At the end of last week, Something Weird Video announced that the company’s founder, Mike Vraney, had died on Thursday “after a long heroic battle with lung cancer. He was 56 years old, way too young to leave this planet.”
Phil Dyess-Nugent at the AV Club: “A true friend to underground movie cultists and pop-culture history buffs everywhere, Vraney worked as a teenage projectionist at drive-ins and porno theaters, ran a comic-book store, and managed punk bands before starting Something Weird in 1990, at the apex of the VHS age.” Our own Jonathan Marlow has recalled working with his “dear friend back in the Scarecrow Video days (early- to late-1990s)” and on the O.K. Hotel screening series.
The Dissolve‘s Noel Murray, who interviewed Vraney in 2005, writes: “What was great about Vraney is that he had no illusions that the work of filmmakers like David F. Friedman, Doris Wishman, and Bethel Buckalew was masterful, in the way that genre filmmakers like George Romero or Radley Metzger could be. (Although Something Weird did release some films by Joe Sarno, who sometimes reached those heights.) Vraney just thought these movies were fun, and fascinating; and he felt it was imperative to keep as much of this material in print as possible, to assure that a once-thriving piece of popular culture didn’t get forgotten. With each new Something Weird release, Vraney was adding chapters to an increasingly rich story, about the true independent movie producers of the 1960s and 1970s.”
“Anyone—everyone—interested in strange cinema owes Mike Vraney a debt,” adds Ron Kretsch at Dangerous Minds. And you can watch a TV profile of Mike Vraney and his partner Lisa Petrucci at the Daily Grindhouse.
Update, 1/30: “Mike Vraney raised the dead,” writes Tim Lucas. “Because of him, a wealth of exploitation cinema mostly ranging from the 1930s through the 1970s─movies that were made to play for one or two weeks and then be forgotten─could be examined with sustained vision for the first time. He made them available to fans in search of fun, and very likely some perverts in search of kicks, but his rescues also rewrote film history. Lost films were found.”
Update, 3/29: Today, the Alamo Ritz in Austin is screening Frank Henenlotter’s That’s Sexploitation! (2013), followed by The Weird World of Weird: A Mystery Marathon Tribute to Mike Vraney and Something Weird Video. Richard Whittaker in the Chronicle:
Vraney wasn’t just an entrepreneur. He was an ethnographic historian of American cinema’s dirtiest backwaters, telling the Chronicle in 2001, “We live in a transient society where we throw things away like they’re nothing.” (See “Something Weird,” Feb. 16, 2001.) Like Alan Lomax saved American folk music for the Library of Congress, he archived and released everything from drive-in intermission reels to lascivious goona-goona travelogues, putting a size 10 hole in the idea that smut, sin, and bloodshed began with the Internet…. And it’s not just film fans who got an education: Modern burlesque would be a shadow of its pulchritudinous glory if performers couldn’t study the shimmy and shake of Betty Page in titles like Varietease. But for [Joseph Ziemba, host of the Alamo’s Terror Tuesday series and curator of trash cinema website Bleeding Skull!], Vraney’s greatest countercultural contribution was to restore underground heroes like Doris Wishman and Ray Dennis Steckler to the screen. “Every time they put a film out, it was always from the heart and from a place of respect. It was, ‘We’re not saying that these movies are awful or good, but we’re saying they’re important.'”