Obsolescence Week: Into the snow! | Bleader

Monday, March 5, 2012

Obsolescence Week: Into the snow!

Posted By on 03.05.12 at 09:58 AM

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The videocassette has been the subject of mockery for several years running. Ben Stiller got a laugh in Tropic Thunder just for saying “You have this on VHS?” and the gang at Everything Is Terrible! has turned a stockpile of Jerry Maguire tapes into a dadaist joke. For the general public, the videotape now seems tacky and needlessly bulky—the technological equivalent of an obese Avon lady in plaid. It’s hard for me to join in the derision, though. I’ve collected way too many cassettes to laugh at the format without laughing at myself (in the days before online streaming, the only way to see certain films was to track down someone who could make you a dupe, which made collecting movies into a fun challenge); also, I still watch a lot of them.

I’ve never regarded DVD as a flawless alternative to VHS. The advances in image and sound quality may be inarguable, but it’s far more disruptive to the movie-watching experience when a disc skips—or stops playing altogether—than when a cassette image goes snowy around the top and bottom. And, actually, I kind of resent those technological advancements, which often have been trumpeted at the expense of the movies the discs contain. In hindsight, one of the best things about VHS was the format’s fundamental modesty: watching a tape, you were well aware that you weren’t seeing a movie but rather the facsimile of one. Videocassettes were a consolation prize for people unable to go to the theater (which is how any movie ought to be experienced) and the knowledge that you saw an inferior image at home only reaffirmed the spectacle of seeing it projected on a big screen.

With the constant developments in home viewing, the distinction between moviegoing (the very word connotes physical activity) and simply watching something gets blurrier every day. This only makes me nostalgic for the more benign blur that runs throughout the VHS copy of Chloe in the Afternoon I watched a few dozen times in college. Is there any mutation that can be made to a movie on Netflix Streaming that evokes the dog-eared page of a favorite book?

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