The End, For Now?

For several weeks, now, I’ve been playing a waiting game. First for my Metamorphoses VHS tapes to arrive at the go-between, and then for them to ship them to me. The VCRs to play them took more time. The only one of the two that worked wasn’t the most trustworthy, and couldn’t play the tapes in color, so I’d hoped to be able to fix the other deck. I’d thought I’d identified the problem, ordered replacement parts… and then waited another week for those to arrive, for that VCR to still not work.

Opting to use the other VCR instead, one reason it’s not trustworthy is that rewind & fast forward would cause its gears to slip, after which it also wouldn’t be able to eject the tape. No problem, I thought – I’d order a tape rewinder. Another week of waiting.

When the rewinder arrived and worked, I finally decided to order a Domesday Duplicator (DdD), after months of obsessing about it. After another week, the DdD arrived, and I used the included components to mod my laserdisc player. Modding the VCR would have required additional components, and I had more laserdiscs to back up than tapes, so it made sense to do the LD player first.

After getting the DdD set up, it was probably another week before I got any captures that would decode without errors. The short version is that Windows simply has too many processes running in the background, that interfere with the capture process. Switching to Ubuntu solved that.

Last night – a week after the DdD arrived – the components I needed to mod the VCR – which I’d ordered right after the DdD – were delivered. Modding the VCR was quicker & easier than the laserdisc player, but by the time I was finished, I wasn’t in any rush to test it. It was getting late, and I could wait until morning.

This morning I hooked everything up, and captured the first 3 minutes of one of the Metamorphoses tapes as a test. The VHS-Decode software didn’t want to work for my in Ubuntu, so I started to copy the capture file over to my Windows machine. Since I wasn’t likely to capture any more today, I went to eject the tape… only it wouldn’t budge. The whirring sound told me the VCR’s gears had slipped again, which meant I would need to very carefully take it apart, and wind the gears manually.

While I was attempting to move the gears, the cassette try sprang up. The back flap of the cassette didn’t close completely, but it may still have slightly damaged the tape. It was around this time that I’d also heard something hit the floor. I couldn’t see it without my glasses, so whatever it was would have to wait. Once the tape was finally wound back up and ejected, it looked as though a spot of grease had gotten onto the magnetic tape. So that tape may now be ruined. Attempting to clean the grease off may just damage it further, and playing it may smear the grease on the player’s head. Fortunately, I have another copy…

Playing any tapes any time soon may be out of the question. Once I’d put my glasses on, I’d found this piece on the floor –

Under my desk, I’d found the VCR’s capstan motor. That’s what had hit the floor. That piece in the picture is its power connector. Now, MAYBE I can reattach that piece with Gorilla Glue, and use some solder to bridge the connections. For now, though, I officially have two broken VCRs.

The cherry on top of this entire mess, might the test capture. The decoder in Windows produced NOTHING. Either there was no signal, or it was too weak to be captured. Adjusting the DdD’s physical gain might’ve helped, but it’s too late for that now.

If either of these VCRs cannot be repaired, then I’ll need to find another. Preferably one that fully supports SECAM, but those aren’t inexpensive.

Next week, I’m flying up to Michigan for the summer. I was hoping to have both Metamorphoses tapes captured before then, but now I may need to wait until I get back, in September or October…

Open Wide

While attempting to reconstruct a wide-screen version of Metamorphoses/Winds of Change is challenging enough, it’s complicated further by having multiple versions to work with. The Japanese version is the highest quality over all, but the American VHS is framed differently, allowing for some parts of the extended frame to be clearer than the French version would otherwise allow. An added bonus is that the trailer on the Japanese DVD contains several wide-screen shots that were squeezed horizontally to a 4:3 ratio.

For much of the film, the wide format seems largely wasted, which makes the 4:3 home video framing less jarring. There are some shots, though, that must have been a challenge. One such shot is when Pegasus appears, at the end of the Perseus segment. In the American and Japanese versions, the gorgon on the right side of the screen is completely cropped out. This gorgon is technically visible in the French version, but is outside the “safe” area of the frame, meaning it may have been cropped out by TVs at the time. An issue with the American version is that it’s framed so that Perseus is in the center of the screen, which results in the viewer not being able to see Medusa’s severed head transforming into Pegasus.

Overall, the framing of the different versions is a mixed bag. Sometimes, the American version will clear up an extra 10% of the picture. In few rare cases, it may add 25% or more. But for much of the film, it either only clears up the backgrounds, or aligns so closely to the Japanese version that it’s hardly worth the effort.

Winds of Metamorphoses

Sanrio’s Metamorphoses has been a resent interest/obsession of mine. Originally released in 1978, and envisioned as Fantasia for the rock era, the film was a flop. Critics and audiences complained that the music didn’t fit the visuals, the stories were difficult to follow without any narration or dialogue providing context, and, worst of all, many found it to be boring.

Sanrio wasn’t about to give up on the film, though – after cutting 7 minutes from its runtime, re-arranging its segments, adding narration by Peter Ustinov, and replacing the rock songs with a new disco soundtrack, the film was re-released as Winds of Change in 1979. And it flopped again.

I, of course, knew none of the the film’s history until fairly recently. I’d grown up with the Winds of Change version on VHS, but it was one of those films that I watched over and over, but forgot about as I got older. Thinking back on it as an adult, I couldn’t even remember its name. But as luck would have it, by the time I’d identified it, it had been re-released on DVD! In Japan.

星のオルフェウス (Orpheus of the Stars)
(Orpheus of the Stars)

Now having had the film on DVD for nearly 20 years, you would think that would be the end of it. I have it, and even if I didn’t, I could watch it in full on Youtube. So what more is there to think about? Well for one thing, there’s those 7 minutes of footage that was cut from the original version. That’s… a lot. What was cut, and why? How was the original music?

And then there’s the fact that the theatrical release was wide-screen, with an aspect ration of at lease 2.35:1, while the home releases were cropped to 1.33:1. That’s quite a lot of visual information to lose. Unfortunately, it’s one of those things that I’ll never be able to know. Unless Sanrio decides to re-release the film with a new, wide-screen transfer, all I can do is wonder about what it once was.

…and then I happened upon the French version.

While the video quality of this version of the film is not great, I was excited to see that it’s letterboxed. Very quickly, I had the idea of combining this with the Japanese DVD, using it to fill out the frame and restore some of its original wide-screen presentation. How hard could it be?

…even harder than one might expect, actually.

One detail I’d learned after starting this obsessive little endeavor, is that Hoshi no Orpheus is a different cut than Winds of Change. Its segments were restored to their original order, and the film runs 5 minutes longer. This adds quite a bit back in, but at the same time, there are small bits from the Winds version that were removed, while other shots are repeated. By combining the two versions, the runtime could be even closer to the original!

Now there’s just the tiny problem of needing to match each of the film’s segments frame-by-frame, and having to correct the lens distortion on the French version. I don’t even want to think about what to do about the music or narration, if I ever finish the visuals. As far as I’m aware, the Rolling Stones’ Criss Cross, is the only song from Metamorphoses that is now available in any form.

Why the long face?

Taking a small break from modeling Rose’s facial expressions, I decided to get started on her & Daisy’s aunt Mercy –


…who looks weird to me without her usual scowl.