Olga's House of Shame (1964)
One can almost hear the groans from the archival community’s peanut gallery… “you restored that? What about [insert more academically acceptable title here]?” Once again, the Restorationists at byNWR are here to present a serious preservation of a title eminently worth being properly taken care of, as opposed to being only available in substandard viewing copies or forgotten entirely. Joseph P. Mawra was among the more influential grindhouse directors of his day, and his surviving works are often inexplicable blends of stunning cinematography and apparent carelessness (see his Chained Girls from Volume 4).
Olga’s House of Shame is number two in his trilogy of films featuring the titular character, and arguably the best, and – much as with Chained Girls – it survives in its original camera negative purely by chance, found in the refuse of a closed film lab in the late 1990s. But the Restorationists faced a problem with this Olga: she was mostly complete, but not entirely. 35mm originals exist in separate reels of picture negative and soundtrack negative, and in this case, about 20 minutes of picture was missing, and a different 10 minutes of sound was missing.
Luckily, the previous owners of the material had scared up a 35mm release print of the film which was in fairly decent shape, and we were able to create a patchwork quilt of the majority of the missing pieces, although a handful of tiny dialogue fragments remain missing and were unable to be restored. Indeed, sharp eyes may detect one very short shot which had to be sourced from an SD-quality video source.
Nonetheless, this is, without question, the best and most complete Olga’s House of Shame which audiences have sat through since 1965. Strap yourself into the homemade electric chair, grab a pair of pliers, and enjoy.
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.