Found Footage Festival revisits weird VHS, including one about a Pittsburgh cat

click to enlarge Two white men, one wearing a plaid shirt, another with a reddish beard and wearing a flat cap, hold microphones as they perform on stage
Photo: Courtesy of Found Footage Festival
Joe Pickett (left) and Nick Prueher (right) of Found Footage Festival
Few formats have stood the test of time less successfully than VHS; a shame considering how the technology once beat out Betamax and LaserDisc for home entertainment supremacy. Now, the boxy tapes that once graced the shelves of Blockbuster and other rental stores collect dust on second-hand store shelves, bound either to end up in a landfill or — if it’s somewhat rare — the collection of a niche movie fan.

The Found Footage Festival recognizes the value of these bygone items, mostly as artifacts from the weird, wild days of the pre-DVD, pre-streaming, pre-Youtube era. On Thu., March 23, the event heads to Bottlerocket Social Hall to present a curated selection of videotape-era goodies, including one for Pudgie Wudgie, a semi-famous Pittsburgh cat.

Nick Prueher created Found Footage Festival with childhood friend Joe Pickett as a way to satisfy their fascination with bizarre media.

“Like the best ideas, the Found Footage Fest was born out of abject boredom,” Prueher tells Pittsburgh City Paper. “My friend Joe and I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and there wasn't much to do, so we'd spend our days at thrift stores looking for things to entertain us, and in the early ‘90s we started finding VHS tapes there.”

That fascination continued into the careers of Pickett and Prueher, who would go on to become comedy writers for late shows and the satirical “news” publication, The Onion. The first Found Footage Festival debuted in 2004 and has since traveled the world and been featured on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and NPR.

Prueher adds that their earliest VHS finds were from Goodwill and Salvation Army stores, and from workplaces, like the training video he stole in 1991 from the McDonald's at which he worked. He also cites early finds like a series of “violent safety videos” called It Only Takes A Second, instructional videos from Hair Club For Men, and “dozens of potty training videos”

“We'd buy these and invite friends over to watch them in our parents' basements, doing a running commentary of jokes and observations and fast-forwarding to our favorite parts,” he says. “That's essentially what we're doing now, except instead of parents' basements we're doing it at places like Bottlerocket for like-minded weirdos.”

Now, after 19 years, he says the videotapes come to them. This includes a promotional reel for Pudgie Wudgie, which, Prueher says, came from a Pittsburgh filmmaker named Tony Massil. According to Prueher, Massil directed a documentary about Frank Furko, a local man whose “amazing orange cat” would go on to appear on the local news, the Jerry Springer talk show, and an Italian news show.
click to enlarge Close up of Pudgie Wudgie, an orange tabby cat wearing a red shirt and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-branded sunglasses
Photo: Courtesy of Found Footage Festival
Pudgie Wudgie, part of Found Footage Festival
“Pudgie Wudgie would wear Steelers helmets at tailgate parties and could even bowl,” says Prueher. “Last time I was in the area, I stopped by the former home of Pudgie Wudgie and was happy to see a ‘Pudgie Wudgie Crossing’ sign still up in the yard, and a giant mural of Pudgie Wudgie visible from the highway. Well worth a stop.”

The curious can even visit a website dedicated to the late Pudgie Wudgie, dubbed "Allegheny Valley's Most Famous Cat."

Besides Pudgie Wudgie, the Found Footage Festival Vol. 10 touring show coming to Bottlerocket will feature new footage collected over the past few years, including a Christian workout video called Believercise, a striptease tape from 1985 called Males In Motion, and a “mysterious New Age video” called Elimination: The First Step.

“You will see things you've never seen before in a dark room that serves cocktails,” says Prueher. “What more reason do you need to leave the house?”

While he and Pickett started out collecting discarded VHS for fun, Prueher believes their work does have a preservation bent to it.

“Joe and I come from a comedy background and we certainly gravitate toward unintentional videos that make us laugh, but there is some real value in saving this material that would otherwise be lost for the ages,” he says. “Our office is filled with 11,000 videos  and not movies, all rare tapes that were not meant to ever be seen in public  and that's why it's so gratifying to showcase it for the public. In many ways, these amateur — perhaps misguided — videos say more about us as a culture than the movies on the AFI Top 100 list. It's a warts-and-all document of who we really were in the golden age of videotape.”
Found Footage Festival Vol. 10. 7:30 p.m. Thu., March 23. Bottlerocket Social Hall. 1226 Arlington Ave., Allentown. $15.