There’s something altogether satisfying about going through a cache of old VHS tapes. It’s a bit like cracking open a time capsule and revisiting moments from our past. This isn’t an activity many under the age of 30 can truly understand, much less appreciate. Old VHS tapes, like old mix tapes (remember those?), have the uncanny ability to transport a person back in time, especially if they were recorded off the television during the 80s or 90s.
Glitchy in ways a DVD can never be, VHS tapes often have spots where the picture rolls or fuzzes out and many times the sound quality begins to fade out in places. Bonus features are the occasional commercial or station identification spots, which just serve to anchor the recordings in the milieu in which they were created. It all just adds to the charm.
For me, the discovery of old VHS tapes dating back to my days working for the studios is extra special. These include commercial screening copies of recognizable titles, along with several that were either never released, weren’t released widely, or fell into the cracks soon after they were released. Many from that group are quirky, off-beat and sometimes just plain weird films that should have become cult classics, but never really found the right audience. I call that category, the Good Stuff.
I’ve got several boxes filled with good stuff. Titles like Meet The Feebles, Killer Condom, Dirty Duck, Marquis, Wizards and The Holy Mountain. Treasures of the offbeat and unconventional – the kind of art that snubs its nose at the mundane and fashionable – usually earning me the eyebrow from my partner Donny, who finds such titles unappealing. There’s a fine distinction he can’t quite seem to grasp. As John Waters says, “one must remember that there is such a thing as good bad taste and bad bad taste.” But I digress.
I was talking about time travel, which is never as glamorous as the arts make it out to be. It isn’t achieved through shiny George Pal contraptions, magical pocket watches or by staring at paintings of Jane Seymor. It usually begins with battered cardboard boxes, coated in dust and spiderwebs, filled with the good stuff: video cassettes individually wrapped in hand-written cardboard boxes, or plain white cases, with “Not for sale or rental.” stamped on the front.
When inserted into the time travel machine – the curious relic known as a VCR, which my fading memory tells me stands for Visionary Clock Reversal, or some such – those cassettes create windows into the past. Glimpses of captured moments and snapshots of personal taste that, if we are very lucky, only gets better over time, rather than devolving into the status quo. At least that’s how it works for me. Now, thanks to DVD and VOD technology, my collection of wonderful little off-kilter films has only grown. High on my list of must-sees right now are Swiss Army Man and the Greasy Strangler.
Which kind of brings me to why I was trolling through boxes filled with old VHS tapes to begin with. It all started with a conversation at work. I was chatting with my business associate Kent Harkey about the power of vlogs. We were tossing around ideas that might help us raise the profile of Lady Belladonna’s Night Shades and, since Kent is a big fan of vlogs, the idea presented itself.
As I recall, he suggested I do a movie review vlog. I reminded him, yet again, that nobody wants to watch a 50-something introvert talking about his anomalous cinematic diversions. (Maybe if I was 20-something, or still looked good in lingerie, it would be a different story.) He agreed. But not before telling me, “that’s too bad. You have very interesting taste in movies. I would love to hear your reasons for liking what you do.”
And like that, the startling and none-too-subtle idea was planted. After all, I am a rabid cinephiliac and, as such, I’ve been writing reviews for theater and movies (not to mention reviews for books, restaurants and even sex toys) for over 30 years. It’s something I like doing and it would be nice to share some of these peculiar mementoes (the movies, not the sex toys, perv…) with somebody other than unsuspecting stoners hanging out in our Den of Sinema.
I mean, the least I can do is make you philistines aware of them, so you’re not completely ignorant. It could also open discussion with other time travelers and cinematic eccentrics who are savvy. In the end, it would give me the opportunity to re-watch some of my old favorites and, if even one of you vulgarians is converted, I will have done a good thing. Win win. You’re welcome. It’s not a terrible idea. I’ll think about it…
In the meantime, I’ve got to decide whether to watch a bootlegged copy of A Boy And His Dog, recorded off late night cable in the early 80s, or a video of my bacchanalian trip to Australia in 1994, or maybe episodes of Monkey Dust, the brilliant British animated social satire, recorded between 2003 and 2005. The other stuff will wait, for a few days at least. Dust off the time machine, baby, it’s time to do some retro-trippin’!