Videofreex’s loft

Videofreex’s loft

94 Prince St, New York, NY 10012

After CBS hired the Videofreex to produce a pilot for an experimental television show, Subject to Change, they rented a SoHo loft above Fanelli’s and the Paula Cooper Gallery where they built a video production studio.


The Videofreex Come Together


The Videofreex came together in the late 1960s when Mary Curtis Ratcliff met David Cort, who was one of the first to get his hands on an early Sony Portapak camera. Ratcliff had been raised in an upper-middle-class midwestern family and attended the Rhode Island School of Design, then worked as a teacher. She and Cort moved into a Lower East Side loft previously used as an old stocking factory, which was about one hundred by three hundred feet, with floor-to-ceiling windows, a typical postindustrial loft. “Today it might cost $3,000 a month, just for rent,” Ratcliff said, “but I bought it back then for a total of $3,000.” In August 1969, Cort hauled his Portapak upstate to the Woodstock Festival, where he met another early videographer named Parry Teasdale, and they joined forces. Together, they focused on shooting the crowd instead of what was happening onstage, creating a unique document of the everyday happenings at that festival. Cort told Ratcliff, upon his return downtown, “I met this really neat guy named Parry. And, oh, by the way, Parry’s going to come and live with us.” Oh, really?! she thought. “So anyway,” Ratcliff recalled, “Parry turned out to be this wonderful young man and he hung around us for a while.” The three began collaborating on video projects and gathered other like-minded artists into their collective until the Videofreex got a loft of their own in SoHo.

From Chapter 22 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore

The Videofreex Move from Downtown to the Country


By the time the Kitchen opened its doors in the Mercer Arts Center, the Videofreex were preparing to leave New York. When their CBS funding ran out, the group reassessed their options. “We didn’t have any income,” Mary Curtis Ratcliff said, “and all of us were trying to live in Manhattan, but there was no real market for this stuff we were doing.” So the ’freex did what many in the counterculture did at the time: moved to the country and lived communally. They found a huge twenty-seven-room boarding house called Maple Tree Farm located in Lanesville, New York, about a three-hour drive north of the city. After moving there in 1970, the Videofreex also set up America’s first pirate television station, thanks to Abbie Hoffman. He had known Videofreex member David Cort from their college days, and the activist met the rest of the Videofreex during their time downtown. When Hoffman wrote Steal This Book, his subversive how-to guide published in 1971, he paid the ’freex to build a transmitter to test out for the chapter on pirate broadcasting. “We realize becoming TV guerrillas is not everyone’s trip,” he wrote, “but a small band with a few grand can indeed pull it off.” Ratcliff said, “Abbie had tried to get us to broadcast guerrilla television all over Manhattan, but you couldn’t broadcast from a VW bus, and you couldn’t get a signal with all those huge buildings all around.” In Lanesville, this wasn’t a problem, so the Videofreex used the equipment to build a little broadcast tower atop their farmhouse. “We turned on this little transmitter that Abbie had given us,” Videofreex member Nancy Cain said. “We took a TV set down to a bar about half a mile down the road, Doyle’s Tavern, and we turned on the TV set and the signal was there!”

From Chapter 28 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore