By JENNIFER K. BAUER
“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”
— Andy Warhol, 1968
MOSCOW — In late April, Ryan Beitz’s days were suddenly devoted to fielding interview requests from around the world. Among them — TV’s “Good Morning America,” Entertainment Weekly magazine, ABC’s Fusion channel, and FOX and CBS radio stations.
“Art Silverman, the host of NPR’s ‘All Things Considered,’ was calling me,” says the 26-year-old, who is basking in international attention for what some may consider an odd reason: Beitz wants to collect all the VHS copies in the world of the movie “Speed.”
Impossible? Yes, says Beitz.
Ridiculous? Yes, says Beitz.
Pointless? Yes, says Beitz.
In fact, those are all words Beitz himself uses to describe “The World Speed Project.”
Beitz’s “Speed” video collection (at last count 550 copies) is strewn haphazardly across the floor, seats and dashboard of a run down Dodge Ram van parked in front of his Moscow apartment.
Beitz isn’t sure why he’s received so much attention for the project.
“It’s weird because I’m not the only one who collects VHS. Maybe people like my zany dedication to the project,” says Beitz, who grew up and graduated from high school in Pullman.
The zaniness begins with the costume he dons for interviews: a black wig, a peaked “cult hat,” black “shoes for crews that an Arby’s employee would wear,” sans socks; and a lab coat with no pants. He calls himself the “chairman” of the project, a title he likes because of its communist connotations.
A Japanese broadcasting company that he is not allowed to name has contacted him about starring in a reality show.
Beitz stars in a video about “The World Speed Project” in a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $2,500 to repair the van. In the 1994 film starring Keanu Reeves, a cop who must prevent a bomb from blowing up a city bus by keeping its speed above 50 mph. Beitz’s long-term goal is to convert the van into a small-scale replica of the movie bus. He’d then drive the “Speed” collection around the country on a DIY art tour. He says he’s already received invitations from the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art and The Dial, an art collective in Murrieta, Calif.
“It’s not art that’s out of anyone’s realm,” Beitz says.
“Speed” is by no means Beitz’s favorite movie, but he grew up watching it as a kid. In 2007 he happened upon six VHS copies in a Seattle pawn shop and thought it would be funny to buy them for his siblings and parents for Christmas, to show them he loved them all the same, he says. He bought them, started taking joke photos of them and decided to buy more. They were superfluous. One thrift store had 30 copies.
“People were happy to get rid of them,” he says.
He did strange things with the copies, like video himself break dancing on them in a pair of “terrible” orange jeans. He pranked a roommate by setting them up like dominoes to fall throughout the house when the front door opened. Eventually, a friend started the website theworldspeedproject.blogspot.com. On April 21, vice.com ran a story about the project. The next day, Beitz had calls from around the world. Since then he has enlisted three “digital media interns” to seek out and respond to every online comment about the project.
“I think it’s interesting that people think it’s some dumb news story that some idiot is doing, which is true, and yet the project will answer all comments,” he says.
Beitz graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in interdisciplinary studies and has been accepted to graduate schools in London, Manhattan and California to study philosophy.
He doubts he’ll ever stop doing bizarre projects.
Just because it’s stupid doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, he says, quoting “The World Speed Project” motto: “You never know if you’re making the world a better place or not, but you don’t give up.”
Bauer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2263.