Rick Katschke at Turner Hall earlier this year.
For local filmmaker/entertainer Rick Katschke, the story starts with an orgy and a collection of videotapes hidden away in a basement. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to immediately veer into salacious Nancy Grace territory. It was The Movie Orgy to be precise and the videotapes contained a treasure trove of early ’80s television commercials. The story ends with a unique feature-length montage that points in an exciting direction for Rick’s nascent filmmaking career.
Already a fixture in the local improv comedy scene, Katschke’s been involved in the local filmmaking scene in a minor way in recent years (mostly acting in short films) but his new project, Consumption Optional, is the first time he’s controlled every aspect of production. The end result is an experience that is uniquely Katschkean throughout. The genesis for the project was the result of a cache of videocassettes he’d often walk past in his parent’s basement. After often passing them by without giving them much of a second thought, he finally checked to see if they contained old television commercials, and sure enough they did. As a purveyor of pop culture detritus, the commercials housed on these tapes called to him as a veritable treasure trove; he only needed the inspiration necessary to harness this footage into something more palatable for an audience.
Enter Joe Dante’s (co-directed with John Davison) 1968 feature film debut, The Movie Orgy. A precursor to the modern remix culture, Dante took bits and bobs from films, infomercials, adverts and musical performances that spoke to him and edited them into an epic mash-up (its current iteration is four hours, but original cuts extended up to seven) that manages to be completely irreverent while at the same time gaining narrative momentum by inserting small pieces of running storylines throughout, culminating in a psychedelic explosion of conclusions. Katschke counts The Movie Orgy as his favorite film of all time, having seen it multiple times (going so far as to fly to L.A. twice for the opportunity) despite its scarcity - its utilization of varied footages make it impossible to release on DVD, leaving only the odd free screening across the country as one’s opportunity to see it.
Katschke also counts more contemporary resources such as The Found Footage Festival, which opened with selections from his film earlier this year, among his influences. The push/pull between the cultural anthropology of the FFF (which sandwiches comedy bits between curated bits of pop cultural ephemera at their live shows and DVDs) and a more narrative-based feature-length storytelling mode like that of The Movie Orgy can be seen in his project. He isn’t telling a specific story through his edit – which he conservatively estimates took 500 hours – instead the cumulative effect is like a modern Sisyphean myth, the viewer is left waiting for their program to come back to them only to be thwarted by a cavalcade of advertisements replete with before-they-were-stars celebrity cameos (Elizabeth Shue! Ian Ziering! It’s possible I’m loosely using the term celebrity!) and more forgotten product jingles than you can possibly imagine. The cumulative effect of these commercials, carefully chosen for maximum entertainment value, leave you wanting to seek out these forgotten products of yesteryear as well as with a surprising sense of how media was trying to speak to us in a bygone era. It’s the rare bit of entertainment that works educationally as well.
Katschke would love to tackle the commercials of the ’90s in a similar vein and hopes to accumulate a mass of recorded programs from that era and attempt a sequel to Consumption Optional. He’s currently in the process of setting up a screening of the finished product in the Milwaukee area and is also open to bringing the film to college campuses for those interested in viewing old advertising trends and the like. For any updates with regards to screenings (and a non-spoiler taste of what to expect once you get the opportunity to experience it) keep an eye on his blog.