I've grabbed so much stuff off the streets of New York. Just a couple days ago I found a Billie Holiday record leaning against a fence. And in the past I’ve found umbrellas, frames, games, shelves, money, chairs, a bookshelf, cups, and plenty of other knickknacks. New York City’s streets are littered with treasure. Unfortunately, most people don't take advantage of it because they're freaked out about getting bedbugs. I've never understood how annoying having bugs could be, which is why I've always grabbed whatever I wanted off the streets. That is, until I saw the aptly titled tutorial, How to Live with Bedbugs.
Filmmaker John Wilson grabbed his camera and hit his sheets shooting when he landed an infestation of the bedbug fuckers. For six months he filmed everything that was happening to him and his roommates and created a sort of hopeless tutorial. At points it's upsetting, but mostly hilarious.
The film is a combination of Wilson voyeuristically filming his roommates and their infestation, while inserting singular and surreal moments only a place like NYC can provide. There’s a sort of ramshackle charm to the whole piece. Where else can you see a guy getting a handjob on a public train or a dude break-dancing alone under a Bushwick streetlight next to kittens, or landlords buying solid gold watches? Here it feels right at home, because it helps this very small film take on a large scope. Technically, How to Live with Bedbugs is about something as tiny as a pinhead, but it pulls off a story much bigger than four dudes being sloppy and unfortunate. In fact, it’s quite poetic. Enjoy!
John Wilson has an ever-growing library of life lessons and observations on display at JohnsMovies.com. Luckily, he also told me the answers to a couple questions I had about his movie.
VICE: How did you conceive of this project? When did your personal bedbug story turn into parodying "how to" films?
John Wilson: I've been toying around with the whole "how to" genre for a little while actually. I just love that style of editing and the narrative possibilities. I thought a lot about the lives of people who make those videos and I thought it would be a really great format for a memoir. That, mixed with the fact that I was obsessively documenting the entire process. I was afraid that if I didn't do something constructive with that whole experience it just would have been a net loss.
Why the pseudonyms?
Good question. Not really sure about that one. It's a little contradictory, but I don't really want the films to be about me necessarily. Pseudonyms make it a little easier to shift perspective and approach the subject matter with the appropriate persona. That also may be looking into it way too much.
Has anyone ever gotten upset with you for filming them so voyeuristically?
Not really. I could be doing much weirder things. I keep myself at a safe distance and try not to disturb the scene.
How does it feel to be bedbug free (for the moment)?
I will always have this lingering fear that they will return one day. A lot of the bed bug industry is actually directed towards prevention rather than extermination. Like, there's that subway ad right now for this TSA compliant rolling suitcase that you plug in and it heats up everything inside to 140 degrees to kill any bed bugs that may have latched onto your stuff during a vacation. I also have a really terrifying cutout from sky mall of this one product called the Bed Bug Thwarting Sleeping Cocoon. It's something I could talk about for hours but at a point you just need to forget they exist.
What are you working on at the moment?
I just finished another film called How to Walk to Manhattan. It's a slightly different character. It's about the instability of New York's rental market. It also has a lot of little observations on civic design.
What kind of camera do you shoot on?
This little Canon camera that is about the size of a cigarette box. The only two requirements I have for a camera are that it turns on quickly and has a great zoom.
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as an art and film curator. He is a programmer at the Hamptons International Film Festival and screens for the Tribeca Film Festival. He also self-publishes a super fancy mixed-media art serial called PRISM index.