Friday, August 28, 2015

Nothing Here Now But the Recordings

On the once revolutionary art of VHS and Yale's quest to digitize thousands of exploitation titles in its Beinecke Rare Books library:

"Today, a variety of video content is readily available via YouTube, streaming services, and BitTorrent downloads, but in the late ’70s and ’80s, the idea that someone could control what they watched was revolutionary. Studios tightly managed their content and essentially charged for every viewing. The VCR, however, tapped into a popular desire to consume culture at will. In response to huge demand, distribution companies dug deep into their inventories to fill shelves in rental stores, and amateur moviemakers emerged to satisfy the market. “Shot on video” movies like Sledgehammer, Video Violence, and Blood Cult could be produced on low budgets with relative ease thanks to camcorder technology, and could still find shelf space next to Hollywood blockbusters. Like the steam presses that produced the dime novels and yellow journalism of the late-19th century, videotape allowed a popular culture to emerge.

"The cheap print of the 19th century required its own distribution networks, including small stands on railway platforms, traveling salesmen who crossed the nation, and retail shops. Similarly, so-called mom-and-pop video stores emerged in the early 1980s to fill a distribution need, as Daniel Herbert explains in his new book, Videoland. With tapes costing a staggering $60-$100 in the early ’80s, the average person couldn’t build a personal video library. Instead people paid a flat membership fee to join a store and spend a few dollars every week to rent a tape. This meant choosing wisely, and often chatting with the clerk for advice or picking up a tape with engaging box art. A large contingent of young people who loved movies became nodes in a social network that brought the local community into the video store out of economic necessity. In this way, the video-rental store brought some movies back to life by creating new audiences for them—a novel phenomenon that contributed to the creation of some “cult classics.” Box art, recommendations, and repeat viewing of tapes offered audiences the ability to judge movies under new circumstances, allowing theatrical flops like The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and Clue to eventually take off. 
-David Gary, Saving the Scream Queens, The Atlantic

On a related note, the giphy page for "VHS" is an experience unto itself

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