Getting High

‘Thundercrack,’ Sativa, and Robot Hands With Collide-O-Scope

The duo behind Re-bar’s outlandish video mash-ups gives us a personal screening.

Art by Joshua Boulet

Hello and welcome to Getting High With David Schmader! Maybe you know me as the guy who wrote The Stranger’s Last Days: The Week in Review column for 17 years, or someone who writes essays and plays and makes fun of the movie Showgirls, but this column finds me in the role of Marijuana Spokesmodel, a side gig cultivated through my book Weed: The User’s Guide and TEDx talk “Coming Out Stoner,” both of which align perfectly with the mission of this column: honest, pun-free discussion of how cannabis fits into actual adult lives, in a context that allows for discussion of much more. Let’s get to it.

Subjects: Shane Wahlund and Michael Anderson

Who They Are/What They Do: Filmmakers responsible for the video-collage extravaganza Collide-O-Scope

Relationship to Cannabis: Deep, abiding love

There’s little surprise to the fact that the creators of Collide-O-Scope are familiar with cannabis. Collide-O-Scope’s cavalcade of found footage, news bloopers, B-movie recuts, and all things TV (from groan-worthy ads to public-access gems) is rich in visuals that reward the type of context-free hyperattention inspired by weed. The smell of burning rope wafts over sidewalks during Collide-O-Scope’s intermissions. Happily anchored at Re-bar, where their show packs the house twice a month, Collide-O-Scope is now in the process of branching out, following up on their ongoing collaborations with SIFF/The Egyptian by prepping their “Best of the Worst,” a greatest-hits show they’ll be touring around the Pacific Northwest and down the West Coast.

And so we agree to meet at Shane and Michael’s Ballard home to get high and communally view a few of the many hundreds of hours of footage being considered for “Best of the Worst.” Shane and Michael are big cannabis fans and I want to take them somewhere special, so I bring grownup-plus doses of homemade sativa tincture, which we spill into little cups of fruit juice and toss back before making our way to the basement.

In the basement screening room, we sink into a low sofa and turn our attention to a video that fills one wall from top to bottom. The video, cast by a projector on a stool behind the sofa, shows a 30-something woman with a collapsed brunette beehive sobbing through her eyeliner while playing with her labia. “This is Thundercrack,” says Michael, after which he and Shane tag-team their way through Thundercrack 101 (directed by Curt McDowell, written by George Kuchar, released in 1975, and infamous for its combination of arty B-movie horror with hardcore pornography. We watch in silent awe for 40 minutes).

Thanks to our tincture being imbibed and processed by our livers instead of inhaled and absorbed through the lungs, we’re soon high in a way that contains echoes of other, heavier intoxicants. (Shane cites Ecstasy, Michael LSD, and I’ve always noted the light opioidness.) “It’s pleasant!” says Shane. “I feel good!”

Transitioning away from Thundercrack, we dive into the Collide-O-Scope archive, which holds hundreds of clips spliced into 20-minute thematic suites. A recurring theme: Mind-Blowing Commercials of Yesteryear, such as the 7-Eleven commercial from 1979 that taught America about the mysterious new “burrito” entity via a parade of ethnic stereotypes. (“It’s-a like-a pizza but all rolled up!” says a finger-smooching Italian; “It’s a Mexican egg roll without the egg!” says an Asian. “HOW THEY DO THAT??” Ugh.)

Tonight I’m treated to a McDonald’s training video from the mid-’80s, in which a fully committed Michael Jackson impersonator encourages staffers to “Clean it! Just clean it!” Then come outtakes from Donald Trump’s steak ads, spliced together with clips from The Omen III (in which Satan makes a play for the White House) and footage of Paul Anka singing “My Way” to Vladimir Putin.

It’s chilling, and I’m reminded that along with all of Collide-O-Scope’s yuks is a fair amount of squirm. I steer us away from an angst-hole by requesting we switch to another recurring Collide-O-Scope theme: Unwatchable Films Edited Down to Watchability, in which astoundingly awful full-length films are boiled down to 20-minute blasts of amazement.

While Shane searches the Collide-O-Scope hard drive for a fitting film edit, I hit them with questions about the roots of their love for stoner gawkfests. Michael’s formative experience: watching David Byrne’s True Stories while baked in the ’80s. Shane’s: encountering the classic proto-viral video “Robert Tilton, Farting Preacher” in his early teens.

Then the screen lights up with Vibrations, the 1996 film starring James from Twin Peaks as an up-and-coming musician whose career is derailed by the amputation of his hands and Christina Applegate as the free-spirited tech wizard who fashions the robotic gloves that inspire our handless hero to invent electronic dance music. It is mind-bogglingly awful, even at 20 minutes, but rewardingly so, with the Collide-O-Scope edit compiling every second of Vibrations that must be seen into a sitcom-length wonder that left my face aching from laughter. It is also during this segment that the brain-scrambling potential of serious highness makes itself known, with Shane unable to recall the name of a band on the Revenge of the Nerds soundtrack (Bone Symphony, as Google reminds us later), and me unable to remember the name of the band Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were in pre-Eurythmics (The Tourists).

Despite our highness, good sense prevails, with not one of us willing to sample the Lay’s Southern Biscuits and Gravy Flavored Potato Chips I brought as a host gift. “We’ll give them away at the next Re-bar show,” Michael says. You’ve been warned.

Wanna get high and hang out? E-mail (Newbies and people with fascinating jobs to the front of the line.)

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