Texas auteur Dale Berry

Texas auteur Dale Berry probably never in his wildest imagination could have thought his films would ever undergo “restoration” and “preservation.” His four directorial efforts are like the spasmodic fever dreams of a carnival barker – free-floating, sexy and grimy, and he’s enjoying letting you in on the joke. And so, when faced with a scarcity of “high quality” surviving materials on Hot Thrills and Warm Chills (as well as Hot Blooded Woman), the decision was made to preserve the qualities of the “artifact,” of the “relic,” in many ways, rather than create a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

Unlike The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds (byNWR, Chapter 1), which had previously been entirely lost, but very much like Cuckoo in terms of its status as a limited-run “regional” independent film, Hot Thrills and Warm Chills is only known to exist in two 35mm release prints, both of which are in our possession, and both of them are in fairly poor condition. Indeed, one had already had been chopped apart to take pieces out to place into the other print, leaving us little to work with in terms of collaging the two prints together.

One of the great pleasures of Hot Thrills is watching how the actors dodge microphones (and crew members) popping into the frame, looking down at cue cards for lines, and how a voiceover will appear not as an actual voiceover, but as someone speaking just off-camera (while holding their nose closed to mimic a nasal-sounding police radio). Such production eccentricities lend themselves well to similar restoration eccentricities, and The Restorationists had to make some difficult choices in this regard. There are several sections in the source prints where parts of the film were simply damaged and removed at some point in the film’s history, lost to time, forever. Without an original negative, or any form of alternate source to pull from, we had little choice but to leave the “jump” in the film when this occurs. Film preservation can often involve all manner of clever tricks to substitute missing frames, and in a few cases, we were able to reproduce the missing frames from adjunct frames within the same scene, but sometimes that was simply not possible.

There is even an almost surrealistic moment

There is even an almost surrealistic moment of questionable continuity – in a film not exactly noted for structural cohesion – in which Rita Alexander’s lid-flipping solo dance with the martini glass in the film’s first minutes seems to be ever so slightly out of sequence with the “narrative.” Indeed, on one of our two source prints, this bit had been chopped out and repositioned directly after the opening credits, before the doorbell rings and Rita’s old gang chums arrive. And, yes, it could be argued that this might make more “sense” that way (outside of the world of Dale Berry)… but that’s not how the film was actually edited and printed. Much as has been surmised with The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds in Chapter 1, could Dale Berry have made the change in a print or two, himself? The Restorationists shall never know. So, the “preservation-minded” decision was to go with the film as it was printed at the lab.

At other times during the film, there are noticeable chunks of black film, or “slug”, which are artifacts of the original editing process that were never removed for one reason or another. In some cases, we were unable to remove these without causing a jarring edit in the film, so they stayed. And again, the punishment fits the crime: the argument might be made that Hot Thrills and Warm Chills actually benefits from keeping these imperfections, rather than hiding them.

And the same goes for our approach to “cleaning up” what you see on the screen: Ross Lipman and the colorists chose a look which approximated the original print without prettying it up too much, and we removed a great deal of scratches and damage which we considered the most egregious, while deciding to maintain a resemblance to the original worn “artifact”: the well-loved 35mm print that is the last trace of its grindhouse existence.

Peter Conheim is a film curator and preservationist based in El Cerrito, California.  He is also the co-founder of the performing group Wet Gate, which uses only “found footage” and 16mm film projectors to create a live cinema collage, sampling the sound from the film tracks in real time, as well as Mono Pause, a long-running “Situationist rock” group (and its Southeast Asian music spin-off, Neung Phak) and a member of “culture jamming” legends Negativland. His Cinema Preservation Alliance non-profit organization is dedicated to the long-term survival of endangered motion pictures of all stripes.