainly important from the perspective of film and cultural history, but also just for the fact that these are iconic, classic films,” David said.

But the process is not an easy or simple one, as David described to us in detail. It encompasses many technically complicated steps to present a classic porn movie in as close to its original fidelity as possible.

Everything begins with source material. Until the advent of digital videography in the 2000s, almost all movies were shot on analog formats like photochemical film or videotape, which must be scanned and digitized for online streaming. Hollywood movies often have numerous high-quality elements that can be used to create modern high-definition master, ranging from original negatives to well-preserved film prints.

Porn’s case is typically different. “Often the original film prints [are] long lost to damage or degenerated over time and no longer usable. The remaining material is often from sources like 1-inch tape from the 1970s and early 1980s, that was digitized in the 1990s, before those sources completely degraded,” David said.

Some movies, including Arrow HD’s recent release of Deep Throat, do present a surviving film print that can be used to strike a new digital master. (Deep Throat‘s original negative was allegedly seized by authorities during legal proceedings in the 1970s, according to AVN.)

When existing material is less than ideal, modern techniques of remastering and restoration come to the rescue. Source material is converted into Apple’s ProRes 422HQ format, a “visually lossless” format that uses modern compression methods without discarding any elements that can be perceived by the human eye. The movie undergoes shot-by-shot processing before being output to a new ProRes file. Using artificial intelligence software, technicians upscale the video before identifying and fixing other glitches, sometimes frame by frame.

AI technology also aids in noise reduction and other processing. Color correction, the procedure of unifying the overall visual scheme, helps the movie look and feel as it would have in its original showings. Contemporary audio programs revitalize the audio track. The full scope of the work is then output again in ProRes format, at which point it is ready to be converted and shown on VOD platforms like Adult Empire.

Occasionally, as in the case of Deep Throat, a few minor, hard-to-fix flaws enhance the charm and authenticity of the experience. (Even a viewer watching a newly minted Deep Throat film print in 1973 would have experienced certain flaws inherent to any conventional analog projection.) From beginning to end, the restoration process typically takes hundreds of hours to complete.

The future of porn remastering

For CED, these projects are just the beginning. “In terms of our restoration activities, ideally, as we continue the process, things will eventually reach a level of quality that viewers should not be able to tell what the source material is. We hope to continue building upon the restoration work we are doing today, as technological advances make even more things possible from a quality standpoint. Our priority, at every step, is to present the films a way that is faithful and hopefully as accurate as possible to the films as they were originally presented in their day,” David told us.

The latest release to benefit from CED’s attentive remastering is 1970s fave The Devil in Miss Jones, which recently debuted on Adult Empire’s VOD platform.

Special thanks to David and the entire team at CED.

 

Additional sources: Preparing Collections for Digitization by Anna Bülow, Jess Ahmon, Ross Spencer

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