Collector Profile: Artist/Musician Bonnie Banks on the "Evolutionary Rewind"
Bay Area artist Bonnie Banks has been a prominent figure in the underground West Coast noise music scene since the early '80s and a VHS collector for life. The Brutal Sound Effects and Godwaffle Noise Pancakes founder – also a musician with Commode Minstrels in Bull Face and a collaborating creative with acts like Rubber (() Cement, Spider Compass Good Crime Band, Hans Grüsel's Krankenkabinet, and Scummerai – is a passionate voice in the VHS community, espousing views that evoke something far more revolutionary than mere obsession or nostalgia.
, and I would be able to sleep like a human centipede through to the kitchen."
Several years ago, during a trip to India – which found the artist in pursuit of rare LP gems (another debatably "lost" medium) – Banks became inspired by the country's cinematic offerings and now boasts an impressive Hindi tape collection.
"Most of the films I picked up were from the big wave of conversion to DVDs that everyone was purging in early 2000. You really can't go wrong for eye candy with Hindi vids. You watch this stuff, and you know the plot 30 minutes before it starts. Watching vids with older guys from India, they ask, 'How did you know what was going on?' Because Hollywood has been dialing in these same conglomerated 20 plots over and over for the past 100 years."
Being an equal opportunity collector, Banks doesn't snub homemade dubs – their hand-scrawled labels often belying hard-to-find favorites.
"In the past, stuff like Please Don't Eat the Babies, Black Devil Doll From Hell, Raumpatrouille, The Final Programme, and Akumizer 3 you couldn't find anywhere on planet earth to buy, so it had to be dubbed and thrown at a human face as fast as possible. These vids don't watch themselves. You can find a full box of Hollywood crap anywhere in a big city on a street corner at any time. Not sure of how many Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. tapes I've recorded over in the past 10 years, but it's a service and someone has to do it."
More than an esoteric archive, however, she considers tape to be a potential medium for democracy. She elaborates:
"Culture in the direct hands of the people who appreciate it is a fantastic thing. You can compare this to Icelandic folks who want their government working exactly the way they want, writing a constitution, and applying it to their own individual lives. That's a big sweeping comparison, but one isn't held down with constrictions of how something is presented to them in their life product-wise. Wouldn't it be swell if each of our media tokens (VHS, LPs, cassettes, CDs) had hand painted Ghana-type movie poster illustrations on each one of a kind dub? Each would be a bona fide artifact of cultural reverberation of a personalized kind. If there is a perfect Near Dark VHS cover, it should have my favorite scene from the movie. The biggest insult for VHS cover art was probably 10th Victim. It had a headshot of Ursula Andress from some other shitty time . That was it. What a waste of space."
There's another reason Banks doesn't mind lining her walls with stacks of boxy cinematic wonders. "Hard plastic is really hard to recycle, so if it stays around – usefully instead of refuse-ly – then I'm ok with it. I will turn your crappy, mildewed porn collection into a gladiator skirt for the survival of a dog-eat-dog apocalypse that most people aren't even aware of yet. Guys are going around North Beach selling 'fresh steak,' which to me means some kind of degenerative desperation of long pig bathtub Geinscene. Ahead 10 miles: Deathland-Bay City. Take a tour of your local dump and see what gives right now in the land of petroleum plastic wasteland. Keeping VHS in your collection means you're environmentally conscious."
If you're lucky, you can find Banks giving away handfuls of VHS tapes to people at Bay Area noise shows. "'That movie fucked me up,' and 'I can't believe what I saw. How did this film get made?' are the usual lines I hear when distributing free tapes. Your eyes take you to places your mind has buried for 10 million years in evolutionary rewind."
Alison Nastasi is a keyboard assassin & cult correspondent for places like FEARnet, Rue Morgue Magazine, Fandango & MTV Movies Blog. www.pinealeye.com
Just a small portion of Bonnie's amazing collection...The eccentric and elusive Banks inherited most of her collection from strangers' trash and friends who no longer have room for their tapes – like underground comic artist and former roommate Jim Osborne (who sadly passed away in 2001) and East German cinema writer and Pop Void guru Jim Morton. The experimental music and game illustrator has always surrounded herself with like-minded aficionados – even having dwelled with Japanese artist Ukawa Naohiro, a famed collector who shares a deep fondness for clunky cassettes. "Ukawa had a huge collection of rare VHS – including the entire Something Weird catalog – and Japanese laser discs. When he moved to San Francisco he did a column for a Japanese magazine called Studio Voice. It was called California Shock Hunter, focusing on underground celebs of the state. His insight was amazing. He's since become a millionaire video director with a nightclub (Dommune), more VHS stacks, and a tattoo across his stomach of a videocassette. When I first stayed with him in Tokyo there was nowhere to walk in his room. We had to shift thousands of videos to clear a room so Phil