After Effects: Memories of Pittsburgh Filmmaking – Limited Edition (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Jan 04, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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After Effects: Memories of Pittsburgh Filmmaking – Limited Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Director

Michael Felsher

Release Date(s)

2021 (December 7, 2021)

Studio(s)

Red Shirt Pictures (Red Shirt Video #1)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: B+
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: A-

Review

[Editor's Note: This is an exclusive title limited to 1,000 units at DiabolikDVD.com.]

While several local Pittsburgh filmmakers worked with writer and director George A. Romero on films like Night of the Living Dead, Martin, and The Crazies, they also made films of their own, working on everything from shorts to industrial films to educational films. After finishing Dawn of the Dead, musician and actor John Harrison and editor Pasquale Buba brought along their friend, director Dusty Nelson, to make Effects, a surreal and cerebral horror film that, unfortunately, didn’t find proper distribution and was only screened a couple of times before disappearing for over 25 years. In 2005, Synapse Films acquired and released the film on DVD, and several years later, the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) released it on Blu-ray. Accompanying both of those releases was a documentary made by someone who’s considered to be one of the great home video documentarians, Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. That documentary, After Effects, chronicles the 1970s era of Pittsburgh filmmakers and their experiences making Effects.

Michael Felsher has now expanded After Effects: Memories of Pittsburgh Filmmaking (his very first home video documentary) from its original 59-minute running time to 74 minutes, also debuting it on his new Blu-ray label, Red Shirt Video. For fans of George A. Romero and his filmmaking friends, After Effects is a warm-hearted and fascinating snapshot of a group of people regaling each other about old times before their worlds changed. The footage includes George, Pasquel Buba, and Joe Pilato long before their untimely deaths, as well as John Harrison and Dusty Nelson. And while this group lounges poolside interviewing each other, outside interviews are conducted with actors Tom Savini, Debra Morgan, David Belko, Susan Chapek, Marty Schiff, and Bernard McKenna. There’s also a quick-and-you’ll-miss-her appearance by Christine Forrest, George’s ex-wife and former producing partner.

We spend a small amount of time with George, but since he’s not the main focus, much more of it is devoted to the group, delving into their lives at the time and the kinds of work that they were doing. What it manages to reveal is a supportive and loving group of people who enjoyed working together independently with very little money, but mountains of enthusiasm. They, of course, pine for a return to those days, but are appreciative of being able to have done it the way they did. Though Felsher wasn’t involved with the interviews and was given the task of assembling something out of them, he manages to capture a heartfelt appreciation of filmmaking and the people who enjoy it. There isn’t much conflict to speak of, but hearing how people with little experience learned to make movies together is engrossing in and of itself.

After Effects uses different types of footage to tell its story, including scenes from the film. Effects was shot by Carl Augenstein and Toni Semple on 16 mm film using Eclair ACL16 cameras, finished photochemically, and blown up to 35 mm at the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The interviews were captured by Frank Perl and Joe Wittkofski on high quality video tape via Digital Betacam. After Effects is presented full frame in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, as it was for its initial release on DVD. Presented in 59.94i, it’s the best that the documentary has ever and will likely ever look, which is quite good. A bit of filtering has been performed on the DigiBeta footage to make it appear a little cleaner, but it doesn’t look artificial at all. It’s just sharper with less of a video-sourced quality to it. Some of the film footage is from a low quality source as pixelation is apparent, but the majority of the Effects footage is sharp and organic. Still photographs and footage from some of the aforementioned short films and commercials are utilized as well. Everything works well in tandem together, nothing ever appearing out of place.

The audio is included in English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles. The soundtrack to Effects is mostly flat, but it has an ample amount of amplification next to the other elements. The interviews are all discernible as well. The biggest advantage that this stereo soundtrack has is that it’s score is given plenty of aural muscle, much more than anything else.

The following extras are also included:

  • Audio Commentary with Michael Felsher
  • Poolside with George (9:39)
  • Outtakes and Deleted Scenes (12 in all – 20:50)
  • Effects at the Warhol (6:14)
  • Vintage DVD Release Trailer for Effects (1:44)

Michael Felsher provides a new audio commentary for this release, substituting the previous commentary that he did for the AGFA Blu-ray release of Effects. He breathlessly discusses his background as a film fan, working for Anchor Bay, and eventually getting the chance to make his first documentary. He also talks about his late father, who inspired his ability to make films, and goes into great detail about how he got the job of putting After Effects together. If you’ve ever listened to Michael Felsher speak on a commentary or on a Facebook stream, you know you’re in for a treat. Poolside with George features a newly-edited set of outtakes featuring George, delving more into his career and working in Pittsburgh with his fellow filmmakers. The Outtakes and Deleted Scenes feature additional interviews with Pasquel Buba, John Harrison, Dusty Nelson, Tom Savini, Joe Pilato, and George. The best of the bunch is the final outtake in which everyone shares their memories of George in the cutting room. It’s delightful because of how natural everybody is with each other, speaking off the cuff as if the camera isn’t rolling. It’s the rawest moment both in and out of the documentary. Effects at the Warhol features highlights with Michael Felsher and John Harrison when the film was screened for the first time in 25 years at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh in 2005. Last is a vintage trailer for the film’s original DVD release from Synapse Films, which appears to have been recreated in HD.

The disc sits inside a clear amaray case with new artwork and a 12-page insert booklet featuring “After” Thoughts on “Effects” by John Harrison, photos from the set, and the documentary’s credits. Everything is housed within a slipcase featuring the same new artwork. This release is also limited to 1,000 units.

For fans of Pittsburgh filmmaking, specifically George A. Romero and everyone he worked with, After Effects offers wonderful insight. Its expanded version manages to add more stories in without feeling bloated or overwrought, as if it was meant to be that way. This is definitely a release you’ll want to own. Highly recommended!

- Tim Salmons

(You can follow Tim on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel here.)

 

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