VHS Still Belongs Dead

After the two tiered disappointment I had last weekend, I’m avoiding the theater. The Fault in Our Stars is a movie that’s out and I do imagine it’s more unique than Tom Cruise’s Groundhog’s Day with Aliens and Fire, so if you are reading for a recommendation, go with that.

Instead I’d like to look at something else that I keep hearing about from the fringes of film collectors – the growing boom of VHS nostalgia.

VHS, for those increasing number of people who grew up after the format died (you kids with your music and your scooters) was an analog format that burned images onto magnetic tape. This tape was read by a VCR. It was, throughout the 90s, absolutely revolutionary. It put people in control of the film and what they could see. It allowed for the most obscure materials to become available. It lead to labels with the biggest film geeks in charge. In the 70s, the first film generation of directors graduated. The 90s independent boom owes much of its success to VHS. After all, Quentin Tarantino didn’t go to UCLA. He worked as a clerk at a local rental shop.

Because of the importance of the format, there has been a growing amount of nostalgia amongst the same crowd that buys instant cameras at Urban Outfitters. This is reflected in a growing number of documentaries. First, there was Atom Egoyan’s documentary on VHS, called Rewind This. Rewinding was how you got the tape back to the beginning and…I’m just going to stop shaking my fist like an old man before I get really depressed.

There are also documentaries like Adjust Your Tracking, that is far more about audience and their relationship with tapes.

It’s that second documentary and the feelings that are presented by the participants that I feel deserves a response. I understand the nostalgia for VHS. But that’s not what inspires these people. They want to revive the format, or at least try to discuss how there is virtue and how nothing is better.

That is nonsense. When Lloyd Kaufman is the voice of reason in any argument, your stance is bad.

Video tapes were evil little devices with a bad picture quality (especially on high definition TVs) and were about as brittle as a dead leaf. I’m not going to count the number of times that I had tapes wear out on me. And even if it was better at recording (which VCRs were), that was a moot point because it a) impossible to tell how much space you had left b) impossible to edit out commercials and c) not designed to last a long time. When your movie viewing experience turns into a Mission Impossible style event, you have problems.

So, why do people still hold onto their tapes? Well, there are some things that have never properly been released on DVD, Blu Ray, or streaming. So that’s your only place to go. It also may take people back to a simpler time in their lives. But there is no reason for anyone to claim that this was the greatest way to view films.

I liked Atom Egoyan’s documentary. It examined the medium for it is, but did not try to pretend like it was something worth romanticizing. I haven’t seen Adjust Your Tracking, but it looks like it has all of the problems I’m describing. The collectors in that film describe their collections as the pinnacle of their existence. One person sniffs his tape as he describes it. A joke, sure, but not one that is particularly funny with how revealing it is.

VHS was important, but is not any longer. There is no point in pretending you belong to a secret club that still possesses the knowledge on these magical monoliths that couldn’t even hold any extras. Next thing you know, you’ll want to open a blockbuster franchise. The world has changed – that is the one thing we know will come. Don’t try to stop time.

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