Tag Archives: Cinemania

The VHS Tapes We Left Behind

Growing up a cinemaniac, there are, quite naturally, a number of actors and directors and screenwriters I would like to meet. However, I daresay I would not shake the hand of any of them so vigorously as I would the hand of film historian and critic, Leonard Maltin.

Maltin’s indispensable and always entertaining movie guide was a fixture in our household. Not only did we get each annual edition, but we held on to the old ones, noting the films that were added and removed… and occasionally the edits to the various capsule reviews. Prior to the Internet, this was an invaluable resource for all sorts of films, including knowing whether they were available on VHS, DVD, or even laserdisc.

Time marches on, of course, and the guide bowed out in 2014, as the print reference guide just wasn’t the go-to reference for a generation raised on checking for info online. I made the switch too. So did Leonard Maltin: he’s found new ways to talk about films and introduce people to all sorts of cinema they might not otherwise learn about.

But it’s in that spirit of wistful remembrance that he writes about the energy put into various VHS movie collections… and how many of the offerings coming out on DVD or Blu-ray are not nearly as artful, comprehensive — or even exist!

I imagine many of us have a treasured film or series that has yet to make the leap to a more modern format.

Feel free to mention any collections of films you’d like to see break out of the “only available in VHS” in the comments.

Recommended Reading: Requiem for a Video Store

Reading a recent piece reflecting on the demise of video stores, specifically independent video stores, made me reflect on the demise of Video Vault, an indie film mainstay in Alexandria that supplied film fans for a generation. Mike Musgrove’s article in the Washington Post about the Vault’s closing gives one a good idea of the pressures that made it close.

That article is probably a good warm-up for the aforementioned piece on indie video stores. It’s a much more personal first-person recollection by Dennis Perkins in Vox about the last days of a Portland, Maine video store.

As much as I like Netflix (and I do), it is flawed in terms of its selection and it is lacking that curated experience you get from those enterprising humans. We see this again and again with libraries, game stores, comic shops and other locations of specialized interest. You can automate information, but knowledge and wise advice appear to be lost –or at best diluted– in the automation process.

At the same time, market forces being what they are, I don’t see any financial incentive for knowledge and wisdom. That’s one thing Perkins’ article touches on — though I don’t see a practical solution with how the economy is structured. I suppose the curated experience could be preserved in libraries with a whole new generation of reference librarians and knowledge workers, but alas, libraries themselves are not being invested in a way that makes me feel rosy about their future.