Having a low-fi moment (again) as we approach next week’s 16mm screening of Tod Browning’s classic “Dracula”. And not just 16mm but 8mm and VHS tapes – such bulky media compared to today’s feather-light, downloadable digital technology. So vulnerable – so disposable.
VHS tapes and music cassettes. Once upon a time they were the revolution. What were we thinking? If ever any medium had built-in obsolescence, it’s the tape. Now Blockbuster has gone into liquidation and VHS tapes are the currency of bargain bins at carboot sales. Even charity shops don’t want them.
And yet….there is something kind of cool about video tapes. Like film, the sheer physicality of the format is all part of its charm. Now that the VHS tape is a historical artefact, we can enjoy its quirks. All the annoying stuff – the fact that you have to wind / rewind (or with a music cassette, flip it over to the other side) to get to the bit you want to play – having no other way of finding the bit you want to play than sheer guesswork – is forgivable when you know that these days you can access other more sophisticated ways of watching or listening whenever you want to.
But once upon a time they were the future. There was something very punky about the way you could record over a video tape, even pre-recorded ones. You could record things off the TV and make your own mix tapes. VHS cameras were enormous, like tanks, but if you had access to one of those beasts you could make home movies. If the cassette got stuck (or if you got really fed up of it) you could pull out the tape and unspool it. Visually, video was not a patch on the quality of film but, like 8mm, had a rough, DIY quality that has heralded the vogue for “found footage” in modern films. It was unbelievably cheap to use compared to film stock, no developing required, easy to edit – a medium ideally suited to its times and tailor made for the post-punk surge in music videos, affordable enough for almost any wannabe pop stars to have their own fifteen minutes of fame in the gift of sound and vision.
And because of this cheapness and DIY, home-spun quality, video naturally became the medium for home viewing – especially cult films. “Straight to video” was not exactly a compliment back in the day, as it meant your film was not worth the expense of going to print. But now it’s the kind of thing they show specially at festivals! Weird how times and fashions change.
We’ll be screening in luscious low-fi VHS and 16mm on Sunday, 24th November, with some tunes on vinyl and maybe even cassette if we can find something to play them on. The theme is horror…the old-fashioned kind…in a medium that, like the Count himself, may or may not be completely dead.