The duo of Rich Bott and Jim Fetterly as supervideohero ANIMAL CHARM are masters of video reconstruction. Taking found footage out of many sources – educational tapes, homemade music videos, b-movies, resume reels, pyramid schemes, and the worst (best) self-help tapes – the Charm create their own world of seeing, letting the rest of us understand what’s really under the surface, our own personal Rowdy Roddy Piper out of THEY LIVE. They’ve performed live as sort of video DJ’s in all kinds of places, from basements to museums and film festivals. Bless them, bless the charm. Do their bidding.
CINEMAD: We’ll start easy. When did you guys first hook up? Were you doing work on your own or did you start doing stuff together?
JIM: We can’t hear you.
CINEMAD: When did you guys start!?!
JIM: We each had done videos on our own, but as far as probably like one specific moment…
RICH: I didn’t make any videos. I made films, but not videos.
JIM: No, but you made videos in Amsterdam.
RICH: Well, that’s true.
CINEMAD: What were you in Amsterdam for?
RICH: To go to school my last year. We used video on reel-to-reel. There were no computers or anything.
JIM: Not reel-to-reel, just deck-to-deck.
RICH: Yeah, deck-to-deck.
JIM: Rich and I met…we went to a summer school for the arts at the Arts Institute of Chicago. Rich moved in where I was living downtown. There was one time where we pointed a camera at a TV and changed the radio and tried to change the TV really fast. Remember that? That little fast tape we made? But then it wasn’t until like five years later, out of school, we went to the library and got some videos from the library and it happened to be a “How to Take Care of Your Pet” video and something on bacteria and petri dishes. There was one image that was a Q-tip in a petri dish, and in the “How to Take Care of Your Pet” video it was a Q-tip cleaning the nose of a cat, and I had just learned the Avid at work. I just put the shots back-to-back, then I cut to Cat Fancy Magazine’s over a Donovan-like song called “Sunshine Kitty.” It wasn’t Animal Charm, it was just kind of a response to a lot of the stuff we found online in 1994, like sample music and Stock, Hausen and Walkman.
1)*****NOTE****(Stock, Hausen, And Walkman are a mid 90s plundering improv group from UK. There name is a play on words for 3 famous pop music producers as well as the Stockhausen reference which often gets misquoted like you just spelled it. Actually, at the Wexner Center for the Arts, at an exhibition we were involved in called, “The Church of What’s Happening Now,” we were asked to supply a list of inspirations and they were going to include some of them in the exhibit before our performance. They didn’t know Stock, Hausen, And Walkman, so they put an audio tape of Stockhausen in a Walkman cassette player and hung it museum style on the wall! That was pretty funny, but sad because the translation made it seem as if we were inspired by this composer that neither of us had much more than just a pop knowledge of. It’s like the specificity of each cultural reference got mixed through confusion and the end result did turn out to be close to what actually happens in our videos but by mistake.)
CINEMAD: That’s when the internet first started to be happening, right?
JIM: Yeah, John Oswald and Plunderphonics and getting that online, and ordering from Stalplatt, which is in Amsterdam, this label putting out people like us.
2)*******NOTE******(People Like Us is the moniker of Vicki Bennet from the UK who has been cutting and pasting audio for years and recently accompanying video. She has a great show on WFMU. Check www.peoplelikeus.org for more info)
It kind of just started slow. Right before Rich left for Amsterdam, we started collecting vinyl like crazy, right before the Incredibly Strange Music books came out, and it was really cheap because there was a lot of it in Chicago. So then he left for a year, and we just sent mix tapes back and forth. And that one video you made was to a mix tape.
RICH: Yeah, with some Moog sounds.
JIM: And then he came back and we had a studio set up just for audio, like four-track recording, home recording stuff.
RICH: We first started to do this live when we first got the video mixer, in an apartment without using computers. Just recording to VHS tapes and using the video mixer and the sound mixer. We made the whole tape that we got distributed by the Video Data Bank (VDB) that way.
JIM: The whole reason we bought that thing was because we made some shorts…LIGHTFOOT FEVER and SLOW GIN SOUL STALLION were done in one night. And we had this one tape of these two, like our single, that we’d just come home and show to friends and then dub it to friends of friends, and that’s what got shown at Chicago Filmmakers, I think. It just ended up climbing the world of experimental video and film. That was like ’95, ’96, and it was under a different name with different people, Janet Anglosaxophone Jackson Junior.
RICH: That was our best name.
JIM: Nobody could ever say that.
RICH: “That’s too long, man.” They could never remember it.
Figure 2: Ninja Charm.
JIM: Like some John Oswald super name. We performed ASHLEY live before it was even done, so it was always this really local thing for us there in Chicago, different cafes.
3)******NOTE*******(We performed ASHLEY live in the basement of The Logab Beach Cafe with our friend Paul Deuth who was in Janet Anglosaxophone Jackson Junior at the time)
CINEMAD: So it just sort of made sense for you guys just being video DJs?
JIM: Well, no, after making those single channel videos, then we decided to keep going in and rigorously trying more experiments until we had a number of them and had sent them off, through tape-trading networks, to Matt McCormick at Peripheral Produce. He decided to put a tape compilation out and go on tour, so that was already three years later, by that time we had already bought a mixer, because we trying to figure out how to go on tour and show. When we do these shorts, we’d have to do them from 7pm to 7am the next morning where I worked. We had to get it off the hard drive right away. This is when a 9-gig hard drive was $4200. I’m serious, and it weighed like a fucking brick. So we’d have to wipe it in the morning and everything got laid off to VHS, we never had beta masters, all the beta masters we had that our tapes got distributed on were bumped up from VHS of just those initial outputs.
CINEMAD: That’s how it’s gotta be.
JIM: And then we thought, how are we gonna play all these back, like pop a tape in and have a blue screen and it says “Channel 2 - Play.” So we got a four-channel mixer to just do that one way after another, and then on that tour from Vancouver to Los Angeles we got really bored halfway down the road. I mean, even by the time we were in Portland, we were playing the sound of one video with the picture of another, kind of like, wow, we can constantly re-edit these things over and over and it’s different and the audience doesn’t know, except for Matt, who we’re torturing.
CINEMAD: We’re all sort of the same age, coming out of the ‘80s sensibilities. It seems like everybody just started doing stuff at the same time throughout the ‘90s, and it’s sort of this weird process of figuring out that everyone’s doing the same thing, just in different cities.
JIM: In Chicago, it was cool going to a school and seeing a video databank. It didn’t really set in until later, but it kind of erased my entire knowledge of TV and made me think about it in a really different way. I went to the Chicago Filmmakers for the first time, and it was Sadie Benning like, 18 years old, showing all of her videos. I thought, “Wow, I understand this. I don’t understand art school. This stuff’s not making any sense but she’s saying these things that are really understandable and just making things really easily.”
CINEMAD: What kind of stuff were they teaching at the Chicago Art Institute? I thought that place was better than usual?
JIM: It was good, it was just radically different than my high school. I think the art program in my high school was kind of like, “Oh, look through a magazine and find a picture you want to draw,” which ends up being what I do in video. It’s pretty freeform, no grades, pass/fail, no major, lots of people there were just kind of like taking four years off to go to summer camp because they were really rich. I met a lot of really rich people I’d never met in my life. I don’t know, what were some of the videos you remember? At the summer school, we saw the entire Andy Warhol retrospective, that was fucked up but I didn’t really think anything of it.
RICH: We took Tom Pazzollo’s class. He made great breakfast on Sundays, we could drink in there and smoke, watch films, shoot films.
JIM: And he’d just support anything that you did.
CINEMAD: Did you guys just slowly start moving away from shooting stuff?
JIM: We never shot stuff.
RICH: We started doing things better, taking samples of things.
JIM: I had started on like a totally different track, like I didn’t even want to go to school anymore and started working at Kartemquin, the documentary place in Chicago that ended up doing HOOP DREAMS at the time. I remember that being a whole secondary education. They were a bunch of radicals from the ‘60s that were: do it grassroots, make a film, show it in a basement to a labor organization or a youth group or whatever, and that’s the fun part, traveling around with a film. I’d bring home all those old Chicago newsreel films that were basically like the Indymedia of the late ‘60s, little documentaries. We had a film in the basement that was “I Was a Teenage Werewolf,” but it was re-edited about “I Was a Teenage Marxist.” It was like an introduction of how to get people to get into ideas of Marxism in an ironic way, just a cut-up.
CINEMAD: Had you seen Craig (TRIBULATION 99) Baldwin’s stuff by that time, too?
JIM: That was like a big catalyst, seeing his SONIC OUTLAWS. There was really a strange synchronicity. I kind of went wandering around looking for Baldwin on foot while I was in San Francisco working on a job. I just happened to go to the ATA (Artists’ Television Access) and just said, “It looks like you would know where I could find Craig Baldwin,” and they were like, “He lives here.” That was the beginning of our relationship with Craig, and I remember at the beginning he would say, “You don’t know about that? You don’t know the Tape Beatles?” He was just shocked at our naivete and giving us all these little drawings to go out and eat in the neighborhood. We got a show with the Beatles during the summer, when SLOW GIN SOUL STALLION got into the San Francisco International Film Festival and won a New Visions Award in 1996.
fig 3; SLOW GIN SOUL STALLION
CINEMAD: Were you guys called Animal Charm by that time?
JIM: No, that was Janet Anglosaxophone Jackson Junior still.
RICH: For the New York Video Festival the following year, Gavin Smith called and asked for videos from Animal Charm and Janet Anglosaxophone Jackson Junior, and didn’t know that it was the same thing. In San Francisco, it was just under our names, Jim and Rich, but then we had this whole, big, convoluted idea to be anonymous and try to maintain that.
CINEMAD: So Animal Charm, somebody else gave you the name?
RICH: No, it was based on a drawing in a Rob McEwen book of poetry. It’s kind of weird to describe it.
4)*******NOTE*******(That’s spelled, Rod Mckuen, the poet and hot air balloonist)
It’s also a spell in Dungeons & Dragons. Like, you control animals to do your bidding.
JIM: It’s like Beastmaster, but it’s Animal Charm, you cast a spell and they do the works for you. But, no, the whole Animal Charm thing, I don’t know if it was something we came up with.
RICH: No, it was. I know it was. It was for the NCA thing in Chicago, that’s when we had to do it. We did a show at the NCA and they said, “You guys have to have a name.” They pressured us into making a name and we came up with that.
*******NOTE******** ( That was the MCA-- Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago)
CINEMAD: The NCA wouldn’t just let you use your names?
RICH: No, we said we had a couple of names, and they were just like, “You have to have one name so people know what the fuck’s going on.”
JIM: Mckuen has a ton of poetry and records that we’ve been collecting for years, but there was this image of a peacock, a line drawing…
RICH: That we were using for a logo anyway without any words.
JIM: Yeah, there were no words, just that logo, so that tape then became Animal Charm. It was kinda going to be the name of the compilation, but then it took off as just that name. It was a bumbling beginning but it definitely wasn’t planned and it kind of just took off in a way that neither of us expected, which was incredible. Sending out tapes to festivals because they’re calling you because somehow it got dubbed and went somewhere, and it’s not like we put them on the internet and it becomes some sort of ongoing download thing. It just spread in a very strange festival to festival type way.
CINEMAD: We must be the first generation to do that because we’re the first ones to have VCR-to-VCR recording at home.
JIM: We were really excited about this idea of having, instead of a 7” label, you release VHS tapes. To go out and literally say, “Oh hey, I loved your movie, here’s one of ours,” and trade, like a zine, a video zine.
CINEMAD: That how outsider artists can survive. Like the great Laz Rojas, who acted out scenes from his own scripts, playing every single character himself. Adults, children, two lesbians, a sci-fi script….
JIM: Just like Blazin’ Hazin’.
CINEMAD: Yeah, that’s right. Where did you find that?
JIM: Kent Lambert. We met him at the Fall Festival in ’99 or 2000 and he gave us a tape.
RICH: I found Hazin’ on the internet. He lives in Canton, OH, the home of the Football Hall of Fame, and he’s a cameraman for the Cleveland Browns. We just did a search for his name, and found an online ministry that ended up being his parents. They have an online Christian church. I wrote him and we got nine more videos in the mail, plus a headshot, plus a resume and a cover letter from his manager, thinking we’re a record company that’s going to release his music out here. We don’t know what to do with it. We would love to just put that on DVD and sell it out there, but he’s such an earnest guy and he’s such an outsider…I mean, we’ll show them at shows or remix them in.
JIM: Did you ever see our tapes on Bat Dance?
JIM: Remember when you could go to the mall and you could record a song, but they give you a full video production at the end? They give you costumes and everything. This is a whole crew of people doing Prince’s “Bat Dance,” somebody dressed up like Batman, a gypsy, a cowboy, a ninja…
JIM: Jason from Friday the 13th, all of these different costumes.
RICH: No, it’s Halloween. It’s like an office party went to this place on Halloween so they’re all dressed up in these different Halloween outfits and Batman’s all like, “Yo, pump it up.”
JIM: With video effects, too. Total toaster culture, too, like those early 2-D animations. That’s like those Bear Aerobics, that ancient animation of teddy bears doing whiirrrrr. I know we played that at CineVegas for a really annoying long time. What’s that song? They sing a bunch of songs, but we played the “Disco, Disco Bear” song.
CINEMAD: So you guys were grabbing tapes from where you worked and people and trading and everything?
JIM: Where I worked, that documentary place, we would receive all this stuff as people’s cameraman demo reels in Chicago. Plus we’d go scouring in the thrift stores. And then there’s stuff that we would go and shoot the original material, like “Pieland, USA: Where All the ‘Bama Pies Are Made.” I actually shot footage of like a million pies a day being made, then we use it in a mix later. I remember my boss coming up to me at a show at the Empty Bottle, he saw all the shorts and said, “Oh, my daughter really loves it,” but she was like four, she really liked it like children’s television. Then all of a sudden I realized this tape I’m playing was the CEO from McDonald’s. I was at the company, at Hamburger University, which is where they teach all the managers in Chicago. There’s this image of this guy that we edited just being like, “Ahhahaha.” You can’t even recognize him because he’s laughing but his eyes are blinking and we called him the laughing blinking man and we throw it on every now and then. And I’m there and Jerry’s behind me and I thought, man, Jerry’s gonna be pissed because that’s someone we were just videotaping two months ago and I told him that I would never, ever use any of that. Because that was the thing at that job, after a while, it got to be known what we do. It’s the same thing out here when I was working at Art Center in the video library, they were like, “Yeah, you can work here, but don’t take any of our videos for your performances.” Which sucks so bad because at first, my job was to dub 35 hours of director-cameraman reels, little two-to-five minute reels, I had to sit and watch and burn VCDs of and see the most inane, disgusting commercials from like ’85 until now. I couldn’t touch them. It definitely made me insane. But the Bat Dance came from the projector booth at Otis.
RICH: No, Art Center.
JIM: Oh, Art Center. Something came from Otis that was really good.
Figure 4: The mantle at Animal Charm house.
CINEMAD: One of my favorites is FAMILY COURT, the all-sports-court-in-one for your family, with Dad screaming while making a shot.
JIM: That’s the one that I think we got at a thrift store. That product’s actually called Family Court. “Portable play yard for your artificial lifestyle.”
Fig. 5: FAMILY COURT
CINEMAD: So now do you guys take more time now that you have your whole set-up?
RICH: We’ve got like 40 grocery bags full of tapes that we’ve got to go through, that we haven’t even used. That’s kind of the first project.
JIM: That’s why we bought all those computers and stuff. We are gonna perform live, record the output and sell them at the end of the show
RICH: Franchise our show, like Taco Bell. We could do it all over the place.
CINEMAD: What other sub-communitites have you found?
JIM: The all-guy duck-hunting weirdos from Wisconsin. Remember that duck-hunting video? It was very strange, not like hunting… this guy videotaping ducks out in the pond and they keep falling. He’s like hunting them with the camera, he’s never shooting them. Probably like a thirteen year old.
RICH: Camera Hunt.
JIM: Camera Hunt. Camera hunting ducks at a lake.
RICH: And someone gave us one a kid made of cats having sex.
JIM: A four-year-old girl was videotaping cats having sex and asking questions about what’s going on, and the mother awkwardly laughing and also being fascinated in the act but you don’t know what to say to a kid, like it’s the early sex-ed with animals. Often, we’ve asked people to bring their own materials, and then once we’ve started to do our thing, we started inserting their tapes.
CINEMAD: So did you guys focus more on goals as it went along, or has it still been more of like what’s been dropped in your hands or what you’ve found and then destroying it?
JIM: It’s kind of a combo. Now that we’re conscious and can do stuff like that, it’s like every video store, every library collection is your source. There’s no real need to have to only find it, like when we did the TOOTSIE VS. KRAMER VS. KRAMER idea. That’s what we went out to do, but KRAMER VS. KRAMER wasn’t available that night, because we’re not gonna go out and buy KRAMER VS. KRAMER or even spend weeks preparing to go and make sure that they have it that night. It was just that night at 7, “Oh, maybe at Video Journey, they have it. Oh, no, they don’t? OK, what else do we got? Let’s use WHITEY from Bass Finder and, oh, SHAOLIN SOCCER.”
5)******NOTE******(That is WHITY from Fassbinder)
RICH: And BARRIO WARS, like Latin gangbanger movies they make here in LA, low-budget.
Figure 6: The Wow Guy
CINEMAD: What was TARGET?
JIM: TARGET is the video of driving around in circles in the Target parking lot and Rich was dressed up in bandages. Have you ever seen that? I’m sitting on the hood shooting, and it’s to Carol King’s…uh, what song is it?
RICH: “So Far Away.”
JIM: “So Far Away.” And he changes the station on the radio and then it goes to “Level 42.” And the whole video changes but it’s the same circle of driving and we cut in Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell and Red Gagne from wrestling, but they’re not wrestlers, they’re dressed as…on one of their training tapes, they’re doing military-style boot camp…
RICH: It’s Sgt. Slaughter.
CINEMAD: Why’d you guys pick LA from Chicago?
RICH: It’s like a warm Chicago.
JIM: It was random. I mean, it wasn’t that random, we had done a show here at Film Forum.
RICH: I met my biological mom here. That was the first time we were here. The second time we were here was for Film Forum, then we came back again for Film Forum. Then a little later, Jim was out here working with a friend of ours. We had never been out west until that first time in San Francisco. It was just like, where could we move in America that would be different than Chicago but still not fucking lame, too small, or expensive like New York?
JIM: And isn’t like subculturally indoctrinated. There isn’t a scene, so to speak.
RICH: And it was affordable. I didn’t really move, officially. I was also breaking up with someone at the same time.
JIM: He came out in February and went back in April to get all of our stuff. It was like a two-week ticket you dissed. I mean, that is the coolest thing. Animal Charm is just like a way to make art with a friend.
Figure 7: Animal Charm at CineVegas 2003.
I don’t know if I would make or do things on my own just because it’s getting off on myself and having fun and it’s a social…not just Rich, but other friends or meeting other people like-minded, it’s a way more social activity that allows for learning and all that stuff. The weird part is we meet people out here because we came out here with this whole history behind us and people thought we were these career artists or career bands.
RICH: And people in Chicago think that we came out here to be successful art stars, and they kind of have this idea that we are because we live in a house and have cars and stuff, like we’re living the high life out here. It’s so retarded.
JIM: Those tapes are also adopted in the fine art world and there are all these people out here that are machinating, making careers, and aligning with friends to talk about how to get their next show and let’s curate this and let’s curate that, and it’s all really revolting for the most part. I mean, there are some very interesting individuals, but the really fake part of it, which is the networking, like any industry whether it’s like plumbing to Hollywood filmmaking, where it’s not about the content of what your interests lie, but it’s about where you want to get, an end result, that made this place kind of like, “We can work in film and video in a vaccuum here.” And there’s all these other people here working in film and video that I have no interest in starting a conversation with, but at the same time, there’s all these other interesting folks to go meet and see.