Nostalgia From Hell
by M. Faust
The Found Footage Festival @ Squeaky Wheel
Science fiction novelist Theodore Sturgeon famously observed that “Ninety percent of everything is crud.” As consumers, most of us do our best to avoid that 90 percent. Not Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, who have spent years combing through videotapes scavenged from flea markets, storage bins, garage sales and thrift stores to compile the crème de la crud.
They are the curators of the Found Footage Festival, which makes its first appearance in Buffalo this weekend after five years of touring the US. The show compiles the most jaw-dropping moments from hundreds of hours of footage, including instructional videos, forgotten Saturday morning cartoons, celebrity exercise tapes (the only possible answer to the question, “What do Milton Berle and Laura Gemser have in common?”), VCR games, misconceived erotica, local pitchmen, video dating ads, and other categories so bizarre it’s hard to believe there are enough examples of them to constitute a category. (Who knew that so many sports teams did music videos?)
Speaking by phone from his home in Queens, Nick Prueher recalls that he and Pickett developed an affection for video detritus early on, as teenagers in Wisconsin. “We weren’t prodigies when it came to anything except appreciating things ironically. We first bonded in sixth grade over this TV show called Small Wonder, about a girl robot. We couldn’t believe that all of our friends liked this show that was so bad!
“Then in high school I was working at McDonald’s and I found this training video, ‘Inside and Outside Custodial Duties.’ It was so ridiculous, especially because we didn’t even have a custodian. And that was the springboard—we knew there had to be more stuff like this out there.”
It’s commonplace now that everyone has a YouTube account, but in the 1980s the ability to create and possess video programming was an enormous novelty. And when the technology became cheap enough that anyone could afford to produce and distribute videotapes, an awful lot of people did. “You’d buy a bag of dog food and it would come with a training video,“ Prueher says. “Any time a format reaches that mass saturation you’ll end up with some pretty goofy stuff.”
The duo maintained their hobby after they moved to New York to work as freelance writers (Prueher still writes for The Colbert Report, Pickett for The Onion.)
Of course, the 1980s and 1990s weren’t all that long ago, and Prueher says they occasionally hear from people whose videos are featured in their shows. “Sometimes they’re a little abrasive at first, cause they think we’re making a lot of money exploiting them. But we always invite them to the show, and they see that it isn’t meanspirited. We have so much affection for this footage that we hope it doesn’t come across as snarky. We just want to lavish attention on it and celebrate these moments that would have been lost forever! So without fail everyone we’ve met has been keen to be a part of what we’re doing.”
(An interview with one such demi-celeb, the creator and marketer of an—how can I put this—aid for male autostimulation, is a highlight of the program.)
Despite the fact that their collection of more than 3,000 bulky VHS tapes has overflowed his apartment, Pickett’s house, and a couple of storage lockers, Prueher says they are always on the lookout for more and encourages people to bring their discoveries to the show with them. This is the fourth edition of the Found Footage Festival, and he’s confident it can continue for years to come.
“The production values change, maybe the hairstyles and fashions aren’t as dated, but the bad ideas are still there. And as long as people have bad ideas and are willing to commit them to video we’re in no danger of running out of material.
The Found Footage Festival appears this Saturday at 8pm at Squeaky Wheel, 712 Main St.
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