The audience in the Black Box take to their seats to a psychedelic surf-rock score and indecipherably weird projected stills. The Belfast stop of the Found Footage Festival has a distinctly Mondo atmosphere before it even begins.
The brainchild of high school friends and admitted VHS junkies Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, the Found Footage Festival is a celebration of the oddest and most cringeworthy atrocities committed to video.
Personally gathered from flea markets, thrift stores, garage sales and bins, the clips include hideously misjudged corporate videos (one insurance company promo features a prematurely exploding car as well as increasingly far-fetched industrial accidents with HG Lewis levels of gore) as well as a veritable cross-section of the weirdest recesses of the human psyche.
The VHS ringleaders screen clip after clip of yellow-tinted grainy embarrassment, accompanied by their witty asides. Pickett and Prueher exhibit the same strange dichotomy of sarcasm and adoration for the subject matter evident in Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (to which the Found Footage Festival is often compared). This is hilarity at its purest – with not a hint of post-modern anti-comedy in the air – and the audience are in fits of laughter from the get-go.
Long-time followers of the Found Footage Festival (whose clips are understandably a worldwide YouTube phenomenon) are rewarded with extended cuts of fan favourites, including the wonderfully demented ‘Rent-a-Friend’.
A video designed for the chronically lonely this clip needs to be seen to be believed,. It provides a ‘video companion’ which not only talks to the viewer but apparently listens to them, reminisces about love lost and even lends them money.
Yet the most rewarding parts of the live Found Footage Festival show are when Pickett and Prueher track down and meet the ‘stars’ of the videos. They get to play a round of ‘trees’ with Rent-a-Friend (a game invented by the press-play pal which involves little more than lying on the floor). They also infiltrate all-ages public access dance show Chic A Gogo and perform alongside dressing-gown clad ‘Zodiac Singer’ Harvey Sid Fisher.
Of course, not all of the videos’ subjects are quite so keen to be involved in the twosome’s ribbing. As Pickett recalls, upon speaking to infamous Angry RV Spokesman Jack Rebney (curse-laden clip below, caution advised) he demanded to know ‘who the hooligans are who find my misery hilarious’. However, we are told that upon coming to a Found Footage Festival show, even Rebney joined in with the fun. He is, after all ‘the poet laureate who called a fly a jackass’.
The clips mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg. Other videos including an excerpt of public access show Dancing With Frank Pacholski (in which a rotund thong-wearing gentleman perplexingly performs a series of sexually explicit grooves in front of an elderly audience), a terrifyingly sinister guide to ‘seducing women through hypnosis’, a woman who gets worryingly excited about sponges and a whole gaggle of blush-inducing dating videos (‘no big fat cake eating monsters’).
Pickett and Prueher at times appear surprised how well the American material translates to the Belfast audience Many of the videos shown are intrinsically linked with American culture, such as a safety-film warning against the dangers of Hells Angels and a collection of stars-n-stripes-heavy music videos, but embarrassment on this scale knows no borders.
Besides, there is something admirable about the videos. They are relics of pre-Internet age, when getting a message out there wasn't as simple as turning on your web-cam and uploading to YouTube. It took a lot of time, and a genuine conviction that people needed to know about this subject, to make these videos. Even if they are utterly insane, you have to admire the strength of the creators convictions. And then laugh.