Maidens of Fetish Street (1966)
By Peter Conheim
Reading time 7 Minutes
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Maidens of Fetish Street (1966)
Saul Resnick’s truly one-of-a-kind “experimental raincoater” represented a reconstruction and digital cleanup job even more daunting than that of Vol. 1’s Hot Thrills and Warm Chills, which had previously set the Restorationists’ bar high (or low, depending on your particular perspective).
Seemingly only existing in contemporary times in one single 35mm release print, which had quite a bit of physical wear, an intensive search was conducted to trace what could have happened to its original negative. Eventually, the breadcrumbs led back to a late-1960s distribution deal with Bob Cresse’s defunct Olympic Pictures – Cresse, of course, being the exploitation whiz and star-in-drag of House on Bare Mountain – and it was determined that all of Olympics’ original negatives were tragically discarded. So, The Restorationists had no choice but to move forward with the sole compromised source we had on this unique and wonderful film.
While we were lucky in that the print was likely struck directly from the 35mm negative, and had clearly been created with fairly careful lab work in mind to best highlight the deep contrast black and white photography, the print had been tragically mishandled during its (presumably short) grindhouse run: persistent white and black scratches ran down the side of the image for much of the running time; the beginnings and ends of reels were chopped to pieces, with many frames (and in some cases, several feet of film) removed, causing numerous dialogue jumps; one sequence in the last third was missing entirely; and worst of all, a “creative” projectionist had decided to hack the penultimate shots of the film into pieces, excising every other foot of film or so, creating a bogus jittery “montage” as the film’s character Nick pounds on the bars of the dirty magazine shop that was never intended. It is this phony ending of the sequence which most home video viewers are, therefore, familiar with. We were frustrated that we were going to be stuck with this spliced-up ending sequence, in particular.
Over the course of 2017, as the search for possible other existing prints continued, it came to our attention that there was a very rare early 1980s video release of the film from a (defunct) porn company, complete with full-color box art that bore absolutely no relation to the film. Collector Adam Tamberg kindly lent us a VHS copy of this version, which had been transferred from a complete print of the film – some 35-odd years earlier, of course – which could, at least, provide us a road map of the footage and sound we were missing… but the horrendous standard-definition video transfer of the era would be no use for inserting the footage into our reconstruction without an incredibly distracting change in quality. It was heartbreaking to see the footage we were missing, captured in this fuzzy time capsule, but know it was essentially out of reach (and efforts to trace the source material on that transfer went nowhere).
We had already completed our final restoration – which required a Herculean effort from the Illuminate Studios digital team to painstakingly re-paint and correct the scratched and damaged sections of the film – when a strange thing happened. Word came back to us that some odd reels of the film had popped up on eBay just months before, under its alternate title (The Girls of F Street)… but had sold before we had found out. We scrambled to get through to the buyer of the film – no easy task, it turned out – and at the eleventh hour, after numerous attempts, we were introduced to our savior: Ted Kennedy. Yes, his real name. This Mr. Kennedy had, indeed, purchased these incomplete reels of this oddball film, and had never viewed them. He was willing to loan them to byNWR for investigation.
When the package arrived at Restorationists HQ, our hearts sank… the footage looked to be in far worse shape than we already had, as he had warned us was probably the case. The reels were very dirty and splicy, with more significant scratches than our other source. But… all of the missing footage was contained! As if by divine provenance, sections which were splicy would suddenly “clean up” in the little sections we needed. Through careful insertion and color correction, a new “composite” version was created in 2018. It was a miracle on F Street. Digging deeper into the process of reconstructing the narrative flow of the film, it became apparent that an enterprising projectionist or two had snipped out frames from within more sections of each print than we had initially realized, and in some cases, short shots were excised completely. And this was where the ancient VHS video tape wound up coming to the rescue, not for picture, but for sound: the audio forensics department at Red Channels was able to lift all the bits of missing soundtrack and seamlessly weave them into the mix, even if it meant slightly altering the “free-form” overdubbing of the film, itself (which was primarily shot without synchronized sound). This was done out of necessity as part of the reconstruction process, to preserve as much of the narrative flow as possible, even when bits of picture may still have been missing.
As a result, byNWR is able to present what we believe to be the most complete version of Maidens of Fetish Street to have been seen, and heard, in many years. We are grateful to Messrs. Kennedy, Tamberg, and Julian Antos of the Chicago Film Society for their assistance in making the reconstruction come to fruition.
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.