Listen to Austin 360 Radio

'Found Footage' surveys our bizarre entertainment past

Pierre Bertrand

The concept behind the Found Footage Festival is simple: to find old, forgotten and unintentionally humorous VHS tapes from thrift stores throughout the country, mash them together and showcase them as part of a comedy show.

Now in its fifth volume, the footage festival, scheduled to come to the Alamo Ritz on Wednesday, delves as far back as the mid-'80s to build compilations featuring cats riding motorcycles, public access talk shows, multiple self-help hypnosis programs, how-to lessons on ventriloquism and making hunting calls.

Each sample featured in the footage festival is edited down and almost deconstructed, which, when taken out of context, makes the compilations extremely funny.

But if the content of this next installment of Found Footage is a brilliant find, an almost golden vestige of past entertainment, the humor of the show itself seems no different from "America's Funniest Home Videos." In a live recording from the Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee, Wis., hosts and Found Footage Festival creators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher put on a halfhearted performance, sometimes talking while showing a compilation, telling mediocre jokes and giving almost-too-long introductions for each video.

The festival's ultimate kicker, however, lies in how audiences are allowed a rare glimpse of what their parents and even they themselves were watching on television not too long ago, and how much different life back then was. The festival almost acts as a visual time capsule showing grainy footage, vintage graphic design and perfectly homogenized mid-'80s to early '90s models, actors and other curious folk.

There is almost a "What were they thinking?" incredulity surrounding the videos, and yet you realize the only thing that has changed about television is the production quality. The programming now is still largely the same as it was then, and the audience-grabbing tricks of the past have been recycled for 30 years. The effect is so striking, though, you start to rediscover television the way it used to be, when analog ruled the day, long before high-definition and plasma screens made most people forget DVDs were not always around.

Pickett and Prueher, who started the footage festival in 2004 and, thanks to their four other volumes, have appeared on "Late Show With David Letterman" and "The Colbert Report," take their festival one step further. Instead of simply featuring old footage, the two search for those who made the tapes decades before and invite them to make one more. In what can be described as a nostalgic homage to decades past, the two effectively romanticize the days when VHS tapes saturated the entertainment market.

Just a little more than 70 minutes long, Found Footage Festival is an easy stroll down memory lane. Just be advised, some of what you are about to see fits in with the bizarre.


The Found Footage Festival

Where: Alamo Ritz, 320 E. Sixth St.

When: 7 and 10 p.m. Wednesday

Cost: $10

Special event: A screening of ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot,' a 1986 documentary short about rock, will precede festival.