Happening upon old home movies can mean hours of enthralling entertainment: the weirder, the better. Awkward grade school recitals, intense backyard wiffle ball games and the vividly red, oversize glasses your mom thought would be a wise wedding fashion statement all bring blushes for those captured on film and laughter for those watching.
Everyone’s family is strange, often to an unfathomable degree, but it is still a good bet found footage could oust even the most Arrested Development-esque characters out of the spotlight. Friends Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, who grew up in Wisconsin, have devoted their careers to combing thrift stores and garage sales for oddities on film. What started as a high school hobby turned into a touring comedy event that shows clips they have edited and pieced together to show to a live audience, with a bit of Mystery Science Theater commentary.
There is profanity, nudity and, most of all, dysfunctionality. The Found Footage Festival, and subsequent DVDs, show American dysfunction at its best. The messed-up fun is due to hit Madison’s Majestic Theatre Sunday night.
Found footage has grown into its own niche category of film, but no one does it quite like these Wisconsinites-turned-New Yorkers. America’s Funniest Home Videos barely scratch the surface of the gruesome, psychotic idiocy this duo proves is out there. Perhaps most enthralling is many of the videos were made under a presumption of complete normalcy, things as commonplace as how-to videos, infomercials or exercise tapes.
The show’s curators focus mainly on ephemera, that is, film not meant to be seen in a theater, or by the public at all. This is why attendees of Sunday’s show will see things like an overly enthusiastic sponge-painter and a ferret-care video that would have People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children simultaneously cringing. Some clips contain images too dumbfounding to even begin to explain here — think PBS’s Lamb Chop meets “The Silence of the Lambs’” Buffalo Bill.
The Found Footage duo is on a ceaseless hunt for new material that will match and outdo previous finds. One hates to imagine how many snippets of weird, ugly-people porn they have accidentally viewed. The footage team, which has lost members and added interns during the past eight years, seeks out the tapes, but sometimes footage also comes to the team via a generous festival-goer. This is something that would be welcomed at Sunday’s show, too, assuming Prueher and Pickett did not clear out the bulk of the state’s VHS resources during their high school years.
Prueher and Pickett stumble on their words, talk over each other and laugh at their own jokes. They are clearly not classically-trained comedians, if such a thing exists. Perhaps as a result, they are also not pretentious about anything they say. Their wit is unpredictable and often makes tangible what the viewer’s horrified mind is trying to come to grips with — yes, that man is pouring salad dressing on his head, and, no, he is not wearing clothing other than a patriotic bikini bottom.
The show thrives on obscurity. Not only is its ridiculous content unmatched — except for maybe on Chatroulette and the occasional vlog — but as VHS becomes a lesser-used medium, found footage grows all the more novel as an art form. The handwritten-on masking tape labels, shiny spools of film and flimsy plastic coverings that rivaled floppy disks in ineptitude — especially when you really felt like watching “E.T.” for the eighth time — evoke nostalgic emotions. While online movie sites have plenty of “buffering” to fill the latter void, VHS may one day be the vinyl of film, to be cherished by sentimental collectors with money to burn as a token of better days.
Or not. Whether Prueher and Pickett have posterity or just today’s laughs in mind, Found Footage Festival is sure to be a hilarious and entertaining way to spend October’s first Sunday night.
The Found Footage Festival will take place Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Majestic Theatre. Tickets are $13 in advance or $15 at the door. For more information, visit majesticmadison.com.