1987. We just scored a Betamax player and my father and I were going crazy with the prospect that we could now watch movies without going to the cinema and also rewind and re-watch them to our heart’s content. “Cable TV” was even a concept that seemed alien especially in our location in the province that time. Three or four free channels, that’s it. All the vicarious thrills I have had during that era were courtesy of free TV, radio, foreign/local magazines, comic books, and novels.
Local video rental stores were in full bloom. And most of them were carrying illegal bootlegged copies of the latest cinematic blockbusters recorded on generic VHS and Betamax tapes. It’s not uncommon during that time to see home entertainment sets littered with generic Maxell, Sony, and BASF videocasettes; mostly with battered cases and tape housings due to the repeated re-recording and renting cycles. Most of these cartridges probably carried more than ten movies in their entire lifespan. L-500 and L-750 were common sights in the household back then.
The video/picture quality was total crap in comparison to the digital images readily available today. But back then even the blurriest of pictures coupled with lo-fi audio were sublime. As long as there were no pesky white lines/static courtesy of dirty ribbons and vcr tape heads, the viewing experience was perfect. You got lucky sometimes and get to borrow an occasional flick recorded from an original cassette copy or LaserDisc, and it was perfect. “Orig” and “Laser” were usually part of the queries whenever one inquires about certain titles in a rental shop.
Part of the thrill of quests like that is the search for gems amidst a sea of el cheapo Z-grade movies and the occasional “hazardous” R-rated flicks where the ratio of simulated sex to everything else is 10:01. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but as a child during that time it was a bit awkward getting caught with tapes having titles like ‘Red Shoe Diaries’ and ‘Wild Orchid’ under your arms.
A big reason why hipsters and nostalgia-trippers gravitate toward the analog format of things—vinyl, audio cassettes, VCRs—is the appeal of the emotional investment that went towards the acquisition and enjoyment of the whole movie/music from the rummaging and search to the actual enjoyment of the recording contained in those types of facsimiles. In perfect contrast to the one-touch search, download/availability people are subjected to these days. Everything just became too easy to get that sought-for items lose significant value. No more of that pursuit that made courtships and getting things at all costs so exhilarating.
Creating works of art is a very human endeavor and effort. To have the chase reduced to fast, downloadable digital formats reduced the audience participation considerably and turned such outputs to mere commodities with values equated to that of a happy meal.