IN 1978, the Cramps, the sublimely spooky punk act, treated the patients of Napa State Mental Hospital to a free afternoon show. Joe Rees, the founder of Target Video, recorded it with only available light on a reel-to-reel. Bootleg copies circulated for years; it was released on DVD in 2004.
"It was incredible," Rees says from his Reno home, where he releases DVDs from the archives. "The Cramps were at the height of their powers. You couldn't tell the patients from the band. . . . Many of the patients danced right next to the band, mimicking their movements perfectly."
Target, a video collective birthed in 1977 by Rees, with help from Jackie Sharp and visual artists inspired by the punk scene, shot seminal bands playing fiery, free-spirited shows, including the Dead Kennedys, Bauhaus, Black Flag, the Weirdos, the Mutants, Devo and Bad Brains.
"Underground Forces," a collection of the videos from 1977 to 1984, will be shown at the kickoff event of CineMOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art's new outdoor screening series at the canopied plaza outside the Geffen Contemporary. Black Flag's former frontman Henry Rollins will play old-school punk songs from his iPod -- hey, the man doesn't want to risk injury to his vinyl -- that he's selected especially for the night.
"I'm not one for looking backward," Rollins says. "But I wanted to do this for Joe and Jackie. . . . They had the visionary sense to realize that these shows meant something bigger than all of us."
The CineMOCA series, taking place on six consecutive Saturday evenings, this weekend to July 12, marks a new direction for the museum.
"It's MOCA's version of the drive-in movie theater," Suzanne Isken, the museum's director of education, says. "It's something that's been lost, that feeling you have as a kid watching a movie outdoors. We wanted to get back to that fun, fresh atmosphere while complementing our exhibitions."
After the Target screening (in conjunction with the Getty's "California Video" exhibition) and a night of Lawrence Weiner films on June 14, the series continues with films chosen by contemporary artists such as Edward Ruscha, Larry Clark, Edgar Arceneaux and Amy Adler.
"It fascinates me that Ed Ruscha picked 'The Ox-Bow Incident,' " Isken says. The acclaimed drifter drama takes place in Montana in the 1880s; Ruscha is from Omaha, a fact he parodied in a western-style photograph with artist Joe Goode. "It says something about his work that we could never get from anything else."
Target's nascent footage is also a throwback to pre-MTV, pre-digital video times. Rollins, who frequently crashed at Target Studios in San Francisco's Mission District, remembers Rees and company filming an early Black Flag performance, before Rollins had adapted his trademark stage uniform.
"It took me awhile to figure out that if you wear jeans onstage, those are also your pajamas, and now they are completely soaked in sweat." By '84 or '85, Rollins says, he only performed wearing athletic shorts "that I could wring out after the show."
WHERE: Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N. Central Ave.,
WHEN: "Underground Forces" with Rollins set: 7-9 p.m. Sat. (museum open until 11 p.m.). CineMOCA series: every Saturday through July 12
PRICE: Free with $10 museum admission