When movies first came out on DVD, they weren’t on DVDs, they were on what were known as VHS tapes. VHS stands for “Video Home System” and the “system” was a clunky black cassette that you shoved into a clunky rectangular VCR (video cassette recorder) that you plugged into your TV.
The VCR was originally created for recording TV shows and movies so that busy people wouldn’t have to miss their favorite episodes. Eventually, after a lot of fuss, motion picture and television bigwigs realized that VHS tapes could be profitable and a whole new consumer niche was created — prerecorded movies for the home TV screen.
Sometimes I feel a tad nostalgic for that good old VHS era. Back in the day (early to mid-1990s), privately-owned shops crammed full of movies-on-tape popped up everywhere on corners and in strip malls. There were so many that generally there was always one within walking distance of where I lived.
Part of the fun of renting videos was walking to the store and browsing the shelves for 45 minutes. Often the specific movie on the “want” list, especially if it was new and popular, was not in. So that meant cruising around for a substitute — picking up empty cassette boxes, flipping them over and reading the descriptive blurbs and the names of the cast members. I saw a lot of movies that I’d never heard of using this investigative method. Some of those chosen by chance went on to become all-time favorites, while others were unforgettable because of their forgettableness.
My favorite section of the video store was the Drama shelf — crime thrillers, mysteries and shoot-’em-ups. But I am also a sappy romantic type, so often my “take-out” would include a mix of, for instance, “When Harry Met Sally” and “Dirty Harry.”
And not to forget musicals (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve watched “Grease”) and quirky independent films like the standard-bearer of them all, “Harold and Maude.”
After awhile though, the corner video shops got pushed out of business as the “Big Box Store” era barreled its way into consumer pockets. And because I love movies, I made the switch and would trudge up the street to BlockBuster in order to satisfy my addiction.
The good thing about the Big Boxers was that, generally, you never had to wait for a movie to be in stock. Whole walls would be lined with the newest hot flick and if you got there at the right time, you could snag one.
The Big Box stores also gave you a little extra time to return your rental. Many was the time when I had rushed over to the corner store to return a video before noon the day after I’d watched it so that I wouldn’t be fined.
In the early 2000s, the “Next Big Thing” — DVDs — started to appear on the BlockBuster shelves. Slowly but surely the VHS tapes disappeared from the shelves and into the sale bins. I held out as long as I could, but if I wanted to keep renting movies, I had to get a DVD player.
The DVD players were sleeker and prettier than the workhorse VHS players and the DVDs, in their convenient slimline cases, were too. I had amassed a medium-sized collection of VHS movies and tapes of TV shows that I had recorded, but when the VHS player died, I never replaced the tapes with DVDs.
I was probably still reeling from replacing all my old cassette tapes with music CDs that eventually were eclipsed by MP3 downloads. But that’s another story.
Looking back, I can kind of track my life by the movies I’ve seen and where and how I’ve seen them.
In the 1970s, there were the lonnnggggg box office lines in Los Angeles for the biggies like “Star Wars” and “Saturday Night Fever.” In the 1980s, there was the movie theater at Fort Ord. And then in the 1990s…along came the flicks on tape.
The VHS tapes from the corner store or the Big Box were always a comfort on many a single Saturday night. It was kind of like going on a solitary “date” — there was a *process.* I could get a walk in going to and from the video store. Then I could browse for 45 minutes picking up and putting down. And then I could head home for pizza, cats and Clint Eastwood.
Nowadays, picking out movies is rather a “clinical” process. Browsing consists of clicking on pixelated computer images and then waiting for the mail or “streaming” a “film” from your computer. There’s an even bigger choice of course, what with every TV show known to humankind now on DVD, but it’s not the same kind of comfy “date” anymore.
And oh well, what can ya do except try to keep up with all the changes. Or at least, selectively choose the changes you want to indulge in.
I still don’t really know (or care) what “Blu-Ray” is and I have a no-frill DVD player that kinda hearkens back to the old no-frill VHS player. I don’t have satellite ANYTHING because out of the 3 billion channels offered now, I usually just wind up watching the same 3 stations.
I still love movies but often I find myself wondering who all the dadgum faceless young whippersnappers are who are supposedly the leading men and ladies.
At least with all the new technology, I can always watch “When Harry Met Sally” for the 500th time whenever I want to and still find something in it to giggle about.
©October 2011 by Phyllis J. Hanniver