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Friday, May 20, 2011

Crazy Harry Smiths of Public Access

Posted by Jenna Lechner on Fri, May 20, 2011 at 3:28 PM

In anticipation of the Found Footage Festival (happening tomorrow! at the Laurelhurst!), I have been revisiting some old classics from public access TV. In review:

Paint and Exercise TV:

Cat-er-tainment:

More after the jump.

Volume One of the Psalty the Songbook series:

(As if a giant foam book with legs and a blue face would actually coax children to run OUT OF their homes.)

None of these will be appearing at Found Footage on Saturday. They were pillaged from other sources—Everything Is Terrible, and World of Ward Crap. That’s right, besides the Found Footage Festival, there are others archiving this (wonderful) crap.

In addition to this list, there are a couple artists who have devoted efforts to public access: Daniel Barrow (of Montreal, whose project Winnipeg Babysitter was featured at PICA’s 2009 TBA Festival), and Portland author Jon Raymond. I attended an artists lecture of Raymond's at PSU in April, where he discussed his artistic pursuits after college (before he become a full-blown writer) and revealed his Portland Cable Access footage from the '90s. One of these videos consisted of Mortal Kombat-like characters and staged fights (all I remember is a lime green haze and sparkly special effects), and the other was a movie called Crock—a peculiar mix of post-colonial theory and a comics reference—which was also included in the TBA Festival: 09. Neither videos seem to have made their way online.

Regardless, Raymond said he wished there were some “crazy Harry Smith” to come along and archive the profusion of public access TV. As I’ve illustrated, the archives already exist. Now it’s just a matter of annotation and scholarship.

Which gets me wondering, what is it about these amateur videos that makes them worth cataloging: what makes something so bad that you can’t resist watching, and keep watching—I dare you to visit the Found Footage Festival sit and try to watch only one video. (I also dare you to watch R. Kelly’s "Trapped In the Closet" WITHOUT indulging in all 12 parts.) And what makes something so bad (see: Ben Affleck’s Gigli. BTW, Al Pacino, WHY were you in this movie?) that it’s dismissible and unwatchable?

Maybe it’s sincerity. “Public Access taught me my first lessons in authenticity,” said artist Daniel Barrow. Or maybe it’s the hot pink leotards and pervy ‘80s mustaches. We can sense a distance from trends—a passage of time, allowing the humility and brazenness to settle so that we can laugh.

I’m not sure, so I’ll leave you to ponder. Or you can just get back to that midget hiding under Bridget's sink.

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