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Videofreex’s story began in 1969, when CBS News recruited a ton of young journalists to make a pilot about the country’s changing political landscape. To produce it, they used a new technology: portable video.  Over their nine-plus years together, they produced thousands of videotapes, installations and multimedia events and trained hundreds of videomakers in the brand new video medium. 

Videofreex in 1973, created a video manual titled “Spaghetti City Video Manual,” which circulated widely, instructing would be video makers how to use this new technology. Mirroring the beliefs outlined in Guerrilla Television they believed they could turn the medium of television, at the time dominated by the “Big Three” Television Networks, into a more democratic medium.

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Here Come The Videofreex. Production in progress. http://videofreexfilm.com 

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Greetings From Lanesville

A composite of episodes of Lanesville TV, which was broadcast every Saturday night in Lanesville, New York to residents of a few small towns in the Catskills. The show had a lighthearted community focus, and featured segments on local events and people. Verbal description does not do it justice because it is a unique example of early “pure” video.

http://mediaburn.org/video/greetings-from-lanesville/

http://avideostudent.com/2010/10/17/lanesville-tv-videofreex/ -

"Formed in 1969, Videofreex was a pioneering collective of artists and community activists who embraced portable video technology in its earliest days. In 1971 they built the country’s smallest TV station in upstate New York, Lanesville TV, and broadcast hundreds of quirky, homemade programs until 1980. Excerpted here are Lanesville TV News Buggy (1976) and An Oriental Magic Show with a man in a box and a barbarian (1973) in a Lanesville TV “live” broadcast with guest host Russell Connor (1975). Additional production: DCTV (Jon Alpert, Yoko Maruyama, Keiko Tsuno).

In the context of the Alternate Culture movement of the 1960s and ’70s, these artists were redefining television as a medium for individuals and communities as opposed to mainstream corporate and commercial interests. According to the Freex: “The better tapes are just for fun.” Videofreex members included David Cort, Curtis Ratcliff, Parry Teasdale, Davidson Gigliotti, Nancy Cain, Chuck Kennedy, Skip Blumberg, Carol Vontobel, Bart Friedman and Ann Woodward.”

WE’RE ALL VIDEOFREEX: CHANGING MEDIA & SOCIAL CHANGE FROM PORTAPAK TO SMARTPHONE
Friday April 5 
4pm - 9pm
SVA Theatre, 333 W 23rd St, NYC

David Ross (chair of the Art Practice department) and Ron Simon (curator of Television and Radio at the Paley center) reunite the Videofreex, the 1970s collective that pioneered the use of portable video and founded the first pirate TV station, for a one-day symposium on video, media and journalism. 

We’re All Videofreex on Facebook
We’re All Videofreex on Tumblr

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In 1969 the newly-formed Videofreex set up shop in on Prince Street  where they taped live shows on Friday nights. This spot for the program features member Skip Blumberg making his way up to the fifth floor studio. 

Buckaroo Bart

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From Videofreex: America’s First Pirate TV Station & the Catskills Collective That Turned it On by Parry Teasdale.

Our first regular Lanesvill TV broadcasts began promptly at 7 p.m. on Sunday and Wednesday nights and lasted for as long as we felt we had something to show. Some broadcasts rolled along for an hour or more. Others struggled through twenty minutes before we pulled the plug, mercifully sparing neighbors, visitors and ourselves the pain of stretching weak material or no material at all to fill some arbitrary time slot. It wasn’t as if other programs were scheduled after ours. Lanesville TV, Chanel 3, went dark when we were done, freeing us from the tyranny of the clock that rules other broadcast media.

Before long we dropped the Wednesday shows as too disruptive to our work schedule—the work we had to do to make a living. The disappearance of Wednesday night Lanesville TV induced no reaction at all from viewers, no outraged phone calls, no sighs of relief, either.

In the meantime, Bart had come up with the idea for The Buckaroo Bart Show, a Saturday morning children’s program. It starred Bart in the title role and included John Benjamin, a particularly outgoing local ten-year-old, in the role of Sheriff John. And as no TV show, especially one that purports to be about cowboys, would be complete without a villain, Bart drafted Howard Raab, a skilled carpenter and stained glass artist who happened to live in the cabin behind Maple Tree Farm. Bart assigned him the role of a comic antagonist by the name of Horrible Howard. Horrible, as his name became shortened both on and off the set, had a bushy beard that protruded from his chin, and a heavy brow he could knit into a caterpillar underlining his forehead. He affected a bowlegged walk to accompany his thin grin and slightly nasal voice, all of which marked him as an inept bad guy, not an evil one. 

 

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Women in the Videofreex: A Conversation with Nancy Cain, Mary Curtis Ratcliff Carol Vontobel and Ann Woodward

How did you come to be a member of the Videofreex?

NANCY CAIN: In the summer of 1969, I got a job as a production assistant to Don West who was producing a presentation for a pilot for the CBS television network, which wanted to replace the newly cancelled Smothers Brothers program. Although at first it was going to be a new variety show, it soon became clear that Don was interested in trying his hand at film documentary. “Even experimental,” he said. 

The first few weeks at my new job were spent meeting with a steady stream of peculiar and amazing people who we hoped might be fun to see on television or who wanted to be on television, or had something to say about what they thought should be on television. Word had gotten around that we were looking for contemporary themes for documentaries, so now we were being wooed by the counterculture, lefty college politicos, drop-out rock and rollers, maverick rabbis, and any and every group with an agenda for the revolution. 

It wasn’t until early September that we were introduced to the Videofreex who had just returned from the Woodstock Festival.  David Cort, [Mary] Curtis Ratcliff and Parry Teasdale sat us down in front of a nine-inch monitor and showed us their tapes, “First Aid #1” and “First Aid #2”.  They were information tapes that David had videotaped to play back in the field at the festival to help people with medical emergencies. Then they played “Latrine,” affectionately known as “The Shit House Tapes,” showing endless lines of stoned hippies waiting for  the port-o-potties. Riveting. It was like being there without actually having to be there. I had never seen video before. I loved it. Don hired the Videofreeex right away and we started searching for stories and events to videotape. There was major excitement. We had a new way of seeing. Whatever was happening during the fall of 1969 we wanted to videotape it.  We wanted to show it. I began being assigned to accompany the Freex on their production shoots, the first being the trial of the Chicago 8. It was during this time that I learned that David and the Videofreex were not exactly totally working for CBS. I was working for Don at CBS, but the Videofreex had their own political agenda. When people asked, “what’s this for?” David would say it was an underground media thing. I realized television could be something that was not even remotely like CBS. This was beyond television as I knew it. And it occurred to me that I might not be there just because I was working for CBS, either. This was new, this was conceptual. It wasn’t TV, it was VT. It was dyslexic. We were on the flip side and I liked it there.

On December 17, 1969, Don West and the Videofreex made their presentation of Subject to Change to the CBS executives. It was a disaster. Don was in a rage as he left the building.  It was midnight.  We sat in the smoldering wreckage. One thing was clear. We were fired. I never saw or spoke to Don West again after that night. Now, we were all Videofreex.  

ANN WOODWARD: I don’t have a very “liberated” answer.  I met the Videofreex at the VISION AND TELEVISION exhibition at the Rose Art Museum (Feb 1970) at Brandeis University where I was a student.  I worked at the Rose as a curatorial assistant.  Russell Connor was Asst. Director of the Museum and had organized the show.  (He remains a close friend.)  I liked the Freex and tried to find places for them to stay with other students or in my apt.  I think I put up Skip and Chuck on different days.  Chuck and I connected and we stayed in touch.  I visited him as much as I could, staying with him in the loft the Videofreex had in SoHo.  He had given up his paying job at CTL and his penthouse apt and was living in his shop.  It was a little funky, but we fell in love, and when I graduated and finished my job at the Rose (it was too boring a job and too isolated down in the basement office to stay on as Curator) I left in the fall of ‘70 to live with Chuck in NYC.

CAROL VONTOBEL: I was living with Nancy during the summer of 1969 and Don West hired me to work on the CBS project. We went in December to upstate NY to edit the tapes and Parry and I became a couple there. I was not working on the tapes at that time, but managing the household. I was not too interested in the shooting or editing of the tapes but I was very interested the political mission of the Videofreex. When we were all fired from CBS I just became a Videofreek and started learning how to shoot and edit tapes and a little bit about how to maintain and fix the equipment. I always enjoyed interviewing people on air (Lanesville TV) or on tape. 

MARY CURTIS RATCLIFF: I was visiting my grandfather in Michigan and saw Woodstock on the news and knew David Cort, my “old man,” was there. When I got back to New York, he told me all about the festival and said that he had met another guy with a portable video camera named Parry Teasdale. Furthermore, Parry was going to come down and live with us in my loft on Rivington Street in the next two weeks!  

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We're All Videofreex Now: An Interview with Skip Blumberg

Reposted from the SVA blog

“We’re All Videofreex: Changing Social Media from Portapak to Smartphone,” a free symposium on the DNA of social media and citizen journalism, comes to the SVA Theatre on Friday, April 5 from 4 – 9pm. The program features panels, screenings, and Q&As with original members of theVideofreex, a pioneering group of artists who rode the first wave of independent video production in the 1970s. Organizer David A. Ross, chair, MFA Art Practice Department, and Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media, moderate discussions with members of the collective, media historians and current video artists.

Underground collectives like the Videofreex used the Portapak (the earliest small format video camera) to capture the zeitgeist of the ‘70s, creating original content for broadcast over the public airwaves. Abbie Hoffman, the FBI, CBS, the FCC, the Black Panthers, and Woodstock all had supporting roles in the Videofreex story. Yet this chapter of media history has been largely overlooked. SVA Close Up caught up with Skip Blumberg, one of the original Videofreex, to learn more.

What was your initial vision for the Videofreex in its earliest days?
Tele – vision. We weren’t trying to make cheap films with the newly introduced medium of small format home video. We worked together and as individual producers to make TV shows and to explore how video was unique. We were the alternate TV network for the 1970s alternate culture and radical political movements. This comes across in Pirate TV Show, which we’ll be screening at the SVA symposium.

What was the general consensus about the Portapak when it first hit the market?
In the 1970s, with early cable TV and no Internet, broadcast television was by far the nation’s dominant source of news and entertainment. With only three national TV networks, it was a narrow and rigid source. To us, the Portapak was a powerful tool of mass media that could potentially reach millions of viewers all at the same time, as well as allow narrow casting to smaller communities. But to the TV establishment, small format video was too unstable.

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Participant Profile: Elizabeth Coffman

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Elizabeth Coffman is a documentary maker who has published scholarship on avant-garde film and video, documentary media and serial violence.  She recently guest-edited a double issue of the Journal of Film & Video on video history, with articles discussing the significance of the Videofreex, Shirley Clarke’s video work, the Raindance Corporation, video archives and an interview with Skip Blumberg.  Elizabeth teaches at Loyola University Chicago and writes a column about being a "Long Distance Mom" for Inside Higher Ed.  

Tell us about your recent documentary, Veins in the Gulf.

ELIZABETH COFFMAN: My recent film, “Veins in the Gulf” documents a community’s efforts—political, artistic, economic—to save their coastline from rising sea levels. Southern Louisiana is one of the first U.S. coastal zones to go under water without substantial environmental restoration and engineering efforts.  As Sandy has proven, it will not be the last.  

My partner, Ted Hardin, and I are headed to Venice, Italy this summer (thanks to the Emily Harvey Foundation) to create an installation project about Venice’s flood control efforts.  I am also helping to produce a documentary on Flannery O’Connor and writing on documentary archives.

After attending the Raindance reunion in 2010 do you have any predictions for the Videofreex reunion?

EC: Reunions are about more than getting together to discuss the “good ole days” or the importance of work from 40 years ago.  Understanding how guerrilla media instincts relate to information and power is just as important in 2013 as 1973, even if the parameters are changing.  As Doug Rushkoff has written, “Program or be programmed,” or, in other words, become a Videofreex.