Have Movie Fans Come A long Way in 10 Years?
When two similar events converge at a particular period of time, something needs to be said. A few events occurred during the past couple of days that caused me to take a moment to pause and think about the subject of being a Classic Movie Fan these days. I'm feeling sad and nostalgic at the same time. Call it Melancholy for Home Cinema.
The Gentle Whir Of The Video Cassette Player...
I'm in the process of cleaning out the Secret Headquarters of The Retro-Revolution here in Southern New Hampshire. I have with me in neat stacks (and chaotic piles) of Magazines that I've collected, organized and stored over the years. All of them were safely tucked away until I realized it's now time to get rid of them since they are of no use to anyone except the local fire department who'll be by any second now to put the accidental blaze these used publications will fuel.
Like everything else that I'm about to throw out, I'm dwelling on them.
I was leafing through some of them. In my hands was an issue of Premiere Magazine from the spring of 1999, a special issue to commemorate "Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace." The articles about George Lucas and the movie that changed film making for better or worse. What inspired this rant were some of the ads.
I kid you not, not one of these ads for home movies had any mention about DVD's. All the advertisements for new releases for home video were VHS.
Remember VHS? The once State-Of-The-Art format that beat out Betamax because JVC licensed other manufacturers to use their format while Sony hung on to their format hoping for a monopoly. The Batamax format form Sony that was regarded by some as superior? Ironically, the best VHS player I ever had was a Sony and I used it for almost a decade, which finally died last year...
I miss some aspects of VHS. I miss the sounds associated with them like the clunking they made just handling them, the internal reel-to-reel rattling around inside. The sounds it made when you fed a cassette into the machine and the final clunk as the cassette was put in place and the motors moved to apply the tape on the spinning head that read the information. And then there's the background whirring as the movie played. It was like a companion in all of our late-night movie watching.
Some of the best memories of my life are associated with that VHS player. I can clearly remembering sitting on The Futon Couch in our apartment's living room with my future wife, eating Take-Out Korean, Chinese or Pizza while watching Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon on different occasions. I remember the weekend we discovered The Thin Man Series via a video rental store that specialized in obscure films.
Those aren't just great films. I've kept the VHS coppies because of the memories, some of the best moments of my life tied to them. My wife and I lived in Groton Massachusetts, an ideal town that was a little Norman Rockwell. There was something magical about living in that town and being about to go out somewhere and get a copy of a movie, hold it in your hand, then being able to watch it at home. It was a phenomenon that many people got used to since the early 1980's, and some took for granted. But for me, that magic never diminished. Just looking at the VHS cartrige and heavy-paper box it came in brings those memories back.
But now I wonder, if those types of memories will remain in my mind as we repalce the VHS copies with DVD's or Blu-Ray... or download them via "Netflix."
The Memory Sees What The Eyes Can't Any More.
I'm writing this rant with new eye glasses I picked up today from Precision Vision in Townsend, Massachusetts. Great service in a small independent shop, can't recommend them enough since I got the glasses two days earlier then they promised. Wonderful...
But, in the same shopping plaza was the local "Movie Gallery" - one of the rental outlets where my wife and I used to get our video's for the weekend. Since I was early in picking up my glasses and the shop wasn't open yet, I walked around the plaza and took a closer look at the sign in the window: "For Lease."
I was standing there with my young son for a minute looking in the empty store with some of the shelves ripped out. I can clearly see inside my mind all of those shelves being full and I can tell you where the classics were kept. I can tell you where I found the copy of "The Maltese Falcon" that we rented then my wife and I watched together. I remembered how I used to pace the New Releases isle and row along the wall looking for current period films.
There was just this moment of sadness, very brief, that this part of my life had ended when my wife and I moved a few miles north and now closed for good since this outlet had closed. I remember the excitement and anticipation of renting a movie for the first time time, or one of the classics I had seen before but wanted to share with my new wife. But it's hard to be sad about this franchise closing, knowing that I might have a movie waiting for me in the mail box already for me to watch.
The Death Of HD-DVD And Rebuying The Same Flick...
A lot has obviously happened for all of us in the span of 10 years and a lot has changed (except my love for my girlfriend who became my wife, that's only grown since then.)
I don't know of a single person who buys new VHS cassettes any more. If you're going to record a program on TV, you'll use a Tivo or a DVR. Televisions themselves have changed, going from the bulky Picture Tube to the flat panel LCD or plasma screens. As far as I know, most of the movie rentals come through the mail via a website like Netflix (one of our newest affiliates.) The Analog Signal that has been the format signals have been sent over the airwaves will be discontinued this time next year.
This past week, Toshiba announced HD DVD's surrender, making "Blu-Ray" the format of choice in the coming years and echoing in some regards the Video Cassette format-battle wars between JVC's VHS format over Sony's Batamax. It also reminded me of what happened a few years ago when in less then 24 months shops stopped displaying VHS in favor of the new "Compact Disk of Home Theater." Except that Blu-Ray isn't much of a quantum leap from DVD the way DVD was from VHS, which might be why that new format isn't doing much better then the now defeated HD-DVD.
I wondered out-loud in The Electric Speakeasy what this is going to mean for Vintage Aficionados and Classic Movie fan everywhere. Part of me won't feel comfortable with Blu-Ray until I see some of my favorite Black And Whites released on this format. I might not be buying them, though. I'm past the point where enough is enough...
Between the time "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" was released in the theater and today, I've bought the movie three times on VHS - first when it was available for home video, then again when Paramount re-released it as part of there 75th Anniversary Commemoration, and then again in Letterbox format, and finally when it was packaged together with the other two films on DVD.
I've bought "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon" on both VHS and DVD, and had a copy of "Treasure Of The Sierra Madre" on VHS and was given a copy of it for my 38th Birthday.
The Thin Man series? My wife and I bought the movies for each other one at a time for special occasions on VHS, then bought the whole set for each other two holiday seasons ago.
If you were to go back in time to 1980 and talk to me when I was 11 years old and tell me that not only would I have copies of "The Empire Strikes Back," but I would give them away because I had a newer version on a better format, I would have thought you were crazy. But that's exactly what happened with the VHS copies that I had, with the exception of the first one for sentimental reasons, most of the VHS movies I had I simply gave away when I replaced them with DVD's.
Why would I buy them all yet again on Blu-Ray if the picture quality won't be that much better on a Next Generation DVD player and a LCD or Plasma Screen? And the quality of the DVD has already surpassed the original film stock, so it might be impossible to improve on the quality of the film. And if Eric Renderking Fisk, one of the most infamous Classic Movie Fans on the Net says he won't buy these movies yet again in the new format, and I'm writing what many are thinking, it's a safe bet other Classic Film junkies won't as well. If we won't buy them, they won't make them...
So, might that mean that in the near future as the DVD format dies out, so too will Classic Films? I regard old movies (because not everything can be considered a "Classic") as part of our Civilization's Heritage, not just our countries. Movies that were made back then are just as important as our books, newspapers and journals because they chronicle (for lack of a better world) not only how the world is, but how we wish it could be and fear how it might really become.
Will more classic movies be available in the new Blu-Ray format? There are some classics like "The African Queen" that haven't released on DVD format. With each new format, fewer classics are released as form of cinematic entropy. That bothers me a lot. These issues have created a "Catch-22" for Classic Movie Fans and Studios alike.
Out side of The Fedora Chronicles and the rest of the Retroverse, will there even be a demand when some of these movies reach the century mark in a few short decades? I'm screaming Chicken Little when there might be Blu-Ray Skies on our horizon and there will always be demand for these films since the special effects were in the scripts with dialog and plots that were original back then and can't be beat today, (with rare exception,) and Blu-Ray might offer ALL of the Bogart films from Warner Brothers on ONE disk... even some that haven't been released on DVD yet.
As an aside - the only solution to these format issues is to have a device that will play any disk you you have - Blu-Ray, DVD, HD-DVD... and the stack of music CD's we've bought since the mid-1980's.
The Future Of Our Past...
10 years ago I was working for a Tele-Com company that was on the cutting edge of broadband and Vice-Over-IP. To show for it, I have an obsolete copy of "The 15th Updated And Expanded Edition Newton's Telecom Dictionary." (it's yours if you want it, just send me your address and let me know.)
Part of the job was checking the connectivity of some sights like Yahoo when they had movies streaming for broadband users. (I'm not sure if Yahoo still has this...) I used to have "H.G. Well's Things To Come" in a small window on the upper right hand side of my screen and keep tabs on it's progress and quality while I was routing information via different severs based on performance... And I thought back in 1999 and 2000 that THIS was going to be the future, down-loadable movies that you could see just as quickly as your internet connection would allow. Isn't THAT the future of home theater? Downloading full size movies with all the extras and sound quality would make everything else irrelevant.
Could there actually come a time in our future when we'll never own a physical copy of a motion picture, we can just click the "Casablanca" book-mark on our computer screen or home theater device. For the price less then a cup of coffee you could down-load it on to the movie version of an I-Pod, or with connection speeds reaching the Terabyte-Per-Minute threshold in the next few years, would we just have the latest cleaned up version streamed to us and temporarily stored on a device for just for the length of time to watch it.
This would be bad for us if the movies that are available to us now via Amazon or Netflix won't be available to us through a download-subscription service because of the lack of storage space. Or, is it possible that every movie ever made will be stored for everyone to download it if wanted or needed? Or could this be The Golden Age for Classic Movie fans and the movies that we relish in now will be the faded memories of some elderly vintage aficionados in the year 2060 and I begin living in my 80's?
Movies that are not available through this "Everything Is Downloadable, Nobody owns copies themselves" world might make collecting physical copies of movies a niche market. In the future only a few people will collect movies on disk the same way some collect music albums on vinyl today. I can imagine an older, greyer version of my self wearing the same fedora, searching the flea markets for now obsolete media while muttering to myself that I should have hung on to that copy of "Raiders Of The Lost Ark," no matter how many people told me Blu-Ray was obsolete!