As with all the best cultural production on the internet, the work of VHS-era found footage curators/editors Everything Is Terrible can sound like an obtuse inside joke when overanalyzed by people like me, but it’s democratically self-explanatory when links are substituted for sentences. For about a decade, the group has spent their time panning the rivers of unloved VHS tapes that flow through second-hand shops and rummage sales for miniscule flakes of video gold that they post to their website as brief excerpts or short compressions of entire films.
Some of what they dig up — e.g. an instructional video demonstrating how to massage your cat — is as luminous as the over-hairsprayed 1980s and 90s hairdos of its stars, and while, like all hair and most ephemera, the individual clips are rarely substantial, embedded in every two-minute compression of a full-length piece of crap is the awareness that it’s simply one brief shart into the bottomless bucket of shit that is humanity’s media production. The terrible is what makes the group’s work hilarious, but it’s this sense of everything — of downright infiniteness — that makes it more than that. Whether by demonstrating through the daily postings to their website that America’s most inexhaustible and unexplored resource is probably bad videos, or by amassing the world’s largest private collection of Jerry McGuire videocassettes (1804 copies, or nearly half a ton, and counting), Everything Is Terrible excels in showing us the awful combined weight of our most flimsy cultural output.
Their most impressive transformation of the easily-discarded into the weightily indispensable, though, is not a collection, but a composition. A recreation of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1970s film The Holy Mountain comprised entirely of repurposed clips from 20th-century dog movies, TV specials, commercials, and instructional videos, Doggiewoggiez! Poochiewoochiez! is the group’s third and most conceptually ambitious film. The movie could easily coast on the ridiculous amount of work that went into realizing its weird conceit (with the added bonus that they’re present and dressed in dog costumes for all its screenings). Seemingly thousands of videos ranging from the obscure to the I-wish-it-were-obscure (Tim Allen’s public nude scene in The Shaggy Dog) have been shredded like the morning paper into seconds-long fragments, and then meticulously sequenced into a variation on Jodorowsky’s psychedelic-surrealist masterpiece that conveys pretty much every memorable image in the film, beginning with its opening ritual haircutting (now, of course, a grooming).
Figuring out which clips correspond to which part, if any, of The Holy Mountain might be the ultimate Where’s Waldo for film nerds — I mean cineastes — but it’s definitely not a gimmick. This assemblage of discards is as monumental as Brazilian artist Vik Muniz’s warehouse-sized portraits of garbage dump workers made out of trash, the Heidelberg Project’s reappropriation of abandoned Detroit houses into a site of artistic urban renewal, and that one mosaic portrait of Rick Santorum made up of gay porn. Except unlike those works, the pieces that make up Doggiewoggiez! Poochiewoochiez! aren’t leashed to the object they represent. During, for instance, the impossibly long succession of nearly every horrible dog pun uttered in a movie, you probably won’t care about Jodorwhosky anyway, but you will feel a mercurial progression of emotions, likely including glee, rage, and existential depression. These pets threaten to overtake their master as they break free of the Jodorowski framework, piss where they’re not supposed to, and — with the help of Everything Is Terrible’s greyhound-paced editing — dig under the fences dividing psychedelia, media criticism, conceptual art, and stoner comedy.
While the dogstravaganzas Marley & Me, Bolt, and Beverly Hills Chihuahua were all in Hollywood’s top-grossing films of 2008 (an exceptional vintage for the industry, obvs), nothing should feel timely about an adaptation of a 1970s cult film made out of 1990s videos about dogs. But Doggiewoggiez! Poochiewoochiez! couldn’t be more zeitgeisty in its digital decimation and recreation of the analog. The film’s total subjugation of seemingly all the dog-themed output of an entire medium (VHS) mirrors modernity’s total digitization of cultural artifacts into MP3s, Hulu streams, and Kindle downloads. But by training VHS dogs to emulate celluloid — the ancestral medium of the filmic — Doggiewoggiez! Poochiewoochies! diagrams analog-to-digital not as progress, but perhaps more accurately: as an endless feedback loop. That loop, as the film’s final scene (which one-ups the meta of The Holy Mountain’s fourth-wall breaking finale) illustrates, can be all-encompassing. Shit jokes and spirituality are the same meme.
In one of the most famous scenes in The Holy Mountain, an alchemist seals a man inside an airtight contraption without food or water and lights the man’s shit on fire. With no other choice, the man inhales the fumes and, eventually, shits again. The process is repeated ad nauseum, distilling his crap into its purest form: a big nugget of gold. The alchemist tells him: “You are excrement. You can change yourself into gold.” In Doggiewoggiez! Poochiewoochiez!, this process is transposed to a sequence of dogs eating their own shit. Really, it’s the entire film.