Hard to Get VDO Movies and How To Get Them: #1 ‘It Don’t Pay To Be An Honest Citizen’

In an effort to post some *useful* information here, I thought I’d put out a series of articles on how to get your hands on copies of some of VDO’s hardest to find works. 

Number one on this list is the film ‘It Don’t Pay To Be An Honest Citizen’. Thanks to a recent email dialogue with the film’s director Jacob Burckhardt, this film is definitely *not* a student film from NYU (although it was made with some help from the Cooper Union where Burckhardt was and remains an instructor). So this explains why at times the film feels a little like a student film although technically it is a true low budget independent film.

I am aware that this film was a little more widely commercially released in Australia on videotape in the PAL format (I have seen pictures of its packaging online), According to one Australian VDO fan, either CDV International Ltd (Australia & New Zealand) or Home Cinema (Australia) Pty Ltd originally put this out in 1989, but since I don’t have any information on the company that now owns the Australian home video distribution rights to ‘Honest Citizen’ I’m sorry but I can’t help you out a lot here. I do know that the box is one of those all cardboard things with a bright red border and has a picture of Reed Bye on the cover. My Aussie source tells me the artwork was produced by Genesis Queensland in Australia. If you’re down under, I’d check the local video stores for a copy to rent — you might get really really lucky and find it available. 

If you’re in the USA though, you’re in luck. If you want a DVD as of May 1, 2007 you can order one straight from the director Jacob Burckhardt! Just send an email to itdontpay@mindspring.com and ask to order a copy (Burckhardt takes PayPal, money orders in US dollars and personal checks drawn on a US bank) The cost is $40 + $5 US shipping & handling. If you’re not in the USA, you might want to email Jacob anyway and work something out.

If you’re still using a VHS player go check out the Monday/Wednesday/Friday Video Club’s website at: 

http://www.brickhaus.com/amoore/ 

If you have a look under the ‘Narrative Films’ section: 

http://www.brickhaus.com/amoore/MWFdoc7.html 

you will see a listing for Jacob BURCKHARDT, ‘It Don’t Pay To Be An Honest Citizen’. It is US $39.95 (which is kind of pricey for a VHS videotape these days, but it is a truly independently made and distributed film.

Here’s a picture of the VHS tape’s cover (the artwork’s a little on the rough side)

'It Don't Pay To Be An Honest Citizen' US NTSC VHS Tape   

In an email exchange I had with Alan Moore, the director of the MWF Video Club, payment via a US Postal Service Money Order was acceptable as would be a check drawn on a US bank in US funds — either one should be made payable to ‘MWF Video Club’ and mailed to: 

MWF Video Club, 123 Scribner Avenue, Staten Island, NY 10301, USA

For those of you in countries where your VHS video players are in PAL format (like the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand), you will need an NTSC (i.e. a US home video tape format) machine to play Alan’s videos or find someone who can do a NTSC to PAL videotaped transfer for you. 

What the MWF Video Club appears to be doing is making available to the world films and video made in the NYC area, especially films from the 1980s. You will see titles for sale such as the earliest ever made hip-hop film ‘Wild Style’, titles that cover the Nuyorican poetry scene, titles that cover the Punk/No Wave music scene — i.e. videos that show what was happening artistically in NYC’s underground in the 1980s. It’s all pretty interesting stuff and I hope to order more from MWF in the future. And given that MWF is a not-for-profit venture that gives 1/2 of all its sales straight to the artists whose works it sells, you’ve got to take that into account when you consider the prices of their videos (their artists are getting a higher percentage than artists whose work is handled by a big studio). 

As far as ‘Honest Citizen’ is concerned, in an email dialogue Jacob Burckhardt told me it was made under a few grants including one from a Brooklyn-area ‘cultural endowment’ organizations.I did notice from the credits that a lot of the crew did dual duty playing smaller parts in ‘Honest Citizen’. Jacob also told me that Reed Bye is actually a poet and that all of the actors playing smaller roles are still around.

As for its merits, ‘Honest Citizen’ is my least favorite VDO performance and film. But I am pleased with the picture quality on Burckhardt’s new DVD…I just wish the sound were better (there are places where the soundtrack overwhelms the dialogue and places where the dialogue track is just too low, but then this is also true of the VHS tapes from MWF Video Club). I guess you can’t fix everything in post!

Happy viewing

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