Bunte Farben colors and delivers epic LA Punk Doc

Einstürzende Neubauten performing at Desolation Center's Gila Monster Jamboree in 1985

Einstürzende Neubauten performing at Desolation Center's Gila Monster Jamboree in 1985

Present Day Mike Watt of Minutemen explains things that happened in the desert

Present Day Mike Watt of Minutemen explains things that happened in the desert

Desolation Center is a new documentary directed by Stuart Swezey that tells the story of a series of early 80’s music and performance happenings in Southern California. These punk rock guerrilla art shows featured seminal performances by Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Redd Kross, Einstürzende Neubauten, Survival Research Laboratories & Savage Republic. They are now recognized as inspirations for Burning Man, Lollapalooza and Coachella.

Bunte Farben was thrilled to facilitate the color grading, finishing and delivery of the film for festivals and theatrical release. The lead colorist on the project, Stephen Latty, is a serious fan of the Desolation Center music. “Watching for the first time was such a mind blow. I kept wishing I could have been there to hear these incredible shows. Our goal in color correction was to reinforce that feeling of being there.”

Robert Hecker of Red Kross reminiscing

Robert Hecker of Red Kross reminiscing

Sonic Youth performing at Desolation Center's Gila Monster Jamboree in 1985,

Sonic Youth performing at Desolation Center's Gila Monster Jamboree in 1985,

Desolation Center features a panoply of source material: archival performance and documentary footage shot in multiple video and film formats; stills; animated sequences; historical material from the internet; news footage; as well as contemporary interviews shot over a number of years on different cameras and by two different directors of photography, Jeremy Royce and Sandra Valde-Hansen.

“The present-day interviews in the film have a charming spontaneity and intimacy. We kept these images clean and focused on the subject,” says Latty. “When Mike Watt is standing there in the desert remembering how the wind blew sand in his eyes as he tried to play bass, you’re just right there, hanging with Mike Watt.”

As with many documentary films, the diversity of source material presents specific color grading challenges. As Latty explains: “For material sourced from the internet or digitized at unusual frame rates we had a method that works like magic: deinterlace, blur, add grain. For archival video we would correct the image for exposure, remove odd saturations and color casts, and then deepen the blacks. The music in the film is so great, and often so intense. I think the whole thing really blooms with the added bit of darkness.”

Los Angeles mainstay Stuart Swezey, who directed the film, was also the the creator and principal organizer of the original Desolation Center events. Swezey recognizes Bunte Farben’s paradoxical contribution to a film set in the pre-digital era. “Digital color correction brings a consistency and richness to the images that definitely would not have been possible back in the day. Bunte Farben brought the film into a form that people can really enjoy.”

Desolation Center has toured worldwide to enthusiastic audiences on the festival circuit. The film begins a theatrical run in Los Angeles this Friday, September 13 at Hollywood ArcLight Cinema, Laemmle Monica Film Center and Laemmle Playhouse 7, to be followed later this month by release in 50+ North American cities.

Read the LA Times review