The Found Footage Festival returns to the Coolidge this Wednesday, now in its tenth year of celebrating the strange, but completely relatable phenomenon of humanity’s desire to document its most misguided moments of sincere expression with the least amount of technical ability. But while sharing weird videos on YouTube is as much a part of the average person’s day as breakfast, FFF is more interested in exploring a harder to find, yet more rewarding level of odd video collection: gems from the VHS era.
According to FFF cofounder Nick Prueher, in the ’80s, “there was a lack of self-awareness because the technology was so new. It’s easy to forget now, but before that you really couldn’t make your own video. And because it was a new format, and it was in the hands of amateurs for the first time, you’ve got all sorts of weird stuff … We found a video called, ‘Rent a Friend,’ which is if you are lonely, this guy keeps you company on video for an hour. It was basically like the Wild West. People didn’t know how to use the technology very well yet, and they didn’t know even whether they should or not. I think there was this wide-eyed innocence back then that is really hard to replicate today. For us, the VHS are just a lot more charming than the Internet era.”
“There’s a genuine pathos” for Prueher and company, however, “because we found the videos ourselves, mostly at thrift stores, we feel kind of feel an ownership over them and so we are kind of protective of it. We genuinely have affection for the people in the videos and then as part of the show we try and track them down and try and let them know the story behind it. It’s not just laughing at other people’s misery.”
Among FFF’s most newsworthy finds was “Carnival in Rio,” a TV special starring the future Governator as he made a spectacular ass of himself in Brazil without the slightest awareness. You might expect some legal blowback given Schwarzenegger’s newfound respectability, but the gang is safe for now (though word is he is attempting to have all copies destroyed, which is to be expected given his troublesome relationship with Pumping Iron).
“We haven’t really heard from celebrities,” Prueher adds. “We had a Linda Blair video she made, “How to Get Revenge” — which is very strange — and Angela Lansbury exercise tapes, but we haven’t been contacted. But the bigger celebrities for us are just random people in videos that we have obsessed over. And that happens occasionally.
“We were playing a clip called ‘It Only Takes a Second,’ a safety video for people who work in factories. It just shows a series of on the job accident reenactments, low budget, each one is more outrageous and more hilarious than the one before it. So we were playing it in Minneapolis, and this guy came up afterwards and said, ‘Hey, do you guys recognize me?’ And all of a sudden it hit us and he was one of the stunt guys who fell off a tall ladder into a bunch of metal shavings, got hit by a car. He was one of our favorite dudes on there … ‘I can’t wash this hand! We met the guy who fell off the ladder in ‘It Only Takes a Second’!’ I think our barometer for what a celebrity is is a little different.”
BONUS FEATURES: STREAMS
WINNEBAGO MAN (iTunes, Amazon)
The organizers of the Found Footage Festival are partially responsible for the rediscovery of “The Angriest Man in the World,” a viral video on VHS that predates the internet. The video shows Jack Rebney in the process of making a video that highlights the features of a Winnebago, then edits it down to the stunningly and poetically profane outtakes where Rebney swears at flies, himself, the cameraman, and whatever else is bugging him. Years later, documentarian Ben Steinbauer found Rebney living as a relative hermit with no awareness of his viral success, and the stuff coming out of this guy’s mouth is still gripping.
WHORE CHURCH VOL. 1 (thewhorechurch.com)
On the other end of the found footage spectrum is Boston’s own Whore Church. Where FFF takes the form of an exhibition with commentary about the nascent art form people making videos of themselves with little to no awareness of the long-term effects, what the Brothers Vulture assemble is closer to a mix-tape of the strangest, most satanic, often pornographic and possibly illegal material. Their first full-length release, titled Whore Church Vol. 1, played at Phil Anselmo’s Housecore Horror Film festival last year, and is a hilarious tour through the strangest offerings found on VHS and the internet.