Wednesday, November 29, 2006
…for my VHS tapes.
Nearly twenty years ago, when my favourite video rental place was packing it in to do Satellite TV instead, they sold off their tapes to their favourite customers. Because I was averaging at least two films a day, I was kind of top of their list. And what films they had! For thirty bucks a tape, I staggered out with several Woody Allens, Howard Hawks, Ford, Marx Brothers, Wilder…and the Hitchcocks! I had Rope when the Film Institute didn’t! And Under Capricorn? No? Well, I had that one as well.
But having a VCR is like owning a vintage car: you want it pat it fondly and look at it and croon over it, but you know you can’t really use it in case the whole thing falls apart and then where will you go for spares? The other biggie is keeping VHS tapes free of fungus for over 20 years (the tapes had been rented out for at least a few years before I bought them). So the tape gets fungus, you put it in the VCR and play it, the head gets screwed, you clean the head, watch the film for a few minutes, the head gets screwed, etc. Your life goes into a loop and you begin to feel like Sisyphus.
So last month I went to my friendly neighbourhood and magnanimously offered to sell him my VCR at an absurd price, concealing the while my breaking heart. "Madam, find someone who wants a VCR and give it away to them," he said. He seemed to imply that I might even need to pay someone to take it off my hands. Humph!What did he know. Because I found someone who’d take it, and I didn’t need to pay them to do it.
Yesterday, this person turned up to take the VCR away. In a characteristic burst of generosity, I offered to give him all the tapes as well. I mean, where is he going to get VHS tapes now, what will he do without tapes and how will I watch my tapes without a player?
So I cleared out my shelves. Reap The Wild Wind. I hadn’t seen that since the day I bought it. Or Calamity Jane. And I wish I had known even ten years earlier that this would happen; I’d have converted into VCDs Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, High Noon, Red River, Hatari, Bringing Up Baby, Arsenic And Old Lace (I almost kept this one back just so I could look at the title every now and then), A Night At The Opera, A Day At The Races, Sunset Boulevard, Casablanca (at least the last two are replaceable). Hannah And Her Sisters, Play It Again Sam, Manhattan, Bananas, Take The Money And Run.
And where on earth am I going to find again, The Reincarnation Of Peter Proud, or To Chase A Crooked Shadow? Or I Confess (hell, even Under Capricorn). Or To Kill A Mocking Bird.
I have five tapes left on my shelf, even though I know I’m not going to be able to watch them: The Decalogue, Chinatown, Through A Glass Darkly, Last Year At Marienbad and my diploma film. Except for the last, the others are all originals, nearly brand new and I just didn’t have the heart to part with them.
More than the acute sense of loss, I’m overwhelmed by how we all think our present world seems unchangeable or that our technologies will last forever. The VCR has had a good run, but the LD came and went in the blink of an eye. How long do we imagine DVDs will last? Sure, the image itself might be less corruptible than magnetic tape, but something else will come along that will make one’s collection obsolete and unwatchable.
Maybe one day, some derelict old man will shuffle along an empty playground, stop anyone unwise enough to meet his eye and start reciting screenplays while they look at him slightly pityingly and start edging off to wherever they were going.
“No, wait!” he’ll say, desperately trying to catch them up. “This is really funny. Cary Grant says, ‘Men don’t just get into window seats and die!’ and the aunt says… aren’t you going to stay and listen? This is really funny! She says, ‘Of course not dear. He died first.’ Hey! Wait!”
Or, like a pathetic flasher, he’ll show people a few clips of Gentlemen’s Agreement on Youtube or something. And people will walk away, shocked and shaken, wondering if they ought to report him or just have a stiff drink instead.
Sigh. I want to watch Gentlemen’s Agreement. Or To Have And Have Not. Or Key Largo. Or Philadelphia Story.
More. I want to own all of them. Again.
Posted by Space Bar at 10:56 PM