clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Microsoft's Windows 95 promotional video is a portal to hell

20 years ago, Microsoft produced eight or so of the most aggravating, endearing, cringe-inducing and confusing minutes of video I have ever seen. It's probably dangerous to watch it before you're ready.

You've just wandered into an exploration of an official Windows 95 promotional video. This video was intended to educate retailers about Microsoft's 1995 lineup of products. It stars a nameless prop/impersonation comic who bent the whole thing into his personal paradise of anguish. He built it with your bones.

Somehow, he plays 26 different characters and fits them all into eight minutes and change: Indiana Jones, a stereotypical Frenchman, a hula dancer, a Swiss mountain climber, a baker, an optometrist, a surgeon, a hillbilly, a pianist, a janitor, a fighter pilot, Satan, a flight attendant, a beach bum, a referee, a businessman, Carmen Miranda, James Bond (I think), a disco dancer, a nerd, the nerd's son who is also a nerd, a priest, a human cannonball, a wizard, Ishmael from Moby Dick and a fortune teller.

Every single one comes with its own pun.

w e l c o m e

t o

h e l l

The full thing is over here, and will account for the eight most annoying minutes of your entire life if you watch it. I stumbled upon it about five years ago, and ever since, I go back every few months and give it a hate-watch.

At least it ... it was hate-watching. Now it's an emotional cocktail. It's capable of making me embarrassed, angry, amused and empathetic, all in the same instant. I've rarely experienced anything quite like it.

The cringes come early and often and they do not stop. It's like mainlining Bad Content and emotional confusion. Just know that I'm going to be right here with you through the whole thing, and you can stop any time you'd like.

This is how the video starts. I don't want you to feel like you're supposed to understand it.

That guy is the only human being you will see throughout this entire ordeal. I tried to find his name, but couldn't dig up any information about this video, who produced it or who was in it. Coming across this video is like finding a prehistoric monolith: we can estimate when it came from and why it was made, but the voices who made it fell silent ages ago. I mean, I'm sure they're still alive, walking among us, but I wouldn't want to take credit for it, either.

Anyway, he (referred to herein as "he") opens up with an Indiana Jones impression, which consists entirely of:

1. Wearing Indiana Jones stuff
2. Saying "whip it on me," something Indiana Jones never said, and everyone else also never says

Please don't ask me any questions about this guy dressed up as a stereotypical Frenchman standing in front of the Eiffel Tower while a hula dancer and Swiss mountain climber -- also played by him -- dance over his shoulders. I left a few frames of it in here just to let you know what we're skipping, but I don't really want to talk about it.

I like this one, because I like to imagine him just standing in front of a camera and making those noises before they stretched out the video in post.

Comic: Of all the half-baked ideas! Whooooooooaeeee! WHEHEAAOOOOOOOEEEEA!
Producer: cut. why do you keep making those weird noises at the end
Comic: Because I'm dressed as a policeman!
Producer: but it
you're not even

He also plays the role of a key on a computer keyboard, which I didn't mention because I guess I was too sad?

1. "Hit" is barely a key/keyboard pun, because you'd be at least as likely to "press" or "push" or "type" or whatever a key.

2. It's even more barely of a key/keyboard pun, because he says it like "het" for some reason.
3. He nods to the side, because apparently keys push sideways instead of up and down.
4. "Hit me in the right direction" is another thing no one ever says.

Wardrobe took the L on this one, opting instead to trot him up there in a polo shirt and just green-screen him into a keyboard. This reminds me of the kid who'd go trick-or-treating with us without ever dressing up. "I'm going as a kid," he told us. And he went as a kid for years.

Well, guess what, it's you.

That game actually looks really fun! Unfortunately I never played it, because I never heard of it. It's called "Fury3" but is spoken as "Fury Cubed" in the video, and they only briefly whiz the box across the screen, so fast you can't really even make it out. I played the Hell out of computer games around this time, and I gawked at Best Buy newspaper inserts every Sunday, and if even I hadn't heard of it, I think they did something wrong.

They also did this entire video wrong, and a lot of other videos wrong (they're kind of famous for it), and whole operating systems wrong. This was instructive for me when I was younger. I had somehow picked up this assumption that, well, if you throw an enormous enough volume of money and resources at a problem, it will be fixed, as though it's a mountain: well, you're just not using enough dynamite. Windows ME, for instance, was a trash operating system, and that coupled with its inability to keep third-party computer companies from stuffing it with bloatware left me with basically the worst time I've ever had on a computer.

But there was just a little solace there: that not only could the giant be beaten, he just might do himself.

Ah the hell with it, let's watch the French guy part.



There was absolutely no lead-in to France or anything French or anyone French. For some reason he suggests stuff we can go do? Is ... he talking to me? Don't you have stuff to talk about? This is like if De Niro turned to the camera in the middle of Raging Bull and said HI I AM ROBERT AND I AM IN YOUR FILM DO YOU ENJOY ICE CREAM I SURE DO.

The things he suggests we (?) go do are mountain climbing and hula dancing, neither of which are really French things. This dude clearly has a pre-ordained set of gimmicks. He's just gonna drive 'em all right through, making life hell for the poor son of a gun who has to produce this thing.

Not that I have sympathy for that person, because that person also decided that the character and narrator should be in a relationship.

They flirt with each other on several occasions throughout this thing. The guy's playing an optometrist here to play on the "see" in "you want to see other people?" "You want to see other people?" is led in by nothing and comes out of absolutely nowhere. I swear to God there is a subset of writers whose entire idea of writing is just:

That, unbelievably, is not even the worst non sequitur. That is probably this:

Why would you want someone to call you Ishmael if everyone else calls you Nancy? I guess a man having a lady's name is the funny part? So the narrator, who could have Encarta'd literally anything in the world, searched for orca whales just to set you up to play a character from Moby Dick, an opportunity you used to make an "I am a man with a lady's name" joke that has absolutely nothing to do with Moby Dick?

There's something about this that really fascinates me and kind of creeps me out. Everything's so disjointed and makes so little sense that it makes this seem like a massively disorganized effort. Like the comedic talent was farmed out, and the producer just had to make a smorgasbord of whatever they filmed. But that can't be true, because somehow, simultaneously, there's this haunting rapport between all the moving parts. Recognizing those two things at the same time is like the first time you had a guillotine explained to you. "Oh God, it's ... it's supposed to do that."

That's what I was getting at when I talked about this bringing me such a conflicting array of emotions. It's endearing and funny and maddening on account of how bad it is. Its refusal to let up the pace, even for an instant, or recognize itself is bewildering. The energy and earnestness with which it's acted and narrated lends me a sort of vicarious humiliation.

And, finally, the miscellanea it sifts through makes me so fed up with these gosh dang people. You know how one of the great aesthetic scourges of the Internet, and of computing in general, has been the "stretch-to-fit" option that sent millions of images all out of whack proportionally?

Until I saw this, I had no idea that at one point in our history, we did this on purpose. We wanted this. We thought it was neat.

I sure don't think that this video was very good!