THE WEIRD WEIRD WORLD OF MIKE VRANEY AND SOMETHING WEIRD VIDEO
By Mr. Lobo with Will Viharo, Lisa Petrucci, Daniel Griffith, and others.
Cover art by David Hardy with Dixie Dellamorto
Vraney said this about his schlock-tacular vision-quest in his own words:
“In my mind, the last great genre to be scavenged were the exploitation/sexploitation films of the ’30s through the ’70s. After looking into this further, I realized that there were nearly 2,000 movies out there yet to be discovered. So with this for inspiration, my quest began and wouldn’t you know, just out of the blue I fell into a large collection of 16mm girlie arcade loops (which became the first compilation videos we put together). Around the same time I received an unexpected phone call that suddenly made all this real: my future – and hands-down the king of sexploitation – Dave Friedman was on the other end of the line. This would be the beginning of a long and fruitful friendship for both of us. Dave’s films became the building blocks for our film collection and he has taught and guided me through the wonderful world of sexploitation, introducing me to his colleagues (Dan Sonney, Harry Novak, H. G. Lewis, Bob Cresse and all the other colorful characters who were involved during his heyday) and they’ve been eager to dive into the business again.” - Mike Vraney
Mr. Lobo remembers renting his first tear stained VHS tape of Something Weird rarities. While working on underground comics and magazines in the 1990′s and presenting 16mm film shows with my film collector friends, our dubs of Vraney’s oddities provided a pulse and a background to our creative endeavors and fueled our aspirations.
There was always a seamy punk rock edge to the whole operation. A bizarro DIY film empire of sex, drugs, horror, and rock and roll. It’s no surprize that he also managed the famous LA-based punk band The DEAD KENNEDYS in his younger days.
Sadly, I never got to work with Mike. On Planet-X magazine, our publisher Scott Moon called him asking him about the drive-in snack bar films from one of his VHS dubs from the 80’s – Mike was the only person that sold them at the time and Scott was trying to
write an article. Mike wasn’t very forthcoming with information and ultimately Mike wrote his own article for another competing mag about those same ads–this ruffled my good friend Scott and with my small circle of film collectors our relationship with Mike honestly “started on the wrong foot”.
In preparing for this memorial article, I asked his wife, LISA PETRUCCI, about Mike’s days “trading tapes” and making these dubs of Drive In stuff–
“Yes, but let’s call a spade a spade, he was a bootlegger! Ha-ha! We still sell those. They’re called “Hey Folks! It’s Intermission Time!” There are six two hour volumes. And yes, Mike used to set up at conventions throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. He put ads in the back of fanzines and people sent in for a video catalog and order through the mail. They still do!” - Lisa Petrucci
Punk Rock Video Bootlegger. Now this makes sense to me. Especially in those early days, someone calling up and asking a lot of nosy questions might have raised a red flag.
When my show CINEMA INSOMNIA was distributed by JONATHAN MORKEN’s DVD label APPREHENSIVE FILMS, Mike and Johnathan had a minor dispute over BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL. Jonathan’s research showed the film was public domain and the issue was dropped. I thought it was kind of funny–I understood the need to protect your interests in our kind of narrow marketplace…but it rubbed Jonathan the wrong way as it did Scott–so it was another arena where a collaboration or meeting between Mike and MR. LOBO was unlikely. This was sad because I think we would have got along. There is a point of bringing up the grudges of film collectors in this article. I’m trying to make an argument and try to encourage a greater understanding–even among Mike’s competitors and critics. For sea vessels there are Salvage laws to reward someone who rescues abandoned property from peril, similar to the wartime law of prize, or squatters rights. What is right and fair in the world of abandoned artistic works? Possession is 9/10ths of the law…And Love for the subject matter should be another consideration. And Mike loved this stuff.
On the old 16mm film collector’s message board, not everyone is singing Mike Vraney’s praises…in fact, there are some downright “mean” or at the very least cranky in complaints about past business dealings.
Even semi-cranky collectors and archivists who had negative opinions about Mike Vraney and Something Weird, admit they are glad that many of Mike’s dealings led to important discoveries of film elements presumed lost forever. For example, Mike sold his Movielab holdings a few years back and in this nightmarish mountain of unknown stuff, some archivists found original elements which had previously been considered or assumed lost. Criterion just released a Blu-Ray and DVD of Antonioni’s LA NOTTE which was transferred from the fine-grain one archivist bought from that collection. It has turned out to be the ONLY quality picture element left on the movie!
Many have had successful transactions with Mike over the years and have no complaints.
“When a company like Mike’s becomes successful, a few feet get stepped on, some egos get bruised and with the number of transactions he was doing on a regular basis, odds are something went wrong on a few of them.”
- An Unnamed Collector
“Mike was very nice and very fair to me when it came to purchasing 16mm films! I bought a number of his short subjects and a Starman feature back in 2012. Mike will be missed!”
–Sci Fi Bob Eckman
We omitted some of the anonymous unattributed comments from this article out of respect to his wife and family. The intention of this article is HONOR this self-admitted Smut Peddler. The truth is he didn’t own a lot of these films but he did save them from oblivion and made them available for you and me to enjoy.Today, Something Weird has grown-up into a very respectable business that has a high customer satisfaction rate.
” He was generous with our archive when asked for clips and footage. He’d even give people their film elements if it was copyrighted marterial.”-Lisa Petrucci
So, let’s try to look at the big picture and focus on the positive. Mike’s gone–so ranting and griping on the internet about Mike in the wake of his passing is even more tasteless than the films he presented.
We will miss Mike with all our hearts. Goodbye dear friend, husband, father, and fearless leader…” - from the Something Weird Video website
We had another brush with Mike was several years ago, when Scott, also an archivist, and producer on CINEMA INSOMNIA, sold Mr. Vraney a bunch of 16mm films.
He was one of us. He was the film geek’s film geek. As a teenager he worked as a projectionist at drive-ins and porno theaters, he ran a comic-book store and
was “a true friend” to archivists and underground movie buffs everywhere.
DANIEL GRIFFITH of BALLYHOO productions, who worked with Vraney on a number of projects had this to say:
Pulp author WILL VIHARO, who used to present THRILLVILLE shows in the SF Bay Area for 15 years and often invited MR. LOBO to help host cult-films with burlesque and bands, gave some heartfelt reflections…
“This stuff deserves to be saved. It deserves to be enjoyed, studied, kicked around a little and played with.” – Mike Vraney