Wednesday, March 23, 2011

VHS Tapes I Wish I Still Owned

At some point in the late 90s, I did an incredibly stupid thing:  I bought a DVD player and got rid of my VCR and all of my videotapes.  I don't know why I did this.  Sometimes you just get swept up in a fever of divestiture, like the time I decided I didn't need my orange velvet bedspread and threw it away (big mistake - somewhere a homeless person is sleeping under the coolest bedspread ever).  Sometimes your brain just takes a vacation from logic and common sense.

At the time I assumed everything I owned in VHS format eventually would be released on DVD.  You know, the way every album on vinyl came out on CD.  (Just as a totally unrelated aside...if you own The Concerts for Kampuchea, The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl, or Buckingham Nicks on vinyl, you might want to hang on to them.)  So, feeling virtuous, organized, and immune to reality, I boxed up every single VHS tape in the house and put it, along with the VCR itself, on the curb shortly after buying my first DVD player. 

Thinking back, there was no pressing need to do this.  Granted, the equipment and the tapes took up space in my already crowded living room.  And I did correctly surmise that the quality of those tapes would only degrade as the years went on; as you may recall, the quality of VHS was rarely stellar even when the tapes were new, and unless you owned a high-end VCR, the quality of playback didn't help matters.  That's why DVDs were invented in the first place.

Be that as it may, I tend to be a pack rat by nature.  Worse, a sentimental pack rat.  I still have my first teddy bear; Precocious Daughter's very first Halloween costume; and, pressed in the pages of a scrapbook, the corsage from my senior prom (along with a highball glass emblazoned with the prom theme of "One More Night," and why the hell were they distributing highball glasses to high school students?).  I keep stuff, is what I'm saying.

I very well could have saved those tapes.  In retrospect, I should have kept at least a few of them, because much to my dismay, more than 10 years later some of those VCR tapes contain media that I can't get on DVD.  I could probably find grainy versions of some things on YouTube, or ripped bootlegs from BitTorrent or other online sources.  But actual official releases that I can hold in my hand?  No way.

And so, although I try to live my life with as few regrets as possible, here are some titles I kinda sorta wish I had never parted with.

Georgio Moroder's Metropolis (1984).  The 1927 Fritz Lang classic is one of my all-time favorite movies.  It has a fascinating story, both as a film and as part of film history.  In 1984, super-producer Georgio Moroder put together a restored and heavily edited version of the movie set to popular music, with incredible results.  In the 80s, I owned both the vinyl soundtrack and the VHS tape.  Eventually the soundtrack was released on disc, but the film...never.  The issue, as is the case with so many works involving multiple artists, is that of music licensing.  But I blithely chucked my much-loved tape, certain that a pristine DVD version was or would be available.  Nope.  So now I not only can't watch the Moroder Metropolis, but the tape I threw away is a sought-after and valuable collectible.  Shit.

Rupert and the Frog Song (1992).  Paul McCartney wrote and produced a short animated film about Rupert the Bear; he also provided the voice of Rupert and the titular song, "We All Stand Together."  It's charming as all get-out, and it's still available via a DVD called "Paul McCartney Music and Animation Collection," which also includes a couple of other whimsical shorts.  But in 1992, "Rupert" was released on VHS along with with animated videos for two Wings songs, "Seaside Woman" and "Oriental Nightfish" (the former is simple and folksy, the latter is trippy as hell).  That tape was never released on DVD.

The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1964).  This insanely enjoyable Patrick McGoohan movie was shown in three parts on Disney's Wonderful World of Color in 1964 (and received a theatrical release in England under the title Dr. Syn, alias The Scarecrow).  It's a rarity even on VHS, and I never actually owned an official release, just a taped-from-TV version given to me by a fellow McGoohan fan.  Which, yes, I stupidly threw away.  It is true that in 1998, Disney released this movie on DVD as part of its "Walt Disney Treasures" collection, so technically it's obtainable on disc.  However, like most Disney releases, it was available for an extremely limited time, and collectors ensured that it disappeared from stores almost immediately, never to return.  Prices on eBay and Amazon start around $150 and spiral upward.

Unknown-Title Cartoon Tape.  There was a time, in the wild and wooly early days of home video, when studios didn't bother to protect the copyright on their older films.  As a result, there was a glut of public-domain programming that was available on tape for almost nothing.  (It's a Wonderful Life was one of those unprotected properties, which is why it was shown on TV a gazillion times a year in the 80s, although it since has been recognized as a "classic" [read: lucrative] film and locked down tight.)  Cartoons in particular could be scooped up by the dozen and transferred onto tape.  Even Warner Brothers cartoons floated around in the public domain for years, but eventually the studio realized two important things.  First, they could make a lot more money selling Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, et al than watching other people doing it.  Second, some of those cartoons from the 30s and 40s were full of derogatory racist stereotypes that would not reflect well on Warner Brothers.  Just think:  Disney still won't re-release Song of the South, which portrays a kindly old southern black man.  Imagine how Warners feels about a cartoon that I once owned on tape, which shows Bugs outsmarting a shuffling, sleepy-eyed Negro by, among other things, enticing him to play a crooked game of craps.  So there's that.  Since there's very little chance that such cartoons will ever be commercially available again, I've lost a historically signficant piece of tape.

There were others in my VHS collection that I probably should have held on to.  These are just the examples that rise immediately to mind and make me slap my forehead.  Yes, by now these tapes surely would be faded, warped, and scratchy.  But they'd be better than nothing, which is what I've got because of my impetuousness.  At least I've got my sparkling, pristine DVDs of Snakes on a Plane and Austin Powers in The Spy Who Shagged Me to entertain me.  Ugh.  Maybe I'll just hit myself in the head with a mallet and watch the pretty colors.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You're thinking it, you may as well type it. The only comments you'll regret are the ones you don't leave. Also, replies to threads make puppies grow big and strong.