EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE: ONLY THE TIP OF THE CRAP-BERG
Stewards of the rare and miraculously bad in movies—as well as TV, how-to, instructional and homemade video—the merry footage fetishists of Everything is Terrible! make live what snootier critics would just as soon let die. The fossickings of Ghoul Skool, Commodore Gilgamesh and Future Schlock through mountains of cassettes in search of flash-frozen schlock of their childhoods have won a following from likeminded connoisseurs of crud. Compiled on one DVD for your delectation is Everything is Terrible: The Movie, highlighting the dubious gems of their search. The weekend after EIT’s ‘Found Footage Freakout’ at the Silent Movie late last month found these sore-eyed custodians of the Temple of Dumb waxing philosophic over their hilarious group obsession. This interview by Ron Garmon.
If, as Theodore Sturgeon said, 90% of everything is crap, then why the curious charm of the rare that is Everything is Terrible? Just how rare is garbage anyway?
Ghoul Skool: First of all, I don’t know much about this Sturgeon dude but I think what he meant to say is that 99.9% of everything is crap. I guess since VHS has been declared ‘dead’ thousands must be thrown out every day. But I don’t think that means anyone but other found footage collectors would consider any of this ‘rare.’ I think that’s the biggest difference between VHS hunting and crate digging for vinyl—no one will ever say to me ‘You’ve got Yo-Yo Man on VHS?! What number do you want me to write on this check?!’
Commodore Gilgamesh: 90% is a very low estimate. There is absolutely nothing rare about the Terrible. It is a constant. The same charm is present in a birthday home video on VHS as in a Hollywood blockbuster on Bluetooth—it is all a mistake.
Future Schlock: It’s not that rare considering we are constantly surprised by new finds. Most people just don’t want to waste the time to find it.
Judging from your blog, the house definition of ‘terrible’ sounds like ‘a dubious idea ludicrously done.’ Any other boundaries or criteria?
GS: At this point, ‘terrible’ to us has turned into ‘amazing’ and we sincerely mean that 100% un-ironically. When going through a stack of VHS, hours can go by before anything looks worthy—then all of a sudden you hit the jackpot and you’ve got a bunch of awkward kids running around with donuts for hats singing about how Jesus died for your sins. Anyone who would rather watch ‘Band of Outsiders’ over something like that is no friend of mine.
CG: That is a far too specific definition of ‘terrible.’ I’d define ‘terrible’ as everything.
FS: Nothing that is intentionally terrible.
How does the EIT approach differ from the 1980s obsession with ‘le bad cinema’? Back in that day, people like Joe Bob Briggs and the Medved Bros. heavily patronized what they thought didn’t measure up to standards of taste prevalent during the Reagan Age.
GS: I haven’t seen that stuff personally, but now that I think of it, how many American movies from the Reagan Age still hold up in a ‘timeless’ sense? Seven? A dozen at the most? That whole decade must have wasted more energy, time and money on worthless junk than any generation combined. That’s also the era we grew up in, and we are so thankful for that.
CG: Not only are we critiquing our culture for not measuring up, but we are also making a comedy out of a tragedy. I think finding and making videos that are funny is the most important thing. Our beliefs hide in our cuts, not our words. But usually the footage makes the point itself.
FS: I think our scope is a little wider in what we search out like instructional tapes, etc., as we are not just limited to B-movies. Also a lot of bad movies are made by people that know they are bad so there’s no point in mocking something that was never taken seriously anyway.
What was it about the year 1986 that made for especially loony vid?
GS: Maybe that was the year that marks the height of our civilization, or perhaps it just reflects our excess in the ‘80s. All I know is if I were given a time machine, I would first go see how the pyramids were built. Then I would go straight to 1986 and apply for a job at a video store in middle America.
CG: ‘84, ‘87, ‘92, ‘97, ‘99, ‘01, and ‘08 were all pretty nice too.
FS: Bad ideas transcend every time period and each video looks like it should’ve been released 5 years before it was. But for 1986 specifically, I would say the blame lays squarely on the shoulders of the Chicago Bears’ ‘Super Bowl Shuffle.’
Tell us about favorite bits of dada you’ve unearthed. Sherry & Mark’s wedding video sounds like a trip to the moon on wings of sludge.
GS: Tapes like that come once, maybe twice in a lifetime. So many people who see that video comment saying ‘Is this fake?’ Which is amazing to me considering if I could have created such beauty myself I would probably give up on life, knowing I could never reach such beauty ever again.
CG: So many wonderful little turds. Lately, I’ve been pretty into watching a mustachioed man silently stroke his conduit bender.
FS: The Dogville Comedy Shorts carry a special place in my heart because I discovered them by chance very early in my crap-collecting career. These shorts about talking dogs suspended by fishing wire like marionettes were very popular in the ‘30s which reflects people’s never-ending love of bad ideas and comedic animal abuse.
You guys are champion hunter-gatherers of eyesore. Describe how this kind of ephemera is tracked down by experts.
GS: Why thank you! I’m not even really sure how we get it all, but over time we just attract it like moths to a flame.
CG: The key for me is to never watch anything that I may like. After a few years, perspective becomes so skewed that it is all great and horrible.
FS: A list of thrift stores and a lot of patience. If the description of the video sounds interesting, there’s about a 25% chance it is. Then you take the stack of tapes and you watch and wait.
Is the charm of working with vintage equipment equal to the buzz to be had in the hunt?
GS: Analog is so fragile and yet so warm that it almost feels like a living thing. There is something so comfortable working with VCRs but that’s really as far as it goes—the rest is all thinking machines and super computers.
CG: They cannot be compared. The high I get from digging through a moldy stack of VHS is like 1,000 orgasms. I’ve been watching videos on a VCR almost all my life. That is nothing.
FS: It’s not the same level of feeling because when searching for a tape, you can imagine all the possibilities that can come from a batshit insane idea. When actually editing, you can only work with what you are given.
L.A.’s own Fred Olen Ray is almost the Orson Welles of 1980s cheese. What do you think of his filmography? Any other unsung local auteurs we should know about?
GS: Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski are masters and I highly recommend checking out their work. They have hundreds of films to their credit, and just last week we gave them EIT Lifetime Achievement Awards at our first live show. L.A. in general is sort of a wasteland for what we do, and it gives me so much comfort knowing that the tapes we watch were filmed less than 20 miles from where I am sitting. If anyone reading this worked on any training tapes, low budget movies, or defunct studios from around 1980-1997, please call me. I have SO many questions to ask.
CG: He has the dream job. God, I’d love to be able to churn it out like that. Cleveland’s own Mark L. Lester is a favorite, too.
FS: It’s hard to think about his filmography when I’ve only seen maybe 1/500th of it. The fact that he’s still working on a consistent basis is probably the best testament to his skill. Peter Manoogian, director of Eliminators and Arena, is someone I recently discovered. He hasn’t made that many movies but I will own them all someday.
Please elaborate on the crucial difference between ‘bad’ and ‘mediocre.’ How differently do we experience both types of presentation?
GS: I’m glad you asked that, because it can be difficult for people to understand the difference. I’ve tried telling people not familiar with what we do and they’ll say something like, ‘Oh, you mean like Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes?’ And I want to punch a wall in frustration—much like a D&D nerd gets mad when you confuse ‘magic’ with ‘magik.’ ‘Bad’ is a movie like Anthony Hopkins’ Slipstream—where it is so fantastically dumb, your jaw is gaped open for however long you can take it and you cannot stop thinking about it for months. ‘Mediocre’ is something like Good Luck Chuck where it is simply sooooo badly written and clearly combed over by hundreds of executive douches that all you get in the end is Dane Cook not being funny and smirking for an hour and a half. Sure, you can sit around with your friends and laugh at how awful it is, but it isn’t fun to watch in any way whatsoever. Even talking about that movie is making my blood boil and I have to stop. What a piece of garbage that movie is.
CG: Mediocre vs. bad—God, we deal with that constantly while hunting. I’d say mediocre is just terrible that is wearing make-up. It is in there and we’ll find it.
FS: Mediocre is when a how to video tells you something actually reasonable. Bad is when a how-to video tells you to put your hand in front of your face and sense the energy.
What’s next for EIT?
GS: Oh, folks, so much more! Aside from a lot of touring coming up, we will be releasing an EIT soundtrack, shirts, a coloring book—not kidding—and—if we’re lucky—an EIT-related show. Considering our DVD was only the tip of the crap-berg, we are hoping that we can churn out at least a couple more DVD’s before the world ends in 2012.
FS: We will continue to bring the EIT live show to other cities and we are working on a redesign for the site.
CG: We’re going to watch everything burn and laugh.
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