An unnamed man belts out a terrible New Wave song in what is billed as “the world’s first nude pop video.” Still from previous installment of the Found Footage Festival.
Irony’s a cruel beast. Yes, in the past decade or so, irony has become the strawman to blame for everything from the emergence of “dance punk” to the whole hipper-than-thou ‘tude that seems so nauseatingly pervasive. But to irony’s credit, it’s done wonderful things for both film and comedy. Just look at the crappy movies playing in Toronto this week: tonight, the Bloor hosts the Toronto premier of Birdemic, and tomorrow, the Royal rolls with a late night screening of The Room. Both these films have gained cult traction as a result of their tormenting, albeit highly amusing, badness. The Found Footage Festival also rolls through Toronto Sunday night, and it’s practically a travelling cavalcade of so-bad-it’s-good programming.
Minted in 2004 by childhood friends and VHS-enthusiasts Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, the Found Footage Festival sifts through all kinds of bad kids’ shows, dating service videos, and public service announcements to find the worst of the worst. These finds often end up being as hilarious as they are horrifying. Pickett and Prueher met in their hometown in Wisconsin during the sixth grade, bonding over the laughably bad concept and execution of the syndicated ’80s sitcom Small Wonder, widely considered one of the worst television programs of all time. “We weren’t prodigies at anything, except maybe irony,” says Prueher. “We just got to thinking that there had to be more videos like this, that were hiding in plain sight. We started looking in thrift stores and garage sales and workplaces for discarded VHS tapes.”
Before long, the two accumulated a vast library of corporate training films, abandoned home videos, and other VHS oddities, frequently screening them for friends. In 2004, using the connections the they acquired in the comedy and entertainment world—Pickett works for satirical news source The Onion and Prueher has worked on The Late Show With David Letterman and Mystery Science Theater 3000—the two mounted the first formal festival to a sold-out crowd in New York. The so-called “Volume 4” tour makes its final stop in at the Bloor Cinema on Sunday with a slew of humorous, cringe-inducing footage, as well as some other bonuses.
“A lot of the time, we find videos with really great covers,” says Prueher. “So this year, we decided to put together twenty of our favourite covers and do something we call the ‘VHS Cover Slideshow.’ It’s got everything from crazy exercise videos to a tape we found called Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist. How do you not include a video called Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist?” In addition to the newly-added slideshow element, the fest also promises everything from raw footage of a Texan furniture wholesaler named Bargain Barney (catchphrase: “All I want to do is save you money!”) to compilations of bad ‘80s and ‘90s cartoons like Pro Stars and Rubik, The Amazing Cube (which is exactly what it sounds like—a cartoon about an anthropomorphic Rubik’s Cube), and many more terrible gems.
Hosts and curators Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett introduce a found video clip at a recent Found Footage Festival in New York.
While in recent years the Internet has been awash with loads of blogs dedicated to preserving the cruddy aesthetics of this type of found footage, Prueher remains confident that the Found Footage Festival offers more than just another video recycling blog. For one thing, Pickett and Prueher scour thousands of tapes, cutting the footage together themselves, instead of merely transferring marginally funny videos. Not surprisingly, the online boom in the popularity of found footage has benefited their enterprise. “We started the show before YouTube existed,” says Prueher. “We weren’t sure how this material being on the Internet would affect our shows. But people’s appreciation is actually greater now. For one, we don’t have to explain to people as thoroughly what we’re doing. People get it more.”
Considering that irony, and “so bad it’s good” type screenings, are only increasing in popularity, there’s little doubt that Toronto audiences get what Pruher and Pickett are trying to do. A lot of this footage may be ostensibly bad, but when it’s carefully curated by the guys at the Found Footage Fest, it’s so bad, it’s bound to be a great time.
The Found Footage Festival rolls into the Bloor Cinema Sunday, May 23 at 7 p.m. Advance tickets are $15 through www.foundfootagefest.com.
Stills and photos courtesy of Found Footage Festival.