15 November 2006

VHS Officially Dead

Quick: what was your first VHS movie purchase? Mine was either a used rental copy of John Carpenter's "Halloween", which I believe was a Media Home Video release in glorious mono, or a used rental copy of "The Road Warrior" in a large green shell case from Warner Home Video, which at the time had a strange label entitled "For Rental Only"(odd, considering a pre-recorded movie cost about $40-50 at the time).

As a kid, I'd collected Super-8 digests, then moved on to RCA's short-lived CED disc--the stylus based video disc that no one remembers--which sold for about $30 per title in Canada. They skipped, they had to be flipped at the one-hour mark, and they could only be found in specialty electronics shops, but they allowed a film geek to own his/her favorite titles in something longer than 8 minute, silent chunks.

JVC came along with something called the Vertical Helical Scan format, and even though laser experienced a brief resurgence amongst movie snobs in the 90s, remained the dominant format until the invention of the DVD, despite being the inferior tape format--a "fact" the Beta-snob losers will never let us forget. When my folks finally scored a VCR (about the size of a portable generator, top loading, with huge knobs on the front)--a whole new avenue of geek indulgence opened up. I spent years compiling "theme" triple bills by dubbing movies at the horrid, and money-saving, EP mode, and like most video addicts, I spent more time recording films than actually watching them (as foretold in an eerily prescient mid-70s "Mad's Dave Berg Looks At People" strip). Hands down, Canadian Tire's "Embassy Gold" was the single worst tape brand ever unleashed on a penny-pinching public...

But according to Variety: "It's pretty much over."

So sez a Buena Vista Home Entertainment rep. Retailers have officially pulled the plug, not wanting to devote any more store space to the now-archaic format, which had been expected to endure at least until the end of Q1 next year. VHS will join Betamax, Divx, the CED, the laserdisc, the minidisc and the Super-8 digest in the home video mass grave.

Can't say I'm sorry to see it go, but you gotta admit: VHS changed the way we watch films and extended their life span beyond network TV edit-jobs and the late show. Neglected titles had a chance for rediscovery after unsuccessful theatrical runs, and franchises like the "Terminator" and "Highlander" series owe their success to the smaller screen. It never caught on as an alternative market, though--too many bad films and "Ghoulies" sequels gave the label "direct-to-video' the stench of death.

Reminisce about your favorite "tracking knob" memories and read all about it here.