By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
The best of the worst
Big laughs from small tapes: The Found Footage Festival

Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett suffer for their art. They endure the most excruciating torment just so you and I can be amused and entertained.

Longtime pals from Wisconsin, Prueher and Pickett have spent 20 years rummaging through America’s thrift shops, garage sales and Goodwill bins (there’s even been a bit of dumpster diving) in search of that dinosaur from the not–too–distant past, the VHS tape.

Before the DVD and digital home video made it obsolete, VHS video was America’s home–production medium. And, judging from Prueher and Pickett’s traveling roadshow the Found Film Festival, video was used, misused and horribly abused by every two–bit money–grubbing hack and well–meaning exercise guru in the 50 states.

The Found Film Festival is an anthology of the “greatest” moments the two have discovered on their cross–country treasure hunts. It’s a treasure trove of cheesy puppets, bad singing, creepy clowns, appalling Aerobics, sinister hypnotists and the funniest slices of real–life Americana from an era gone by.

Weird–looking kids! Animal tricks! Video dating, 1980s style! It’s all here!

And yes, the dynamic duo have to sit through hours and hours of this stuff, just so they can cull it down into the highlights reel they screen for us.

Prueer and Pickett bring Found Footage Festival Vol. 6 to Muse Arts Warehouse Sept. 13.

Why do you do this?

Nick Prueher: First of all, we were just bored and looking for something to do. We grew up in a small town, and there wasn’t a lot going on. And we started finding weird videos. That was our entertainment. We’d sit around and watch ‘em, and make jokes, and even make short films based around them. We got obsessed. I think a lot of it has to do with nostalgia for the VHS format. It’s what we grew up on, in the same way that vinyl collectors like all the hisses and pops. We like the bad tracking and washed–out colors of VHS.

The late ‘80s and early ‘90s was sort of the Wild West in terms of people producing tapes. For the first time, people could have video in their homes. So people who had no business in front of the camera, or behind it, were making videos. So you get this incredible slice of life, and a lot of weird, esoteric stuff ended up on video. I think that sort of raw, unpolished–ness is a lot more truthful than the American Film Institute Top 100.

I was surprised to find that regionally, people were making their own exercise and self–help videos. They weren’t all just watching Jane Fonda.

Nick Prueher: It was a very democratized format. It didn’t cost much to do it. All you had to have was a video camera and some space. So you got Mom–and–Pop operations. We found regional Alaska Fitness Connection videos, and all sorts of homemade exercise videos. The very first thing to crack the home video market was this Jane Fonda video, and I think it was a gold rush. People decided it was a license to print money. They could have the next big exercise video.

Why are so many of them so bad?

Nick Prueher: Well, fitness clothing is always the first to get dated, right? Leotards and spandex. So that certainly doesn’t help things. All you had was a stationary camera, and people exercising. And a lot of B– and C–list celebrities involved. It’s just that magical combination.

And I think exercise videos were the first things that people got sick of watching. So those were the first ones to end up at thrift stores.

I suppose by this time you must have a pretty fine–tuned sense of what works.

Nick Prueher: Generally, yeah. Every time somebody’s doing a rap ...usually there’ll be one moment where we’re like “OK, we got something here.” A lot of religious children’s videos used puppets, costumed characters, ventriloquism, whatever it was, to convince kids to get saved, I guess. But sometimes it’s not until after you watch the whole video without fast–forwarding that it hits you what’s funny about it.

For example, we recently found this crafting how–to video. It was called The Magical Rainbow Sponge. It was this technique where you put paint on a sponge and make different patterns. Crafting videos are boring, and we were expecting this one to be, too.

But the thing that hit us after watching it was how enthusiastic, almost psychotic, this woman was about craft sponging. She’s making these little orgasmic yelps after she makes a pattern. We thought it would be funny if we just cut her most over–the–top enthusiastic yelps together. And so we did. We open the show with that, and people love it. 

Found Footage Festival

Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Road

When: At 7 and 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13

Tickets: $10

Watch online (if you dare): foundfootagefest.comNick Pru