For many filmgoers, the primary pleasure of cinema is the propulsive narrative—you plop yourself down in the dark knowing you're not getting up until the Titanic sinks or Sophie chooses or Ben Affleck solves the Iranian hostage crisis without jostling his wig. But sometimes you want less plot and more immersion in a world of cinematic mystery, where excerpts of terrible Elvis movies rub up against game-show atrocities and instructional films explaining menstruation to the developmentally disabled. For such filmgoers, there is Collide-O-Scope.
Half video art installation and half stoner gawkfest, Collide-O-Scope is the cinema-collage extravaganza created by Michael Anderson and Shane Wahlund, Seattle men who bonded over a love of oddball video—news bloopers, educational films, B-movie gems—then joined forces to bring the treasures of their exploration to the public. First appearing on the north wall of Re-bar, Collide-O-Scope dazzled viewers and soon grew into a regularly occurring event, with the current Collide-O-Scope schedule bringing two shows a month at Re-bar, one show a month at Central Cinema, and occasional special nights at venues ranging from dive bars to Seattle Center. No matter the locale, the takeaway of the Collide-O-Scope experience remains the same: There's nothing more glorious, hilarious, ridiculous, and horrifying than human behavior, and here's proof.
Entering the north Ballard house shared by Anderson and Wahlund, one is immediately submerged in the world of Collide-O-Scope. To the left is a wall-obliterating flat-screen TV towering over a hutch of supplementary equipment—DVR, VHS, Blu-ray, with neat stacks of DVDs hugging the walls to waist-level. Against the opposite wall is a vast, welcoming sofa, before which sits a coffee table laden with remote controls. Just off the living room is the editing suite, featuring a desktop Mac and an explosion of media coating every surface: DVDs (labeled and not), videotapes (ditto), and choice Hollywood memorabilia (including the framed front page of a 1921 newspaper announcing the Fatty Arbuckle murder scandal). Below one's feet is a basement packed with boxes of the same.
But the central component of Collide-O-Scope headquarters is a temporary installation that eats up an entire wall of the dining room: a homemade green screen, constructed to help get the head of Dina Martina—Seattle's art-star drag queen and a regular Collide-O-Scope collaborator—onto a variety of bodies in the new music video by Tool's Maynard James Keenan. (To see the final work, google "Puscifer" and "Bohemian Rhapsody." You're welcome.) The connections between Dina and Collide-O-Scope run deep—in addition to frequent collaboration, they share a similar "diamonds in the garbage" aesthetic, and routinely cause each other to nearly poop from laughing.
But the motivating figure behind the birth of Collide-O-Scope was not a drag queen but an actual woman: Vanessa Williams, star and temporary winner of the 1984 Miss America Pageant, an edit of which filled the majority of the first-ever Collide-O-Scope show. Known mostly for its deposed-winner-turned-multimedia-star, the 1984 Miss America Pageant was a world-class shitshow even before the revelation of Williams's nudie pics, thanks to its terrible hosts, plethora of hilariously awkward TV moments, and gloriously garish production numbers by Frank Stallone. Splicing the best of Miss America 1984 with the worst of Miss America 1958 (featuring legendary anti-gay spokesmodel Anita Bryant), Collide-O-Scope created a one-of-a-kind portrait of the American beauty pageant that also managed to be deeply hilarious.
They carried on from there, stocking their found-footage arsenal by following one basic operating principle: Record everything now, figure out what to do with it later. The world of digital video and DVRs significantly streamlined the process, which previously demanded multiple VCRs, and resulted in countless boxes of still-unwatched videotapes in the basement. "We go through them sometimes," Shane tells me. "Every time we take out a tape, we find something amazing."
A harmonious notion of what constitutes "something amazing" is what drives Anderson and Wahlund's never-ending curation, along with a shared preference for the long view over the quick cut. Whereas the video collage work of TV Carnage involves hundreds of brief clips compiled into an almost musical whole, Collide-O-Scope takes more of a museum approach, using the screen as a frame for a succession of short video installations. A great recurring theme: abridgements of terrible movies, with Anderson and Wahlund taking movies no sane person would want to watch all the way through and editing them down to their hilarious essence. When I ask them to name the most raucously received bit of Collide-O-Scopery to date, one of these abridgements leads the pack. "Do you know Scorchy?" Wahlund asks me, referencing the 1976 exploitation movie starring Connie Stevens as a Dirty Harry–ish crime fighter on the mean streets of Seattle. "We screened a 20-minute edit of Scorchy, and people screamed through the whole thing. The go-kart chase through Pike Place Market brought the house down."
As mentioned above, Collide-O-Scope appears in a variety of locations, with each locale inspiring a slightly different kind of show. At Re-bar, there's a great, goofy stoner basement party vibe, complete with free popcorn and Red Vines and four full hours of video. At Central Cinema, it's a tighter two-hour affair. And at Seattle Center, where Collide-O-Scope will be reprising its Fountain of Light project this summer, it's a night of almost ambient visuals, with footage projected directly onto the wall of cascading water created by the International Fountain. "At the fountain, clarity isn't always there, so images are more open to interpretation," Wahlund tells me. "People sit on the wrong side and watch everything reversed and don't mind."