Friday, 25 February 2011

The Unlikely Lads

I’d like to offer a small but heartfelt tribute here to two men who kept me sane during the Nineties.

Vidz was the best T.V. programme of the decade, a combination of stand up, sitcom and review show, set in dismal video shop on a grim council estate in Glasgow and hosted by a short, punkish Welsh bloke and a lanky Scottish crusty both with impeccable tastes. Childish, surreal, splenetic, potty mouthed, inventive, sharp, Nigel and Steff were a refreshingly angry antidote to the mawkish celebration of the mainstream that made the Nineties such a suffocating time. Regional, heretical, masters of the rant, remorselessly focused on the sheer shitness and vapidity of most contemporary film-making they maintained a strong, critical outsider tradition, the voice of dissent thumbing it’s nose at the pretensions of metropolitan media elite. Who the fuck gave these two chancers a job was beyond me.
I mean, just look at them....

I mean, honestly...


What they advocated and primarily focused on was the real reason Video existed, for the whole range of pulp, cult and B-movies (from The Shaw Brothers to Sam Fuller to Jodorowsky) that have subsequently become essential fashion items, along with marginalia like extreme sports and naked yoga videos. In this sense they understood Video: its purpose was oppositional, it was there to help form, foster and disseminate an alternate canon of pulp, trash and esoteria on the one hand and also to connect this with a more highbrow European Arthouse tradition. This is why the video shop, especially the independent video shop was such a charged space, it carried a subcultural, subversive vibe. The video shop, after all, was where the infamous video Nasties had resided, the video shop was where there was access to the X rated underage, to mysterious foreign language films and forgotten underground classics ( I remember rather blasely picking up both James Tobak’s Fingers and Hopper’s Out of the Blue on a trip to my local video store in Leeds, imagine trying to do the same in Blockbuster.) There was the weekly anticipation of Monday’s new releases and if you were lucky, sympathetic store owners to chat to who shared your obsession. The video shop was the place where the mainstream, the middlebrow, Hollywood was elided and new compacts were formed. Video shops had buzz.

We should also factor in here of course the satisfying heft and seriousness of those big old video cases, there’s something monolithic and grandiose in the early ones, great sharp edged and ornate monuments in moulded black plastic.

But I digress.

Vidz world then was instantaneously recognizable to me: it looked and sounded a lot like my own life, no money, too much drink and drugs, rotten living conditions and clapped out cars, shitty pubs, boredom, economically depressed backwaters, no prospects. All we had for entertainment was our wit, our critique, our imagination, bands, books, videos. Steff and Nigel were largely just an extension of the people we already knew, but mysteriously on T.V. It was hard to keep track of the show, which was bounced around the schedules, but it was an oasis in a desert of dull commentary and witless comedy. Steff and Nigel encouraged you, sustained you in the belief that UnCool Brittania had all the imagination and brains on its side, and in this they were indispensible.

Someone of extravagant patience and great taste has posted all the series here. For which the entire nation should be grateful.

update: online petition here

Nige here.


13 comments:

W. Kasper said...

That was cult viewing back in the day. The lanky one actually worked in my local video renters when I was a student. They had a brilliant selection and he was a sarky bugger!

He loved taking the piss out of students; in that friendly/aggresive/smartass way familiar from comic shops, indie record shops and arty cinemas. I used to wonder if guys who worked in those places were genetically engineered somewhere.

carl said...

Did he?! where was this?

W. Kasper said...

West End of Glasgow. Shop didn't last until graduation though - as of course a lot of those kinds of places were gradually vanishing. Hardly any left in major cities now.

carl said...

true...they've either been tesco-ed out by blockbuster or replaced by online services i suppose...fewer and fewer space s where you might meet those sarky buiggers who introduce you to something new and where you can hang out

however....isn't there a fundamental difference between videos and dvds...an element of magic to the video that just isn't there in the dvd...same i suppose as lps and cds....above and beyond nostaligia value can it be said that certain cultural objects for whatever reason have more "aura"... maybe it's simply that they have greater presence, and as we journey forward to greater fidelity and smaller size.. toward dematerialization the objects are affectively diminished in some way...

errr...just thinking out loud, y'know...

W. Kasper said...

More traces of use on them - an element of 'shared humanity'? Like mysterious inscriptions on 2nd hand books. Or even the tape going squiggly during 'dodgy bits'...

Murphy said...

Oh Carl, I'm so glad you've brought this back out - my mates and I used to watch this almost religiously! We used to see Stef kicking around Byres Road all the time, and I think Nige (the Welsh one) ended up being a writer/broadcaster for the beeb back up in Glasgow.

(the 'grim council estate' was near my Gran's house, by the way).

carl said...

another Stef sighting! they formed a generation those lads...

yeah, it was a tonic, wannit, Vidz? i was both gobsmacked and delighted (dobsmacked?goblighted?-take your pick) to discover someone had youtubed it...

W. Kasper said...

He was also a rather witty and erudite Film Quiz host (sez this winner of an Eddie Murphy poster in 1998). He must have a site somewhere, but I doubt you could find it googling 'lanky Stef'.

W. Kasper said...

Yes!

http://www.dogsizedcat.com/

stefgardiner said...

Stef sightings.....hhhhmmmmmm ..... i see him about all the time.... for i am he.... i know i exist..... dont i!?

carl said...

Stefgardiner….(I’m just going to assume you are the real stefgardiner) given the central importance of Vidz in sustaining an entire generation of disgruntled and resentful over-educated Nineties wastrels, I wonder if we could ask you a few questions about it/you/then?

Like a mini-interview….my e-mail address is in the profile……


DON"T MAKE ME BEG!

W. Kasper said...

We really are getting the quality readership!

carl said...

yeah.. i did email Nige with a link via his website.. then cyberstalked him on facebook...

fingers crossed one or both of them are up for a chat...