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Tuned In, "Tuned In, Turned On! Videofreex Tape the World

Formed in 1969 at the legendary Woodstock Music Festival by David Cort and Parry Teasdale, who met while taping the events with the newly available Portapak video equipment, the Videofreex (also known as "the Freex") were one of the very first video collectives. After working together to pitch a program to the major broadcasting station CBS, they toured the country interviewing counter-cultural figures of the day, including Fred Hampton, a leader of the Black Panther party, and Abbie Hoffman, so called leader of the Yippies. The group quickly grew to include ten members: Skip Blumberg, Nancy Cain, David Cort, Bart Friedman, Davidson Gigliotti, Chuck Kennedy, Mary Curtis Ratcliff, Parry Teasdale, Carol Vontobel, and Ann Woodward. This larger group, based at a loft in lower Manhattan, worked together to tape events, mount art happenings and installations, and train others in the use of this new medium.

In 1971 the group moved together, some as couples, others singly, to upstate New York, taking over a 17-room former boarding house, Maple Tree Farm, in Lanesville, NY, which became host to an ever-changing crowd of radical media makers. The Freex installed their video equipment, and eventually erected a transmitter that could broadcast the signal from their living room/broadcast studio to the local community, so becoming one of the earliest pirate TV stations. The programming reflected the collective's diverse activities and interests, from cooking lessons and interviews with local shop owners and citizens, to coverage of local and national political events, accompanied by live phone-ins and two-way discussions. The energetic and cheerful interactions with their near-neighbours, broadcast alongside political happenings in the wider world, were typical of the Videofreex way of working. The Videofreex lived together for ten years, and in that time amassed more that 1,500+ tapes, before moving on to pursue other projects.

As part of the Video Data Bank's ongoing mission to preserve and archive important historical video,  VDB took on the Videofreex archive in 2001, after amassing all of the tapes that were stored in various attics, cellars and garages in upstate New York. By the time the tapes had been collected from their various temporary resting places, the collection numbered above 1,400 tapes, mostly on the now-defunct half-inch open reel video format. Some were infested with mould, and the majority were unwatched for more than three decades. By the time the boxes were unloaded at VDB's Chicago location, the story of this legendary collective of counter-cultural hippies and pirate TV activists had spread among the VDB team, and we were committed to doing what we could to save these precious images.

This 70-minute program highlights some of the important early video work that forms the Videofreex Archive, including videos that have been preserved as part of an ongoing project that seeks to ensure they remain accessible for generations to come.  Many more remain to be preserved.

Among the featured works are a number of excerpts shot in the late 1960s and early '70s by the Freex, including portraits of leading radicals from the era of the Vietnam War such as Yippie founder Abbie Hoffman, Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, and the rise of the feminist movement in the U.S., as well as interviews with demonstrators and Hells Angels, early video erotica, social events, experimental video art, and live footage of a Videofreex broadcast from the studio in their Lanesville communal home.

Curated by Abina Manning, Director of Video Data Bank.


Chicago Travelogue: The Weathermen, 1969, 6:08 excerpt from 22:30, U.S., b&w, sound

Chicago Travelogue: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the Yippies, 1969, 4:50 excerpt from 40:30, U.S., b&w, sound

Fred Hampton: Black Panthers in Chicago, 1969, 6:48 excerpt from 24:00, U.S., b&w, sound

Davidson's Jail Tape, 1971, 8:06 excerpt from 32:31, U.S., b&w, sound

Women's Liberation Demonstration NYC, 1970, 5:39 excerpt from 23:20, U.S., b&w, sound

Hells Angels' Run, 1970, 6:35 excerpt from 15:30, U.S., b&w, sound

Money, 1970/71, 2:35, U.S., b&w, sound

Circo dell'Arte (Circus Arts), 1969, 6:40, U.S., b&w, sound

After the Bar with Tony and Michael, 1971, 4:32 excerpt from 56:10, U.S., b&w, sound

Mes & Youse, 1971, 4:20, U.S., b&w, sound

Shirley Clarke and the Camera, 1971, 3:09 excerpt from 32:50, U.S., b&w, sound

Lanesville Overview 1, 1972, 10:26 excerpt from 32:18, U.S., b&w, sound

# Title Artists Run Time Year Country
1 Chicago Travelogue: The Weathermen Videofreex 00:22:30 1969 United States
2 Chicago Travelogue: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the Yippies Videofreex 00:40:30 1969 United States
3 Fred Hampton: Black Panthers in Chicago Videofreex 00:24:00 1969 United States
4 Davidson's Jail Tape Videofreex 00:27:20 1971 United States
5 Women's Lib Demonstration NYC Videofreex 00:23:30 1970 United States
6 Hells Angels' Run Videofreex 00:15:30 1970 United States
7 Money Videofreex 00:02:35 1970 United States
8 Circo dell'Arte (Circus Arts) Videofreex 00:06:40 1969 United States
9 After the Bar with Tony and Michael Videofreex 00:56:10 1971 United States
10 Me's and Youse Videofreex 00:04:20 1971 United States
11 Shirley Clarke and the Camera Videofreex 00:16:18 1971 United States
12 Lanesville TV Overview I Videofreex 00:32:18 1972 United States

Chicago Travelogue: The Weathermen

1969 | 00:22:30 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 1/2" open reel video


An interview with a group of people shot in October 1969, some of whom were involved in The Weathermen’s "Days of Rage" actions. As those present recount the significance of the actions, and the possible ramifications on the movement as a whole, some critics voice serious complaints. In addition to videotaping these discussions, the Videofreex also weigh in on matters.

Chicago Travelogue: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the Yippies

1969 | 00:40:30 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 1/2" open reel video


Shot in October 1969, this tape gives an inside view of the workings of late-sixties radical groups and the debates going on within their ranks. At a meeting of Yippies, there is a discussion about the nuts and bolts of fundraising through benefit concerts and events in an attempt to finance support efforts related to the Chicago 8 Conspiracy Trial. Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin are interviewed. Those present discuss radicalization, and the recent "Days of Rage" actions of The Weathermen.

Fred Hampton: Black Panthers in Chicago

1969 | 00:24:00 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 |


The Videofreex conducted this interview with Fred Hampton, the Deputy Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, in October 1969, just over a month before he was killed by the Chicago police.

"We recorded Hampton with a wide-angle lens at the home of a wealthy Chicago woman named Lucy Montgomery. She owned a Prairie School house furnished with modern art. Hampton arrived late with a small entourage and paid no attention to the lavish surroundings. He looked tired but strong. He was chairman of the Illinois chapter of the party, and though he was just my age, he seemed so much older than me. If our crawling around to frame him from all different angles bothered him, he didn't let on. He had a message to impart and ignored the distraction."

— Parry D. Teasdale, Videofreex: America's First Pirate TV Station, Black-Dome Press

During the interview, Fred Hampton talks eloquently and passionately about the Free Breakfast for Children Program and Free Health Clinic set up by the Black Panthers to feed and tend to the poor and hungry. In response to a specific question about events in Chicago and the conspiracy trial, he talks about how those running the city are "crazy with power," about racism, fascism and imperialism, and the need to educate and organize, to lead by example. He criticizes the recent Weathermen actions, seeing the group as counter-revolutionaries. In reply to a question about how they will defend themselves from retaliations from the powers that be, Hampton says that the struggle is not about individual people, but the masses, and that there will always be new people coming up to replace them.

Davidson's Jail Tape

1971 | 00:27:20 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 1/2" open reel video


Footage from the May Day 1971 events in Washington DC. Davidson, a Videofreex member, gets arrested, and what follows is rarely seen footage of the inside of the detainment bus and the jail cell, videotaped by an arrestee. The scene on the bus is rowdy, while the scenes at the jail are somewhat more low key — men lounging around, somebody playing a guitar, a Frisbee game. But over time, the cell becomes increasingly more crowded, and the tape culminates in the inmates plotting how they will get out. 

Women's Lib Demonstration NYC

1970 | 00:23:30 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 1/2" open reel video


Ten thousand women marched down New York's Fifth Avenue on August 26th, 1970, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote. The march was part of a "Women's Strike for Equality" organized by veteran feminist leader Betty Friedan.

Shot at the march, this fascinating video begins with the Videofreex interviewing women sitting in cars alongside the route, asking them what they think about the issues being highlighted by the protesters. Footage of the march, which includes a wide cross section of women (and a smattering of men), is interspersed with interviews with protestors, counter protestors, and passersby. The footage includes a heated discussion between protestors and counter protestors.

Hells Angels' Run

1970 | 00:15:30 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 |


In this tape, shot in August 1970, a number of Hells Angels are interviewed on the street in New York City. They talk about their bikes and their preparations for a “run”, and their reactions to the way they are portrayed by the mainstream media.


1970 | 00:02:35 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 1/2" open reel video


Taped on Prince Street in Soho, New York City, Skip Blumberg creates a one-word performance. Shouting the word "money" over and over, he attracts the attention of New York's finest. The video crew attempt to explain to the policemen that there is no public disorder as the streets were empty when they began to tape.

The video is an unwitting early example of the reaction of the state to the use of video cameras on the streets.

Circo dell'Arte (Circus Arts)

1969 | 00:06:40 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 1/2" open reel video


A troupe of male and female jugglers and musicians perform for a growing crowd in Central Park, New York, led by Hovey Burgess and Judy Finelli.  The sun is shining, and the troupe are skilful, playful, and flirtatious.  The crowd of children, parents, and office workers enjoy the show, and happily throw money into the hat.Burgess later wrote a seminal book on circus techniques, and has been dubbed founder of the "new circus movement".  Finelli went on to become artistic director of the Pickle Family Circus in San Francisco


After the Bar with Tony and Michael

1971 | 00:56:10 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | |


An early example of video erotica from the Videofreex. A group of naked people lounge around smoking and listening to music. A male and female couple is making love on the floor in a room full of monitors. The couple talks about sex and videotape, and the woman says, “Cameras turn me on.”

Me's and Youse

1971 | 00:04:20 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 1/2" open reel video


A wonderful and humorous example of early image processing, Parry Teasdale and Carol Vontobel perform to camera as their faces are morphed together, forming an image of one person.  The exercise is repeated by Nancy Cain and Skip Blumberg as the music speeds up.

Shirley Clarke and the Camera

1971 | 00:16:18 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 1/2" open reel video


Parry Teasdale, David Cort and Chuck Kennedy visit The Kitchen in New York looking for Shirley Clarke, and bump into Steina and Woody Vasulka who are overseeing a show in progress.  A few doors down they find Shirley in her studio, dressed in white and full of energy.  She shows them around, pointing out monitors and lighting set ups.  Parry shows her an arm-mounted video camera he has made and bought along for her to try out — the first time she has seen one.  Amid lively banter, Shirley jokes about how one day cameras will be small enough to store on a wristwatch.

This video has significant signal drop out.

Lanesville TV Overview I

1972 | 00:32:18 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 1/2" open reel video


"Between March 1972 and February 1977, the Videofreex aired 258 television broadcasts from a home-built studio and jerry-rigged transmitter in an old boarding house they rented in the tiny Catskill Mountain hamlet of Lanesville. It was a revolutionary act in defiance of FCC regulations — the first unlicensed TV station in America."

— Parry Teasdale, Videofreex: America's First Pirate TV Station, Black-dome Press

Shot on March 22nd 1972, this tape tells the behind the scenes story of Lanesville TV. Bart Friedman is behind the camera, and the video opens on a van stuck in a wet driveway. It is a rainy day in Lanesville. Two female Videofreex (Carol Vontobel and Nancy Cain) are in a bar talking to local people about the uses of the TV station, before driving around the locale. The scene then shifts to the Lanesville TV studio before and during a live broadcast.

This is a wonderful record of the way the broadcasts worked, with many of the Videofreex appearing: Parry Teasdale and Nancy Cain are VJ-ing; Chuck Kennedy is on hand to make technical adjustments; others are sitting around the living room watching the broadcast, in the control room on air, or doing tech. We see Carol on the phone taking calls about the reception from viewers. Two neighborhood boys join the group to watch the broadcast, which includes footage from Carol and Nancy’s earlier interviews, Mushroom, Henry and Sam and Lanesville Last Sunday. After the show, other neighbors stop by to report on the reception.