Hardcore punks and happy little trees: Searching the shelves of Riverwest Film And Video
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Riverwest Film And Video is one of Milwaukee’s truly hidden treasures, and it probably wants to stay that way. It was founded by local filmmakers, and caters as much to other local filmmakers—it carries 16mm film and various supplies, and has a strong relationship with the UWM film department—as to the film-loving public. Though it’s toned down its collection in recent years, getting rid of its once-massive collection of vintage pornography, it still caters to a very particularly weird crowd of Riverwester—for a price. That’s not to say that all of RF&V’s titles are super-expensive—many run for $15 or less—but the most unique ones seem to be. The A.V. Club recently perused the shelves and picked out three of the most unique—and pricy—titles we could find, to see if they’re really worth the higher price tag in such a low-budget neighborhood. (We didn’t buy them, so if you’re really interested, they’re probably still there.)
The Decline Of Western Civilization (DVD) $28.98
Not all DVDs at RF&V have their original cases, and this version of the legendary documentary The Decline Of Western Civilization is one that doesn’t. Its title is little more than a scrawl across a piece of paper that’s been fitted to the case and stuck under the plastic cover—which, let’s face it, is fairly appropriate given the documentary’s subject matter: the Los Angeles hardcore punk scene of the late ’70s. RF&V has a staggering volume of documentaries, and among the sizable collection of music docs, Decline is probably both the most notorious and most important.
Why it might be worth the money: Because it’s an important film about an important period in music—and a very, very good one. It features many rare and striking concert clips and a variety of incredibly interesting interviews with people who were little more than sub-cultural celebrities at the time, but who have now risen to become legends.
But is it really worth the money? Yes it is, and for the same price you can also pick up the similarly-scrawled The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, the 1988 sequel that documents the rise of the California thrash and hair metal scenes in the ’80s. Sadly, the third film, which documents early-’90s gutterpunks, is not available.
Bob Ross And Happy Little Trees And Clouds (DVD) $39.98
According to the apparently painted-on DVD cover, this disc is a three-hour workshop that features none other than The Joy Of Painting’s bushy-haired maven, Bob Ross. The painter’s PBS show, which ran for 12 years and 31 seasons, has become a cult staple in recent years, and nobody deserves it more than the kind, gentle Ross. A Navy veteran, of all things, Ross became famous for his super-simple painting style, his loving credo that “anyone can paint,” and the “happy little trees” that he painted into his landscapes willy-nilly. The show has outlasted even Ross himself—he died in 1994—and continues to run off-and-on on various PBS stations around the country.
Why it might be worth the money: Recordings of The Joy Of Painting are somewhat elusive, with only a few short clips available on YouTube. And given that YouTube is now the only video site that appears on a Google video search, this can make locating full episodes on the hundreds of other video sites the Internet has to offer quite difficult, unless you’ve memorized the addresses of your favorite ones.
But is it really worth the money? A big fat “YES.” Not only is the three-hour video the equivalent of six different half-hour Joy Of Painting episodes, but it’s also far more in-depth as far as actual technique is concerned—more of a true lesson than a quick demonstration. Also, the price is only three cents more expensive than what the DVD sells for on BobRoss.com, so it’s actually not an unreasonable price at all. Plus, Bob Ross!
The Search For Animal Chin (DVD) $28.98
Back in the late ’80s, before skateboarding had become totally corporate—and during the glory days of low-budget, cult VHS tape circulation that predated our newfangled torrents and peer-to-peer sites—skate videos were everywhere. In order to get noticed and grab that all-important sponsor, you simply had to make one. Among skateboarding crews, the Bones Brigade was among the most famous, boasting such legends as Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain, and Tommy Guerrero. All of these skaters appear in the hilariously racist The Search For Animal Chin, the title of which is nigh unreadable on the (real!) DVD case. As for the film itself, it’s mostly just a collection of tricks in a variety of locations, but it also has a thin, dumb plot about the search for a wise old master named Won Ton Chin (nicknamed “Animal,” which is slightly less racist than his real name), which takes the skaters across California, Nevada, and Hawaii.
Why it might be worth the money: Because it features a young Tony Hawk in his prime, before the fame and fortune and Matrix-referencing aerial skateboard battles on The Simpsons’ 300th episode. It also features hilariously quaint racism. Who doesn’t love that? Plus, it serves as a reminder that skateboarding was actually kind of cool, once.
But is it really worth the money? Hell no. For thirty bucks one could land a solid Criterion Collection title (the store has many, many Criterion films and box sets) instead of this amateurish bit of punk nostalgia, no matter how weird it may be.