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Night Visions 2013: Adjust Your Tracking (or Does Anyone Actually Miss VHS?)

Posted on Thursday November 7, 2013, 07:01 by Owen Williams in Under The Radar
Night Visions 2013: Adjust Your Tracking (or Does Anyone Actually Miss VHS?)

I missed Rewind This at FrightFest, but I caught Dan M. Kinem’s Adjust Your Tracking at Night Visions: another similar nostalgia-fest for VHS. As a documentary, I didn’t really think much of it. It has no narrative at all, no thrust and no direction, just a series of talking heads discussing their continued love for the videotape format: showing off their collections; outlining the lengths they’ll go to in the name of VHS archaeology; and boasting about the prices they’ve paid (whether bargainously cheap or outlandishly high). The potentially interesting angle of the original indie corner stores being forced out of business by the ubiquity of Blockbuster is dealt with and thrust aside in minutes at the beginning. The love here is for tapes, wherever they came from.

It’s not entirely a waste of time. There’s some funny stuff in there, but I’ve got to throw my hands up and just admit that I don’t get it. I don’t miss adjusting my tracking. I didn’t love VHS. I don’t miss VHS. I’m glad it’s dead. This despite having grown up with it. My formative movie years were obviously largely about tapes, and television, and taping movies off the television. I did love having loads of tapes. I loved our first (betamax) top-loading machine that was the size of a suitcase and had massive push-down keys and sounded like the Tardis when it was running. I loved going and renting stuff from the local video shop and maybe getting a previously-hung poster out of the giveaway box. It was Court Video, in Oldbury Court, Bristol, for me (eventually put out of business by Ritz/Blockbuster in Fishponds, obviously). Hello, whoever owned Court Video.

So I remember all that. And I remember buying the first widescreen tapes of the Star Wars trilogy and Alien and Die Hard and realising that all other videos were hacking the edges off the films I liked. And I remember the picture bending at the top, even on new tapes. And I remember saying thank fuck when DVD arrived, and immediately getting on board. Being a young’un I’d never had the money for laserdiscs, and they weren’t much available anyway. Likewise any of the other disc formats that companies tried and abandoned. But when it was clear, in about 1999, that DVD was here and staying and going to work, I never looked back. I sold what videos I could (most went in a job lot to some company I saw in a magazine that was buying them up) and the rest got charity-shopped or dumped. I have never missed them, and I kinda resent the implication that not missing VHS means I don’t love films.

I get that there are still tonnes of films that never made their way to DVD (one guy in the documentary reckons something like half of VHS movies have never resurfaced). I do still have a VHS player for that reason. It does come in useful sometimes. Aside from that though, I don’t see the attraction. It isn’t like vinyl records, which look cool and do sound better than CDs. There’s nothing better about VHS as a format. Some of the doc’s subjects claim DVDs and Blu-rays are unreliable, constantly getting scratched and pixellating and freezing. I almost never have that happen to me. Are people just kicking their discs around the house? What’s going on?

So tell me – I’m opening this up. Am I a soulless bastard or am I right? Do you guys still love your tapes, or did you cast them out fifteen years ago, cheering as you did so? Are you proud to know your clamshells from your slipsleeves, or did you, like me, not even know those terms at the time? Sound off below.

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1 Owen Williams
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