Home Movies: The Neistat Brothers

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Published June 4, 2010

Upon receiving their tax returns in the spring of 2000, Casey and Van Neistat used the money and bought themselves iMac computers, then maxed out their credit cards buying digicams. Since that time, the motorcycle-riding half-brothers have spent just about every moment making “handmade” videos like the ubiquitous iPod’s Dirty Secret, which put them on the map, or the more recent Yogurt vs. Gasoline, which is playing in-room at The Standard as part of their new StandArt series. With the help of HBO, which bought their idea for an eight-episode series, simply titled The Neistat Brothers, two years ago, their esoteric art films will be invading cable boxes around the globe Fridays at midnight, starting tonight. The project makes use of 25 years-worth of archival material–some filmed on the family’s first video camera which their mom bought at JC Penney–spliced with new narrations and interstitials from their newly enlarged downtown studio.

“I think the job of the artist is to preserve the human spirit, and we do our best to do that with the show. We grew up middle class. Our town [New London, CT] made submarines, and those were our peers growing up. We didn’t read Kant and Nietzsche growing up, but there’s still this human spirit in everyone, and this talent we have to tell funny stories, or stories people connect with. That’s where we start,” says Van, who goes for a surprise meeting with his “Bio-Dad” in the first episode. (He asks him two questions–one about who named him [his father] and another about his ethnicity [Scotch, Irish]–before bolting with his wife). Van explains: “I wanted it that way because it was surprising.”

In addition to more tender moments like that, the series features pieces with Casey helping his son, Owen, who was born when Casey was just 16, make a film about a blue sea monster (played by Casey) who sinks a ship so he can go back to reading; the brothers attempting to sneak real maple syrup into Amsterdam so their pancakes won’t be glutted with stroop; and various motorcycle adventures (the story of how Casey’s Vespa accident destroyed his beloved Jean Shop jeans, and  Van’s attempt to ride all 100 of the country’s best stretches of highway). They also throw the gauntlet down against their former employer, artist Tom Sachs, for various nautical challenges (think handmade remote control boats). To wit: the brothers worked for Sachs (Casey on the business side; Van on the fabrication side) between 2001 and 2005. “I just couldn’t believe this guy could make a good living just making these amazing funny, cool, handmade objects. They appealed to me in taste, and they felt like something I could make,” says Van of Sachs’s influence.

For Casey’s part, his favorite aspect of the show was, “The opportunity to work so close with Van, a year of my life dedicated alone to working with my brother. He adds that the take-away from the show should be “that everything is going to be okay.”

While Van expressed some concerns about what might be seen as self-indulgence in their low-tech, biographical musings, it didn’t seem to bother the few hundred folks who turned out for the open-air premiere along the East River on Wednesday. What does he hope the show will do? “I hate to say this, but it should be for them to turn off their TV and go and do stuff. I like to encourage visceral experiences. The best compliment I ever got was when we watched it with a friend and she said, ‘Yeah, it makes me want to turn off the television,'” he says with a laugh. “After the show, of course.”

THE NEISTAT BROTHERS PREMIERES TONIGHT AT MIDNIGHT ON HBO.