The last VHS tape I bought was the Glengarry Glen Ross Special Edition, from a Walgreens discount bin, just a few years ago – still in shrink wrap. On a tape, I never really cared for “special features”, mostly because those were at the END. My long lost copy of Star Wars: A New Hope – Special Edition had some of the extras at the START, which got me all the more excited for the feature. Once the final credits hit, I’d either pop in something new or rewind to the beginning. Placement at the end of the feature was a no go for me. Just was.
That Glen Ross tape was watched so many times, it eventually got ate by the VCR. I now have a non-physical version of the film. Sure, it’s the same movie, but I can no longer show it on the shelf and slide off the box. A sense of pride in ownership is gone.
“It takes brass balls to show your VHS collection to a girl.”
But not a sense of fondness. And pleasant hobby. Or obsession?
I just caught two documentaries about VHS culture, legacy, and impact: Rewind This! and Adjust Your Tracking. While the plastic cartridge is the jumping off point for both flicks, there are different approaches. RT! documents the place in history and influence VHS has, and AYT takes a look at the collectors/archivists. Some interviewees bleed from one into the other, but things rarely feel redundant in this double viewing. No competition needed, as it’s a big enough world for VHS info!
What I found the most fascinating about RT! was the nostalgia for box covers and the struggle for control between the consumers and the distributors. The love of cover art reminded me, at first, of what Bill Hicks had to say about advertising and how Glenn Beck cried over a Coca Cola commercial. It’s almost frightening how much we cherish things that are meant to invade our thoughts and pry open our wallets. But, can genuine creativity come from such an unseemly place? Yes is the answer. Just because something was meant to only make money, doesn’t mean it can’t be worth something more. Something better.
Through the history of VHS, you can see attempts to stifle or corrupt art for short term profit, only for those truly unique pieces to last the long term. It has been through the fans who were meant to consume them that studio ownership over films has faded. Tape trading, making movies at home, etc are all threatening to Hollywood’s bottom line. Blockbuster was convenient and streaming services are nice and all, but they represent the fake presentation of choice. Video gave us the tools to take back the power and expand our options.
Is there a Video power fist?
In AYT, we tap into the world of those who have made it their goal to preserve and even protect this quality. Some are just collectors, wanting to share their hobby and knowledge. Others see themselves as soldiers, comparing VHS tapes to war veterans. They tour flea markets and abandoned video stores to find the rarest and most precious tapes possible. You might think that this format breeds only anti-social geeks, but that is wrong. Relationships with fellow collectors and former shop owners are necessary and genuinely sweet for them.
Though, not everyone you’d want as a friend. One collector in particular showed off his horror room, featuring shelves of nothing but horror flicks. The manner in which he discussed these tapes and the way it was shot gave me a very creepy, almost Bjork stalker diary feel. What is it about the video look that makes our skin crawl? Probably the voyeuristic, grainy, “anyone with a camera can shoot this” style. And guess what? This documentary loves the look so much, it replicates it throughout. It’s all part of its own and, to an extent, VHS’ charm. The love isn’t ironic or hip; it is genuine. I wish more people had the horror room guys’ passion.
Watching both movies side by side made me fill up a whole notepad page with handwritten observations. I touched on hipster culture, the internet, film school, and even Ed Wood. VHS might be considered “obsolete”, but it’s certainly not insignificant. Ripples of its presence can still be felt, and I doubt they will ever dissipate. Currently, my VCR remote is without batteries. I need to change that…
Adjust Your Tracking is currently on tour, with a screening coming to New Orleans on August 9th at Chalmette Movies. The filmmakers will be in attendance.
Rewind This! will also be coming to New Orleans, on August 24th at Press Street’s Antenna Gallery. It will also be arriving on VOD at the end of the month.
Take a Drink: if you have a copy of Black Devil Doll somewhere. You rule.
Take a Drink: for the mom and pop video store. We ALL miss you.
Do a Shot: every time a video collection is prominently displayed. Your stamp book looks mighty weak right now, don’t it?