For Nick Prueher, Alaska is “a totally untapped gold mine.” But the treasure he seeks isn’t in the Klondike hills — rather, it’s in the Bishop’s Attic, an Anchorage thrift store that’s a mother lode of the kind of bizarre and forgotten VHS tapes he’s been collecting since the ’90s. Prueher and fellow video crate digger Joe Pickett sift through untold hours of lunatic cable-access shows, home movies, and dubious self-help videos to pluck out breathtakingly bad gems for their touring Found Footage Festival. I grilled Prueher via phone about their fifth-anniversary show, which hits the Coolidge Corner Theatre this Friday.
Can you give us some highlights from the new show?
Yeah. We’ve got a home movie from a heavy metal festival from 1985. Lots of shirtless guys with mustaches screaming into the microphone. Also, there’s a video dating reel from 1987. It’s kind of a favorite of ours. We were actually just swapping some footage with David Cross, and he goes, “Oh, you’ve gotta see this one.” An actor friend of his gave him this 90-minute reel that they’d send out to eligible women, and these were the bachelors they had to choose from. It was a pretty sad state of affairs. ... What else? There’s a collection of Saturday morning cartoons. There’s the M.C. Hammer cartoon, there’s a New Kids on the Block cartoon ...
Oh, wow, I’ve been looking for copies of both those forever. New Kids on the Block always had the most inappropriate sound effects.
Yeah, that show was almost unwatchable, it was so obnoxious. It’s just, like, "Let’s do a lot of fast MTV-style cutting and angle shots. That’ll be hip." The only thing I could really stomach to put in was, like, three seconds from the intro. I didn’t think anybody could tolerate it longer than that anyway. ... We suffered through that enough so that you don’t have to.
How do you choose what makes the cut?
I guess the first thing is that it has to be a found piece of physical media. We don’t take anything off the Internet. We like the story of how it was found, and we like to get our hands dirty and go rummaging around. We’re stubbornly old-school about how we procure the videos. So that’s number one. And number two is, it just has to be unintentionally funny. Whatever it’s trying to do, it has to fail miserably at that. If it’s trying to warn you about the dangers of something, it has to fail at that. If it’s trying to train you how to be a good employee, it has to be distractingly awful. ... We gravitate toward videos that feature a lot of ambition and very little talent. It’s just got to be bad in just the right way.
Yeah, the lack of self-awareness seems key.
That’s the thing about a lot of our videos. We’re in such a post-modern society where everything is cynical, and everyone’s in on the joke, and that ruins it. If you’ve seen the new Snuggie commercial, they’re in on the joke. Now they're taking it too far. There’s a sports stadium where everybody's wearing a Snuggie in an outdoor football stadium. And it’s like, you know what? It’s not fun anymore. When you were blissfully unaware of how ridiculous you were, that's when it had an appeal. Now that you’re in on it, I’m not interested anymore.