'The Found Footage Festival' celebrates hilarious VHS finds
PITTSFIELD — Before YouTube reigned triumphant in streaming the genre now known as "cat videos," it was homemade and low-budget video cassette recordings that tickled society's funny bone.
This Saturday night starting at 8, audiences can wax nostalgic watching snippets and clips of the most ridiculous infomercials, workplace training videos and yes, even films where wildlife goes wild, as "The Found Footage Festival," returns to town via the Berkshire Museum's Little Cinema.
Hosts and curators Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, whose comedy credits include "The Onion" and "The Colbert Report," will show off their special "Salute to Weirdos" program, where video subjects will surely display bad haircuts, ugly sweaters and gobsmacking enthusiasm for the most mundane of products and services.
Prueher will take audiences on a guided 90-minute unrated tour of their greatest videotape finds from dumpster diving, thrift store shopping and fan mail, and provide live commentary and where-are-they-now updates on the people in these offbeat screen gems.
"There's stuff you can't see online, it's only on VHS," Prueher told The 413 in a phone interview earlier this week.
"In this Saturday's lineup, you'll see a woman massaging a possum, a guy in a tuxedo screaming at you and another woman who's insanely enthusiastic about sponge painting," he said. "There's also a little full frontal nudity in this show, so really, what more can you ask for?"
Prueher said that he and Pickett are still amazed that a former hobby has been touring on the professional entertainment circuit for the past 11 years. The Found Footage Festival made a stop in its maiden years, in July 2005, at Pittsfield's own Lichtenstein Center for the Arts.
"I'm exited to be coming back. I love the Berkshires," Prueher said.
While he's based in the New York City area now, he and Pickett grew up in the mid-1990s in a small town in Wisconsin, where, Prueher said, "The inspiration [for the project] was more from boredom."
The guys and their friends would spend time in Salvation Army and Goodwill thrift stores to scour the bounty of VHS tapes deposited there as the nation upgraded to DVDs.
"We would have screening parties with friends and just make commentary," said Prueher.
The hobby traveled with them in college, and in 2004, Prueher said he and Pickett decided to "take the hobby out of the living room and into the movie theater."
Audiences loved the raucous collection of cable access, home video and bad movie debauchery.
The two curators say they will watch around 100 bad films for every segment of comical cinema that ends up in the tour. They're able to transfer the found footage through a VCR to a computer to edit down the clips.
"We wouldn't wish it on anyone to sit through the raw footage that's out there, but you've gotta watch it all to find that nugget of gold," said Prueher. "But when you find it, you can't wait to share it. It's like child birth; you forget the pain of it when it's done."
Prueher said over the years, they've gone the extra mile to not only hone in on particularly humourous clips, but also to track down the people who are in the films, even going as so far as to hire a private detective. In several instances, the hosts have gotten people in the original films to join them on stage to talk about that special video project in their lives, for better or for worse. After events like this, Prueher said he's seen audience members line up afterwards to meet the speakers and get their autographs.
The host said he's encouraged to see that there are "other weirdos out there who appreciate this stuff as much as I do."
Indeed, there seems to be a certain draw to such material, which makes similar shows like "America's Funniest Home Videos" and "Mystery Science Theater 3000," an enduring part of popular culture. (Prueher, for the record, is excited about the Kickstarter campaign to reboot MST3K, and hopes to be able to host one of the shows.)
"The appeal to me, and perhaps others, is that it's refreshing to see something that isn't polished. VHS was the first time a video format was cheap to produce. And there were a lot of people who had no business in front of or behind the camera," said Prueher. "AFI (American Film Institute) highlights its lists of pretty impressive, well-thought films, but I think it's an incomplete look at who we are as a people. I think the lowlights have a lot more to tell."
If you go ...
What: "The Found Footage Festival: A Salute to Weirdos." The one-night-only 90-minute event features live hosts, unrated VHS film clips, commentary, and pre-show refreshments. Content ranges from a montage of exercise videos featuring "Angela Lansbury, Traci Lords, and a bearded hippie named Zar," to an Arnold Schwarzenegger travel video circa 1983, to outtakes from a series of furniture commercials starring a man called "Bargain Bernie."
When: 8 p.m. on Saturday.
Where: The Little Cinema at The Berkshire Museum, 39 South St., Pittsfield.
Cost: $10 general admission.