Wednesday, November 29, 2006

In mourning…

…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.



Jabberwock said...

*Deep sigh*

Am feeling immensely melancholy after reading this. Still have several of my old tapes in a drawer, as well as the dust-ridden VCR. Arsenic and Old Lace among them - the original, black-and-white version of that film became even more precious after I watched Ted Turner's puke-inducing computer-colourised version on TNT.

Space Bar said...

the original, black-and-white version of that film became even more precious after I watched Ted Turner's puke-inducing computer-colourised version on TNT.

Tell me about it! I only heard about nefarious plans to colorise Casablanca. Never dared to watch TNT after that. I remember waking up in a cold sweat after dreaming of Bogey with faintly pink lips.


zigzackly said...

Much of this passes me by. Never owned a VCR.

It may just be possible to get a digital copy of To Kill A Mockingbird..

(Aside: It's such fun to try and pronounce the word verification. Mine was "yfygype.")

Space Bar said...

zig: it's possible to get several of these films on DVD, I'm sure. And with extra features and everything, if it is a cult classic (or even just a classic) like Casablanca or To Have And Have Not.

But there was something about those silly tapes, you know. sigh.

The Black Mamba said...

continue to own a VCR, only because my local public library continues to stock À bout de souffle, and such in tape. but see what you mean, most tapes I own are in a storage box somewhere down there.

reminds me of the library sale, where they were giving away gramaphone records for free. beautifully wrapped and all... better find a good home for the ones you love before the fungii devours them.

Space Bar said...

ah...gramophone records. :D i have some 45 rpms hanging on my wall, just as a kind of impromptu art exhibit. nowhere to them either.

the fungus had already devoured most of the tapes. you better check yours! they're probably unplayable. my bout de souffle went too.

the mad momma said...

i know what you mean.. i have two huge cartons of audio cassettes and nowhere to play them.. and even when i do manage to, they should like crap... darn.

Anonymous said...

Oh God - you know that VHS tapes can be converted into VCDs, don't you?

Space Bar said...

DKC: Ya, but what's the point in converting fungused tapes, no?

Yves said...

Oh, the nostalgia. You have reminded me I have precious video tapes of my children taken with an inferior camcorder at various tender ages. fortunately here the fungus problem is not so prevalent. Bless you for this post.