Salute to the weird days of VHS

Found Footage Festival hosts Joe Pickett (left) and Nick Prueher (right) introduce a found video clip at a show in Milwaukee.
Found Footage Festival hosts Joe Pickett (left) and Nick Prueher (right) introduce a found video clip at a show in Milwaukee.
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It might seem a funny way to spend a Saturday night but on offer at the Leadmill this weekend is the chance to watch clips from old VHS videos.

Arriving in Sheffield for the first time, The Found Footage Festival – a showcase of weird and wonderful videos – has proved a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Salute to Weirdos hosts Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett present their collection of material collected from garage sales, charity shops, warehouses and dumpsters, providing live commentary and where-are-they-now updates on the people in these videotaped obscurities.

It seems an unlikely formula for a live show. “Joe and I grew up in a small town in the Midwest where there was not a lot going on,” explains Prueher. “Back in the early Nineties we found these VHS tapes and we took out the funny parts and started playing then to friends putting in jokes and sketches.

“It wasn’t until 2004 people said you should take it out of the living room and into the theatre and we decided to try it out. I guess it was about the right time. It was pre-YouTube. When that came along we weren’t sure how it would affect us and were pleased to find that people appreciated this kind of video and the role of the curator. There’s a mountain of stuff on line and quite a lot of garbage and it’s impossible to watch everything and find those things to enjoy.

“We don’t take anything offline, everything is from a physical medium because we want to tell the stories about where we found them. People will bring tapes to the shows but we still do a lot of hard work digging for stuff. We will be out in the charity shops of Sheffield to see if we can find some hidden gems.”

So what can audiences expect on Saturday? “The best way to describe it is a guided tour through our VHS collection,” continues Prueher, a former researcher at the Late Show with David Letterman. “We like to put the videos we show in context. We might explain there was a time when there was a craze for exercise videos and show a tape of Angela Lansbury in 1988.”

Other delights in the show include an instructional video called Secrets of Pool Hustling by someone called Pretty Boy Floyd, highlights from public access TV such as a woman singing about hairdressers, a Speedo-wearing man dancing for elderly people, and a piano-playing rabbit and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a 1983 travel video called Carnival In Rio, seductively feeding a woman a carrot.

Have they had to adjust the show on this side of the Atlantic? “The cult appeal of stupid videos crosses all nationalities and we have found in Paris and Amsterdam they laugh in the same places,” insists Prueher.

The only worry is that material is becoming scarcer with the demise of videotape. “Some charity shops say they are no longer accepting VHS tapes because no one is buying them and that terrifies us because it’s our lifeblood. So we are trying to resurrect them before it is too late.”