Invent a microwave, and the American public will find a hundred inventive things to explode in it.

Invent a video camera, and they’ll do some damage with it too. Think pet rock music videos and tutorials on dressing the family cat.

But over time, those carefully crafted clips — of furniture salesmen hawking couches or Wendy’s employees illustrating how to properly flip fries — lose their usefulness. Maybe the bargain-priced corduroy sectional sold out. Maybe the fry-flipping process went from three steps to four and the old video just wasn’t relevant anymore.

The VHS cassettes find their way to back-alley Dumpsters, suburban yard sales and resale shops nationwide. And that’s where buddies Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett dig them out again.

The New York-based duo co-founded the Found Footage Festival, a touring celebration of awkwardly funny found film. Prueher and Pickett spend months scouring resale racks and yard sale tables, buying up those potentially hilarious videotapes. Then they get together to screen them all: the frightening, the sad, the discomfortingly brilliant.

“We sort of hold hands and try to get through it together without fast forwarding,” said Prueher. From hours of footage, Prueher and Pickett extract the cream of the Found Footage crop.

And then they take it on the road.

The festival has made it to Portland in years past, but this year there’s plenty of new footage to appreciate, like the VHS cover slide show. “We find a lot of videos where the covers look promising, but when we get them home they’re disappointing,” said Prueher. So the pair has rounded up the 15 greatest VHS covers — topped with a bit of witty commentary — as part of this year’s tour.

But the footage is the festival’s foundation — like the “Video Guide to Successful Seduction,” where the film’s host believes there’s no shame in winning over the right lady with a bit of well-meaning hypnosis.

Or the gentleman in the feathered coif and jean jacket who’s seeking “The Goddess” via a video personal ad.

Or Donna Barrett-Gilbert’s tips on wig styling. Hair gel? Go ahead and use it!

So long as the footage is legitimately found and unintentionally funny, it’s fair game.

“It has to be funny,” said Prueher. But that funny has to be inadvertent. It’s that awkwardness — when an onscreen character is trying to relay the seriousness of workplace insensitivity and instead is eliciting laughter from the viewers — that makes for a solid Found Footage Festival candidate. And the naughty stuff? That’s welcome too.

“We don’t shy away from full-frontal male nudity, no qualms about showing raunchy or explicit videos,” Prueher said. Hence the “Computer Beach Party” scenes and the psychedelic ’80s music video, “the world’s first nude pop video.”

There’s a sprinkling of bad Saturday cartoons, VCR games and an exercise video montage.

What’s lacking are any videos from Maine.

“Maine is woefully underrepresented,” according to Prueher. If only he could gain entry into the public access TV station. Or maybe some locals will show up to Friday’s show with a few videos in tow.

Prueher said one of the perks of doing the show is when attendees hand over videos of their own and share the story of how they found them. “It makes our job easier,” he said. “It’s like Christmas morning for us. This new show, about 30 percent of the footage was found by other people and sent to us. We encourage it.”

For folks unable to hand over a cassette in person, mailing details can be found on the Found Footage website: www.found footagefest.com.

That is, while the awkward videos last.

“As long as people have a lot of ambition and very little talent, we’ll keep doing it,” said Prueher.

We’re probably safe for another decade or two.

 

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 822-4056 or at:

[email protected]