Nick Prueher calls it “one notch above a snuff movie.”
“Hand Made Love” is a training video from 1995 designed to explain masturbation etiquette to people with developmental challenges. Nothing wrong there except that “Hand Made Love” is presented in gloriously shitty VHS by a guy called Steve who looks like he’s one notch above sex offender. Regrettably, it was actually made right here in Vancouver.
“He’s kinda mopey, and he’s in one of the most depressing apartments I can imagine,” says Queens, New York resident Prueher, talking to the Straight as he drives through Idaho. “I guess it would make sense that they would have some resources for educators, but it just so happened that these were really low budget, disturbing resources. It’s just so homemade, and it opens with that weird guy in the sweater playing the song and showing those drawings on his wall.”
Yes, let’s not forget the weird guy, the sweater, and those drawings. But “Hand Made Love” is Steve’s show all the way. When he strips down to his grey Mark’s Work Wearhouse ginch and declares, “These are the most private clothing that a man wears—when I leave my room, I never walk out in just my underwear,” you just know he’s fucking lying. And then there’s his porno drawer. “Sometimes when I masturbate, I use magazines with sexy people in them,” he says, flapping a copy of Hustler at the camera.
It’s a moment that prompts consistent gasps from Prueher’s audience. Along with his partner Joe Pickett, Prueher curates the Found Footage Festival, touring around the continent with an annual collection of mindbendingly weird clips culled from the lowly world of magnetic tape and cable access television. When they hit the Rio Theatre for a return visit on Tuesday (December 4), it’ll be a homecoming for “Hand Made Love” and its sister video, “Fingertips”. How touching!
“Hand Made Love” was actually given to Prueher and Pickett by an audience member during last year’s visit to Vancouver. “As the story goes he heard about a local government office that was getting rid of its VHS tapes, so he went down there and rescued anything he thought looked interesting,” Prueher says, politely refraining from any comments about government waste. “We went home and watched it and we were blown away. Truly remarkable. Everything sort of faded away after we found that one.”
The duo was so moved by “Hand Made Love” that they actually tracked down the video’s production company in order to score their (apparently very expensive) copy of “Fingertips”. “I think it was made a couple years later and they invested in a tripod!” Preuher notes, with fairly contagious excitement. Also included in the package was a tape demonstrating how to put on a condom called “Undercover Dick”. “But we just don’t have the heart to show that one because it’s just way too graphic,” he says.
Cool, good thing that Steve rubbing lube onto his plump member isn’t too graphic or anything. “Clearly we push the limits, and it’s fun to get a reaction, but when it starts becoming more disturbing than it is funny, that’s where we draw the line,” Prueher says, adding that, “It’s not for decency or good taste. We’ve found, for example, that female nudity isn’t as funny as male nudity. A penis on screen always gets laughs, but not the other way around.”
There’s also a small ethical question behind all this. Very small, given how pants-pissingly funny this year’s collection is, but some people might feel a bit uncomfortable laughing at the rubes who made the epically awful “Ferret Fun”, or the old lady who seems to actually orgasm over the “Magical Rainbow Sponge”, or the super-amazing Frank Pochalski; a masked tub-of-lard in a stars and stripes speedo who “dances” for an audience of bored seniors in his own cable access program.
“Luckily, we have no scruples whatsoever,” Prueher says. “We sleep just fine at night. In reality, I think the show isn’t mean-spirited. Certainly we’re having fun at the expense of these people and their videos, but we do try to track down the people, and whenever we’ve met them, they’ve always been flattered by the attention. There’s a fine line, and I think we’re on the right side of it.”
The Found Footage Festival comes to the Rio Theatre, on Tuesday (December 4)
You can follow Adrian Mack's contribution to the lobotomizing techno-nightmare known as Twitter at @AdrianMacked.