The Format That (Almost) Wouldn’t Die

The digital revolution in movie-making and movie watching is quickly making VHS look rather ancient. However, I’ve always been one to suggest to others not to get rid of your VCR so quickly. I’m amazed at just how many people have, given that many titles have still not made the transition to DVD. Turner Classic Movies has an ongoing poll of the top 200 requested titles still not on DVD. Among those are four amazing classics: Greed (1925), Wings (1927), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and The African Queen (1951). The list has some other interesting choices as well, although some on the list have never been released on either DVD or VHS.  Keep in mind, also, that this is a list of just 200 films. It’s probably just a fraction of what’s out there on tape.

I usually suggest to folks where I work (full disclosure: I work at Facets Multimedia) to make a list of films on VHS only (there’s a category of “rare” films on the rentals site). After making the list, if you feel you may have enough to justify having a VCR, try finding one inexpensively at a thrift store. Here in Chicago, The Brown Elephant usually does a pretty good job of sorting out some decent pieces, but definitely make sure you get a head cleaning tape or kit if you do decide to buy any used player. No telling when the last time those machines have been cleaned.  Also, unless you get one cheaply in a thrift store or don’t mind spending the money, I would caution against buying a VHS/DVD combo. In my experience working in another video/audio equipment store some years ago, I’ve found that combos tend to have a greater breakage rate than stand-alone decks. The intricate internal makeup will make the repair costlier as well.

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6 Responses to The Format That (Almost) Wouldn’t Die

  1. Horton says:

    Piracy is the answer. In this era of the distribution stranglehold of studios and bizarre format wars, it’s so easy to just go online and download VHS rips of films that were never released on DVD and probably never will be. Piracy is activism!

  2. Horton, I understand the sentiment and the lure of piracy. It’s still illegal and still keeps those who’ve worked on these films from getting royalties. That’s definitely the downside.

    What I agree with is your point of studio strangleholds. It’s a ridiculous “need” for the studios to hang on to copyrights for old films for which they have no future plans except, perhaps, to produce remakes. Studios can hold on to these copyrights for literally decades, not only creating a black market for pirated rare films, but also making them look incredibly greedy, especially if they release a rare film with a bad quality DVD.

  3. Horton says:

    Re: the whole piracy thing, I see it as legitimate fan activism of sorts when dealing with OOP material; there’s no way for me to see most Curtis Harrington films and in any way compensate his estate or the people involved, so I’d rather illegally download something like “Night Tide,” watch it, then talk about it, write about it, spread awareness of it in hopes that this will eventually spread knowledge of it to enough people that whoever actually owns and sits on the rights to actually distribute it will perceive the demand and DO so, even if only in some sort of downloadable or streaming format.

    I think that Warner Brothers’ DVD on Demand program – “Warner Archive” – is a really interesting compromise. Sure, they’re essentially printing VHS rips (more likely broadcast beta archives), but they’re doing so at a reasonable price and in a way that (at least ostensibly) funnels some portion of your payment back toward the people that it should go to. http://www.wbshop.com/Warner-Archive/ARCHIVE,default,sc.html?src=GGLHMOD

  4. Horton says:

    Like “The Bermuda Depths,” for example! Totally rad movie that will never see a legitimate DVD job, but you can still get it: http://www.wbshop.com/Bermuda-Depths%2c-The-+EST-MOD/1000112914,default,pd.html?cgid=ARCHIVE

  5. BTW, Facets has “Night Tide” and other Harrington titles for rental (www.facetsmovies.com). He’s an overlooked director.

  6. Horton says:

    Ok, bad example. 🙂

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