October 25, 2010 | By

Return to: Home / Exclusive Interviews & Profiles / DVD


After his partnership with Elite Entertainment, Don May decided to leave in 1998, and founded his own company, Synapse Films. May and new partner Jerry Chandler have released a genuinely eclectic array of movies on DVD.

The label’s initial focus on horror and thriller titles has widened, in not only embracing other genres, but historically significant and controversial works as well – the most notable, perhaps, being Leni Riefenstahl’s 1934 documentary/Nazi propaganda template, Triumph Of The Will.

And now comes the enigmatic Radley Metzger.

Starting off as an independent filmmaker as co-director (with William Kyriakys of the revenge drama, Dark Odyssey, in 1961), Metzger discovered the distribution system of the sixties were still heavily influenced by product from the Hollywood studios.

After investing a small fortune in his first feature and discovering theatres weren’t willing to take a chance on a worthwhile, little drama, Metzger (with partner Ava Leighton) co-founded Audubon Films, and discovered success as an importer and distributor of foreign, arty skin flicks.

The alien languages and foreign bosoms were ideal for the art house circuit, and Audubon eventually rekindled the filmmaker spirit in Metzger himself, resulting in 1964’s The Dirty Girls, his first directorial venture in 3 years.

With a wide audience base (sex always sells), Metzger’s lushly photographed European productions revealed the writer-director-producer was more than an exploitationer.

Taking literary works – classic and contemporary – and investigating the nuances that comprise intimate human behaviour, Metzger’s skill as director also elicited compelling performances from relatively unknown actors, and his grasp of cinema techniques inevitably led to projects that not only pushed acceptable taboos, but played with basic film structure and standard techniques.

The flashback nature of Therese and Isabelle (1967) eventually begot the intricate of Lickerish Quartet (1970), in which four characters not only discover a projected stag film elicits a different cast for each viewer (with themselves in different roles), but their respective realities blend with fantasy and murderous WW2 flashbacks elements.

One of Metzger’s finest films, The Lickerish Quartet also followed the director’s usual ploy of emotionally disrobing a handful of repressed characters. These explicit cinema-plays also pushed the envelope of graphic imagery, with Score (1972) revealing full frontal male nudity, but remaining inches away from the hardcore barrier.

Inevitably, Metzger had to face a difficult decision after Score, as his next cinematic choices were arguably limited: go mainstream, and submit to the studio system; make films within that safe pocket of R-rated erotica; or transform the hardcore adult format to suit his existing artistic desires.

The Image (1973) marks that final step before the director would disappear under the moniker of Harry Paris and direct 6 hardcore films – Naked Came the Stramger (1975), The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann (1975), The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976), Barbara Broadcast (1977), Maraschino Cherry (1978), and The Tale of Tiffany Lust (1981). While The Image film lacks graphic penetration, there’s no doubt Radley Metzger used the film to test the possibility that a fusion of erotica, structured narrative, and hardcore elements could create a new and successful hybrid.

Given the decades that have passed since The Image‘s theatrical release, its reputation has endured as a bold work, yet its obvious controversial elements – graphic S&M naughtiness – have made it a tough movie to issue in any video format.

In an interview conducted in July 2002, Synapse Films’ Don May kindly took the time between his ever-busy schedule to discuss the company’s brave release, and some of the challenges he and the Synapse team face when preparing an independent film for DVD.



Mark R. Hasan : What actually brought The Image to your attention?

Don May : Well it was one of those things. I’ve been a fan of Radley’s stuff for a while, and it kind of was this weird coincidence that has actually happened. One of the guys who works at First Run Features (which is the company that took care of most of Radley’s films on videotape) was a friend of mine, and he came to us and he said, “Hey, you know, you should talk to Radley… The Image is really great, and it’s too much for us to release.” I mean, it’s very explicit, and they said, “It’s kind of something that’s not up our alley… We can’t really do it.”

And I know that Image Entertainment, who put out the DVDs of his other materials like Therese and Isabelle, had also passed on the title because of its controversial nature. I got [Radley Metzger’s] email address and I asked Radley, ‘Hey, you know, I’m Don from Synapse Films, and I’d love to do The Image.’

And as soon as I emailed him – about two days later – another guy had just emailed me and had said ‘I run this web site [Mondo Erotico] that is this sort of Radley Metzger site, and you guys should do The Image.’

All of a sudden it just came together in a week, and we ended up striking a deal with Radley and ended up getting the title, and it’s been really, really great for us. It was a chance; we’d never done anything like this before, and we just decided to take a chance see how it would work out, and it’s worked out really well.

MRH : I’ve seen most of Image Entertainment’s Metzger titles, and I guess the transfers were made from the best available prints –

DM : Radley had offered me [his own transfers] as well for The Image that he had made, but me being the person that I am – I always like to have my hand in everything – I decided to go back and redo the transfers all over again.

In the case of The Image, I personally supervised it from the original negative. I think that’s basically what [Image Entertainment] had done: Radley had given them masters to use for his releases, and they just took them. I think they were older masters that had already been done for a quite a number of years, and I don’t believe they were anamorphic, and Radley just gave them the transfers and [they] went with it.

I, just being the person that I am – I’m a sucker for quality; I gotta have it the best it can be – said ‘Hey, let’s go the extra mile, and do the transfer again over from the negative. Can I?’ And Radley was a little hesitant at first, [but] he relented and he said “Okay, go ahead and do it from the negative,” and he sent me his actual negative.

So I think that’s the reason why the Image Entertainment ones look the way they do (because they were dumped from older masters and not digitally remastered, brand new, like the one that we did).

MRH : Were there any unique challenges that you faced when you were transferring from the negative?

DM : Well, I was scared to death, and anybody would be when you’re dealing with the actual physical negative from the camera. I mean, this thing was the actual cut neg with splices and glue! It was really scary for me, because here we are, running it through this machinery that tugs and pulls and moves them back and forth, and I thought ‘Well, it would be great to restore it from the original negative; it’s going to be great.’

And then, when I sat down and realized what we were going to do, I though ‘Oh my God.’ I was just keeping my fingers crossed and praying the whole time we were doing the transfer that nothing was going to happen.

You always run into the possibility of the film breaking, or a splice coming loose, or somebody drops a reel on the floor. And when you’re dealing with something that’s like an interpositive or a 35mm print, [the pressure is still scary]; but when you’re dealing with the actual physical original negative – I mean, the element doesn’t get any better than that – you run the risk of actually doing some damage to it. I was very, very nervous…

It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything from an original negative before. Even when I had done mastering for Texas Chainsaw Massacre [at Elite Entertainment], we had created our own negative from the A/B roll; we never actually physically ran the A/B roll through the machinery. So it was a challenge, and a very scary one, but it all worked out.

MRH : A classic, and rather horrifying example of loss occurred when a small label was planning on releasing an album of Bernard Herrmann’s music for It’s Alive (1974), and the master tapes were destroyed in a fire. Apparently there are no copies of the music masters, so Herrmann’s music, with the exception of the mixed film soundtrack, literally went up in flames.

DM : Well, we were running into that with some films. You’d be surprised [at] some of the films that have just vanished because of fire, or error, or whatever. I think it was Joe Dante who said that once Avco Embassy went out of business – because they had released The Howling [1980] – they started throwing things in the dumpster.

They didn’t want to pay the storage fees, and it was just elements that had been unclaimed by the companies that they had released them for… I think it was Joe that has said… he’d always go out before he’d go into his office. He’d look in the dumpster and see if there were any elements for The Howling, and he said he saw stuff from Take This Job And Shove It [1981], laying in the trash.

We ran into a similar problem with [director Jeff Lieberman’s1976 film] Blue Sunshine, in that it was a Movielab picture. They did the prints and everything, and then Movielab went bankrupt in the eighties, and had sent out notices and said, “Hey, we’re closing. Get your stuff out of here.” But sometimes the movie producers just didn’t get the letters for one reason or another, didn’t know what was happening, and whatever was leftover in Movielab when they were timed to throw the wrecking ball they just destroyed everything with it.

And unfortunately that’s what happened to – we think – the original negative for Blue Sunshine. We were able to get the audio mags – or the original producer Edgar Landsbury was able to get the original mag tracks out – but the original negative has not been found for 25 years, and they think it was just destroyed when Movielab went bankrupt. It just went down with the building, I guess.

MRH : Bruce Kimmel explains on his commentary track for the new First Nudie Musical (1976) DVD that the transfer was made from sections of the best available prints, as no one knows where the negative resides.

DM : We used the only existing 35mm print that we could find for Blue Sunshine, and it actually came out a lot better than we anticipated. We spent thousands, and thousands, and thousands of hours painting out scratches, fixing splices. This is the best it’s ever going to be… There’s no pre-print element available, no IPs [interpositive negatives] or anything, and the only materials that we could find outside of this print were old 1″ masters.

What’s better? The old 1″ masters, or actually doing a new 35mm print transfer to digital Betacam? Of course [the latter] option is always going to be the best one. Even the Blue Sunshine tape from Vestron, when it was released in 1984, was horrible.

MRH : The Image was originally released in mono. How did you fashion a new stereo 2.0 mix?

DM : When we got the original negative we also got the original mag tracks.

The dialogue, music and effects were on separate tracks the original master (they lay them all down separately so you can mix them individually later), and because we didn’t get a mono [composite] track (which is everything all mixed together, like a print would be), we were able to actually go in and [equalize] each individual track separately. (The dialogue would be separate; the music would be separate; and the sound effects.)

I just thought that [since] we’ve got this opportunity, why don’t we go ahead and do something. Of course, we didn’t go crazy; we just wanted to do a pseudo mix – just add a little depth to it.

We didn’t go nuts and start throwing cars left to right and things like this. It was just a little something, and one of our audio engineers who I’ve worked with since ’93 set up his audio place in Santa Monica, and said “Let me play with it a little bit; let me bring it up.” So we were actually able to extract the isolated music track, and he wanted to make a pseudo stereo track and throw a little bit of the directional effects into the surround – just to add a little depth to it, nothing crazy.

MRH : It was well done. There have been a number of poor pseudo-stereo remixes which have often yielded worse, even drainpipe-quality effects.

DM : There are these companies out there who do these crazy 5.1’s or 2.0’s, but they don’t actually offer you a choice to go back and listen to the original tracks and listen to the way it was, and we [give the choice] with The Image, and with our upcoming disc of Blue Sunshine.

[For the latter], we found the original mag tracks and not the negative, and I thought… [since] it’s been twenty-some odd years, let’s remix it in stereo, because they didn’t have enough money to do it back then. To remix a movie in stereo after twenty-five years was a huge endeavor; very costly.

These days, it’s amazing what you can do with computers and things… with The Image we just spit the audio into a computer, and started adding ambience and depth, and bringing up the bass.

A lot of The Image dialogue that you hear is, of course, dubbed in, and in some of it you can actually hear punches; you hear like a ‘click’ noise, and then you hear the person talk, and it’ll click again, and that person will ‘shut off.’

We were able to actually go in and try to minimize a lot of that as well, because [you’d hear] the microphone turn on, and then the person will say his lines, and then the microphone will turn off. On the original mag mix of The Image you can actually hear that, so were able to take some of that away.

I don’t do the mixing myself. We use a guy named Jim Allan, who I’ve worked with forever. When I helped produce A Nightmare On Elm Street [1984] and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [1974] and stuff like that (DVD and laserdiscs), he was the audio engineer on those. I’ve been friends with him ever since, and he’s been pretty much our audio guy since the beginning, and he’s just a wonder; he’s a wizard at this stuff.

He does commentaries and audio and stuff (he did the commentaries for Hart’s War)… He’s also mastering the Blue Sunshine soundtrack CD that we’re going to include on the Blue Sunshine disc as well.

MRH : Are there any aspects to The Image DVD that you’re proud of, and has made Synapse a better label?

DM : It’s a big release for us in a lot of ways. I mean, it’s our first real erotic film. We’ve done things like Vampyros Lesbos [1970] and things like this, but to actually come out with something that contains hardcore pornography was a big challenge for us.

I was worried at first… Stores that normally carry our product aren’t going to carry this obviously, but it’s turned out for the best, and it was a big experiment. We’re like, ‘Let’s see what happens – Let’s do this thing, and if it works out well, maybe it’ll open us up to some newer films or some other films of this type, so that the fans are still with us on these things.’

A lot of my fans are the sci-fi horror stuff… but to actually do a film that contains pornography and release it under out label was a big risk, and it worked out for the best. The other thing that I’m really proud of is that The Image was our first film that we did do from the original negative.

It was my first introduction in dealing with the ‘ultimate elements’ for a film transfer, and because of this – working with the negative and everything going okay – we’re actually going back to the original negative for Street Trash [1987]… So The Image in a lot of ways was a big stepping stone for Synapse, with a new genre of film that we released successfully.

It was a test for me (doing a transfer from something I’ve never done a transfer from before); and working with Radley too. Radley’s always been one of those people that I’ve always wanted to work with but never had the chance until now, so it’s like a dream come true from us.

MRH : In regards to The Image, did you find that Metzger is surprised at all the attention that he’s getting?

DM : Yeah, I think so. He’s a very personal guy. He’s very quiet. I don’t think, very honestly, that he knows the amount of fans that he actually really has. He didn’t want to do a commentary track. He doesn’t want to do one for whatever reason, and he never told me why. He just said no, and I think he’s just been a very quiet man. He did his movies, and now it’s time for him to relax.

It’s so strange: he came to [the last Chiller Show in New Jersey], and he wasn’t on the guest list or anything. He just kind of showed up just to see me, and to come visit and to look at the transfer of [The Image]. He stayed for a few hours, and we went up to my hotel room [to watch] the check disc.

Here he was around all these people, and if somebody would have said, ‘Hey, that’s Radley Metzger,’ the whole place would have come down. But he came in; he met me in the lobby; we watched the movie; he wandered around the show for a couple of hours, and then went home. It’s just the way he is. He’s like the greatest guy in the world, though.

He’s so funny, and he’s got this great sense of humour…Look at The Image: watching it you can see that sense of humour that he’s got. He was just a joy to work with, but I really, honestly think that he just doesn’t realize what kind of fans he has… I don’t even know a lot about Radley myself, and that’s why I was kind of hoping he would do a commentary, because he ‘s such a great person, and I’d really like to know what’s going on inside that head of his. But who knows; maybe for the next project we work with him on, something will happen.

MRH : Any plans to release a future Metzger film?

DM : We’re talking – I can’t really say much about it yet, but Radley is part of Audubon Films and we are releasing an Audubon film called Olga’s Girls [1964], which is not a Radley Metzger film. Olga’s Girls is the second in I guess what you would call an Olga Trilogy… and widely recognized as the best one of the three.

We’ve got the original negative from Radley again, and we’re actually going to be doing a new transfer of that film early August, and we’re actually able to get [Audrey Campbell], the lady who plays Olga in the film, for a commentary track, so that’s going to be really interesting.

There is a chance that we might be able to do something with Radley on another one of his films that I’ve been getting a lot of requests for.

MRH : Camille 2000 must be one of his most requested ones.

DM : No, not that one. This particular one has always been edited, and people are like,’ Well, now that you’ve tackled The Image, maybe you should get this one.’ We’re talking, so we’ll see. Who knows? But I think it would be an honor to do another Radley Metzger film and do it justice by actually going back to the original elements again.



© 2002 Mark R. Hasan


Related links:

BR/Film:  Image, The / Punishment of Anne, The (1975)


Return toHome Exclusive Interviews & ProfilesDVD

Tags: ,


Comments are closed.