The Creeping Revenge of "Recorded Live" (1975)

Amongst the films, albeit short ones, that I have seen the most times in my life, there is the seeming trifle, Recorded Live. As much as I like to recount the scores of times I watched the likes of Alien and Mad Max over and over in the early HBO days in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (shown on Anchorage, Alaska’s single cable network titled Visions), I saw this goofy short, animated by S.S. Wilson, even more. Wilson created this film as a student at USC in 1975, and he would eventually go on to write (with his partner and fellow USC alum Brent Maddock) the Short Circuit films, *batteries not included, Heart and Souls, and, most importantly for me, the Tremors film series. (I will mention, purposefully parenthetically, that they also wrote the screenplays for Ghost Dad and Wild Wild West, and the less said of this, the better.)

I stated that Recorded Live is seemingly nothing but a trifle, but its influence over my behavior has been longstanding, and proves that the film is anything but that in my memory. This is because this movie, as fun and silly as it seems, scared the crap out of me in those days, even as an adult. Maybe it was because I was constantly surrounded by videotape, but I often imagined coming home and finding out that my entire collection of tapes had banded together, decided they were hungry for blood, had quite enough of my shenanigans, and had elected me as the entree for dinner. And while the film may not look scary to today’s jolt-scare and Ghost Hunters-influenced crowd (both so goddamned stupid), but to me, sometimes the silliest of images can dig under your skin and get to you in ways you never expected. Often, and to this day, it is the very sense of the absurdly out of place that worked my psyche far more than the mere intended scare. It spoke of a universe seriously out of whack, and there is nothing worse to combat than a universe that refuses to play by the rules.

This is why the Land Shark on Saturday Night Live scared me far more than Bruce the Shark on the movie screen. This is why I had a serious problem with a simple clothing advertising campaign back in the day which would show a men’s suit in a closet, but which was being worn by a sheep standing within that closet, with an uncaring, thousand-yard stare plastered on its woolly face (the way sheep do). It did not take much more to fuck me up than a simultaneous listen to Pink Floyd’s song, “Sheep,” wherein the titular creatures rise up against their masters (in this case, the dogs prevalent throughout the storyline of the rest of the Floyd's Animals album, who are clearly a stand-in for the men who are their true oppressors) and exact their revenge. (“Have you heard the news? / The dogs are dead!”) The fact that I did not wear suits had nothing to do with it. I was scared of opening closet doors for a good while after that, and also triggered a similar response any time I saw images of animals dressed in human clothing. (But, strangely, team mascots have never scared me but always amused me, though I will say I mostly enjoy it when they screw up or get injured on the field, or engage in multi-mascot slapstick violence or pranksterism, like in ESPN commercials.)

Back to Recorded Live, placing aside the obvious link to the first two Blob films, another connection that stayed with me through the years is the distorted, growling voice of the mass of videotape, which itself I found as frightening as the images of renegade videotape hunting down and devouring an entire human being. I remember distinctly being reminded of the videotape’s voice when the reel-to-reel machine is found in the basement in the original version of The Evil Dead. I have no idea if Recorded Live had any pull over Mr. Raimi and his pals, but it is not hard to imagine they might have seen this film when they were also beginning to make their own early slapstick shorts (somewhat famously inspired by The Three Stooges).

I know that I recorded Recorded Live at some point (actually, at multiple points), but somehow, even with the number of early tapes I still possess, one with a copy of Recorded Live has not made it to the present, and it had been many, many years since I had seen the film. Watching it again on YouTube this morning, everything rushed back to me immediately: the way I felt when I first saw it, instances where I watched it in conjunction with other films, the chill I used to feel from the violence in the film even while I was laughing at it, and the uneasiness I would get from the sound of the voice of the videotape. 

It also made me think of other short films I used to watch all the time back then, such as Hardware Wars, Vicious Cycles, The 2000-Year Old Man, Closet Cases of the Nerd Kind, etc, and how much I used to enjoy the live-action short film format, though I would rarely make time for them in my frantic feature film-watching schedule. I recently spent a couple of days playing catch up with a few dozen Oscar-nominated and/or Oscar-winning shorts (some of them also documentaries and animated films), so I have already begun to delve back into this format. But I am really hoping to make them a far more regular occurrence in my viewing life. Seeing a truly enjoyable film like Recorded Alive again is a good way to get started on this course.


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