Though the VHS era primarily ended about ten years ago when ERAGON – some dragon movie – was the last film to be released in the format, it now has officially come to as close as Funai Electric, a Japanese company that is the last in the world manufacturing VCRs, has announced that this month will be its last.
Introduced in 1976, the VCR changed everything. For the first time you didn’t have to wait for a theater revival or a random television showing to see your favorite films anymore, you could watch them whenever you wanted, from the comfort of your own home, and better yet for people like me, you could own your favorite films.
As a result of the VCR, TVs got bigger and better, sound systems were added, the concept of the home theater was invented, sales of Barca loungers and La-Z-Boys went through the roof, microwave popcorn had to become a thing, sleepovers got a bunch cooler, as did dating, and the video store came into being giving, again, people like me places to work.
The VCR, for me at least, was also a film school of sorts. It allowed me to watch a movie over and over again across stretches of time, it allowed me to soak up a film in a way theater viewings, even repeated theater viewings, couldn’t. The VCR is where I fell in love with the movies, because the VCR transformed “going to the movies” from a special event into an everyday occurrence, and from something that as a kid was usually decided for me by parents, groups, or theater offering, into something I could individualize based on my tastes and the leniency of video store clerks. Props wherever you are to Kevin from The Video Barn in Sanford, North Carolina who rented a certain kid films from a certain series named after a holiday said kid was way too young to watch.
I still own a VCR. Two, in fact, one built in to an old TV and one combined in a machine with a DVD player. I still watch VHS – of which I personally own several thousand – daily (thanks to a long career managing the greatest video store in America: Mike Clark’s Movie Madness). The built-in is in front of my treadmill, and I’ll play three or four a month on the big screen in my living room. It’s like listening to music on vinyl – some stuff just goes better with the format. The fact that there will never be another new VCR makes me feel panicked, because I don’t foresee ever not needing one.
But I’m not sad because the VHS era is finally dead. That’s what happens to eras, they die and new ones come along; the very definition of era implies its finity. Instead I’m choosing to be grateful. And I know that’s a weird thing, it’s a machine, after all, and an antiquated one at that. But I was born in the late 70s and lived in a small, conservative town with a one-screen theater, so the VCR was primarily how I came to cinema. I first saw STAR WARS on a VCR. And RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. And GOONIES. And DUMBO, BAMBI, SNOW WHITE. First time I saw A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was on a VCR, ditto FRIDAY THE 13th and HALLOWEEN. I first saw RAMBO on a VCR, PREDATOR, GOLDFINGER, GOODFELLAS too, and BOYZ IN THE HOOD. Hell, I saw THE THIRD MAN, LE SAMOURAI, and ERASERHEAD for the very first time thanks to a VCR. So yeah, in the wake of its passing I’m feeling grateful and a tad sentimental, and I think I should be. The VCR gave me a lot, it gave a lot of us a lot, a machine or not, that worth commemorating.
If only culture had a rewind button.
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