Walk the Walk (1970)
By Peter Conheim
Reading time 6 Minutes
Quite possibly the rarest, most obscure title in the byNWR canon to date, Walk the Walk also presented one of the most difficult challenges the Restorationists team has yet faced in bringing it back to the screen.
Notorious grindhouse producer Kroger Babb made this heroin scare picture late in his storied career, and in addition to the original negative being lost, this was one film which seemed to fall completely through the cracks, escaping even the clutches of even the most die-hard exploitation rarities collectors.
No bootleg video copies have ever been known to circulate, no television broadcasts have been noted, and thus it has been considered a major “lost” 1970s underground film. Ironically, although another collector and archivist did suddenly pop up with a source print after we had already begun our work, it took the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles gaining access to a closed film lab and storage facility to bring our attention to the film by happening across a pair of “time capsule”-condition prints, abandoned and sitting on a shelf for four decades. The better of those prints, and the one held by this additional collector, became the sources for the version you see on byNWR.
However: it was discovered that even though these prints were in very good physical condition, as with all non-IB Technicolor prints of their era, they had all equally suffered from serious color fading. The rich psychedelic tapestry of the original photography had taken on a red and purple tinge, common to the Fuji print stock of that period. But this proved to be a remarkable stroke of good luck, as well: had they been printed on equivalent Kodak stock from the same period, there would have been far less color left in the film, with the yellow and blue layers essentially having disappeared entirely. Fuji film stock of the 1970s tended to hold up better, and so the Restorationists had a leg up in that department when it came time to do the color correction. But...
…What could never have been anticipated, and the team had not encountered before, was the damage caused by a noxious oil – probably a projection oil or lubricant – which coated the entire film on all reels, on both prints of the film found by the Academy Film Archive. After decades of sitting in place, this oil had eaten into the emulsion side of the film, causing a terrible “blotching” distortion to appear in the picture, resembling flickering red clouds across the whole frame. Our hearts sank when we saw the initial test scans of the film.
Examples of extreme decay in restored and reconstructed films abound – the heavily degraded sections in the reconstruction of Metropolis come to mind – but generally, those aberrations are limited to individual scenes or shots. In this case, we were stuck with nearly an entire 90-minute film of it. Thankfully, the digital age offers tools that allow for repairs simply unthinkable when film restoration was strictly in the photochemical domain. But how to apply them in a case as extreme as this?
What you are seeing in this version of Walk the Walk is a frame-by-frame recalculation where the emulsion stains have been digitally painted out on some of the source material, and entire sequences (or single shots) have been collaged from the collector’s print, which arrived late in the process, on the rest of it. The Restorationists team and the Illuminate lab spent weeks agonizingly tweaking software algorithms to keep artifacts and errors to a minimum. As is often the case with experimental processes, multiple passes were necessary to get it right. Ace colorists Ross Lipman and Andrew Drapkin have managed to recreate the film’s gorgeous candy-colored palette, so that little-to-no evidence of the print’s color fade remains in the restoration. A number of defects were simply uncorrectable, given the state of the source material in each instance, but somehow, we think “America’s Greatest Showman,” Kroger Babb, would approve.
Finally, it should be noted with some sadness that The Restorationists were not able to recover the missing prologue and epilogue to Walk the Walk, which apparently featured director Jac Zacha directly addressing the camera and explaining how the film was “his” autobiographical story (itself fairly amazing, since Zacha was white, and the actor Bernie Hamilton is… black). All three existing prints of the film are physically cut in the exact same spots in the reels and feature the same obvious jump cuts, most noticeable in the music between the “America’s Greatest Showman” logo and the opening credit scroll, where the prologue must have originally appeared.
It would seem that someone, probably Kroger Babb, had the material excised from all the prints during the film’s run – and because no pre-print/negative material exists on the film, we have no way of putting it back. Our only knowledge of it ever having existed comes from the interview by RJ Smith with musician PK Dwyer, elsewhere in this chapter on byNWR. Thus, until the next cinematic tomb gets opened in the future, Walk the Walk continues to withhold a few secrets from us.
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.