A VHS Collection: Part Two

This series of posts has been submitted by Dale Lloyd, aka @VivaVHS.

In this series of posts, i’m sorting my VHS collection by film studio. Next up is EMI, or better known as Thorn EMI to most of you. EMI and Thorn EMI are one of my all-time favourite studios to collect. Their VHS cases are crisp, and their tapes are heavy. The weight of the tapes feels like a statement: “I’M HERE, WATCH ME.” DVDs are like a limp handshake to any serious collector! Here are some images:

A little bit about EMI

EMI Films was a British film and television production company and distributor. The company was formed after the takeover of Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC) in 1968 by EMI.

Its major successes as a film producer include the 1978 Academy Award for Best Picture winner The Deer Hunter, Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and in the 1980s, Bad Boys and Frances. In the early-1980s, the film division was renamed Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment, to reflect EMI’s merger with Thorn Electrical Industries to become Thorn EMI, years earlier.

Thorn EMI later sold its film, home video, and theater operations (which were inherited from ABPC) to The Cannon Group in 1986. A year later, a cash-strapped Cannon sold the film library to Weintraub Entertainment Group. The library ended up in the hands of several companies over the years and is now owned by StudioCanal, ironically a sister company to EMI’s rival Universal Music Group. EMI Films also owned Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, England, prior to them being purchased by the Cannon Group in 1986.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EMI_Films

Charity shops: the VHS graveyard

Charity shopsThis post was contributed by Jerome Turner.

I mostly encounter videos now in charity shops, and always find it interesting how the same films seem to turn up a lot. Mostly Jurassic Park and the like, always a few ‘keep fit’ videos too, probably dumped after the New Year resolution to lose weight goes out the window.

There also seem to be a lot of children’s VHS tapes in charity shops. I guess this may be partly due to the popularity of DVD formats, but also the ‘always on’ nature of CBeebies and other kids channels. I know the idea of buying kids DVDs seems a bit defunct.

I wonder how many people actually buy charity shop VHS tapes? People must do, otherwise the staff would just bin them I guess.

A VHS Collection: Part One

This series of posts has been submitted by Dale Lloyd, aka @VivaVHS.

I recently decided to rearrange my VHS collection from an alphabetical layout, to a more aesthetically pleasing method, sorting by film studios. A few options had been rolling around in my head at the time. One was to sort them into their age classification. Another was to organise by genre, and also into chronological order. All options looked very time consuming, but fun for me, of course.

When I finally settled on film studios, I quickly realised that this would not be possible due to many films being released by two studios on one VHS cassette. Another problematic scenario was how to actually locate my films. Would I have to remember that my VHS copy of Once Upon A Time In America is the Warner Brothers/Weintraub one? Or do I have the EMI version? Hmm… It appeared to be all memory based, like Rob Gordon’s vinyl in High Fidelity.

After much deliberation (and also moving the best part of 400 films to the floor), I had a change of heart and decided to place them back into alphabetical order. This is the order in which they will remain for many years to come. I did however manage to get one positive thing out of ‘the move’. It helped me to remember how amazing the various studio logos look on the VHS boxes.

During a series of posts, I will be gathering together all of my films (most of which are in their original cases) and will be posting them on here for the world to see. I will try and skip the more mainstream movies that I own from the mid to late 90’s, and instead concentrate on the tapes from the 1980s. Some of the companies will include CIC, CBS FOX, EMI, VTC, MEDIA and SC VIDEO.

I thought it would be best to start with Warner Brothers. Here I have tried to focus on the large ex-rental cases. These best symbolise my memories of a local video store, Video Vision, which closed down about 8 years back.

Video Cover Art: films by numbers

Do you have any VHS artwork that you’d like to contribute to our galleries? Please email them to videocultures@gmail.com.

If you own the copyright to any of the images included in these galleries and don’t feel that they should be displayed for the purposes of cultural research and education, please feel free to contact us privately at videocultures@gmail.com.

In search of Big Choice

ClerksThis post was contributed by Jon Hickman.

Another Clerks riff for this post. Randall talks about working in a “shitty video store”, and lusts after a trip to Big Choice – his VHS mecca. The proudest VHS moment in my life was having seen everything worth watching in Blockbuster, and then getting stuck into all the other stores which held better back catalogues. This is kind of a flip reverse on Randall’s approach to renting films: I love an independent, and I’d be happier in RTS Video than I would in Big Choice.

Blockbuster’s stores (and by the look of it, in Clerks, Big Choice’s too) have always been based around charts. The store is laid out in terms of charts, and the stock rotates with the chart too. Although Erdington Blockbuster had a golden age circa 2000 where it held older movies, most Blockbuster stores I’ve been to seemed to drop a line into ex-rental as soon as it left the Top-20. Indies tended to hold stock for much longer, allowing members to pick up movies they missed first time around, or maybe allowing them to revisit some lost classics. They also held films that wouldn’t pull big bucks in the first week of being on rental – a proper world section, some indie sleeper hits – the VHS Long Tail.

A few independent stores I’ve used over the years held phenomenal stock levels. The video store on Beeches Walk in Sutton Coldfield (now a Hunter’s Estate agents, natch) had the VHS sleeves mounted into slimline display cases so they could display all the choices in a room about 10 feet by 10 feet square. You could flip through the sleeves like a vinyl rack, and then retrieve your VHS from the desk. The back room must have been like a TARDIS to hold that much stock. The point of all this is, you felt in charge of your movie experience. You had a real big choice; the charts didn’t dictate your choice for you.

And on that point we should note that Blockbuster has a role to play not just in terms of the movies that are available to you, but to the formats that you can rent. VHS died not when Curry’s stopped selling the machines, but when Blockbuster and HMV stopped providing the software. On the rare trips I make to the rental store now, I start to feel that it might be time to go BluRay: Blockbuster is winding down the DVD choice, calling time on another solid format.

Where does the next Tarantino work?

This post was contributed by Jon Hickman.

Have you ever noticed how video shops in popular culture confer expertise on people? In Clerks Randall bemoans the lack of vision his customers have when it comes to movie choices.

 Randall is a guardian of movie knowledge, and a major VHS snob.

 A big part of Quentin Tarantino’s back story is that he was a video shop clerk. The Tarantino myth relies upon this small fact about a mundane job; it shows that QT is steeped in popular culture, and, like Randall, he is a guardian to movie knowledge. His proximity to all that stored up movie-ness makes him the movie-lovers auteur.
So as video stores disappear, what does the next Tarantino do for a living?

RIP Video Oasis

VideosThis post was contributed by Weird Jon of Gravedigger’s Local 16. It was originally published here.

I’m bummed. You see, I was looking up the contact information for one of my favorite video stores and discovered that they had since closed their doors. I even tried calling to double check. It’s a bit odd for me to count Video Oasis as one of my favorites, seeing as how I only visited once and never rented anything, but I think the following will explain why.

I first learned about the store through its reputation back in 1995. Its selection of cult and obscure titles from all genres was often praised in the It’s All True column of the now-defunct Editorial Humor. That column, along with the paper’s profiling of local events in Massachusetts, set Editorial Humor apart from other humor piece/comic reprint papers (like Funny Times) due to their focus on everything weird. Be it crackpot inventors, television shows, movies, or the strangest the internet had to offer, It’s All True would tell you everything you needed to know. It also sponsored/promoted “Channel Zero,” a showcase of various bizarre movies and television shows (and occasionally things like bad poetry) that traveled from one venue to another. I remember reading that an installment about Japanese superhero programs was held at a bar, while others were presented at indie movie theaters.

But I digress… 

I seem to recall that one installment of It’s All True made note of Video Oasis having to hastily assemble shelves from 2x4s and cinder blocks in order to accommodate the sheer number of VHS cassettes they had acquired over the years. It also noted one of the store’s claims to fame: They actually carried the legendary Bruceploitation classic The Dragon Lives Again, wherein “Bruce Lee” goes to the underworld and teams up with Popeye to fight mummies, skeletons, Dracula, the Exorcist, and James Bond (among others). Oh yeah, you read that right.

So that, combined with the various ads for it that I saw in Editorial Humor and various free weekly papers, firmly cemented Video Oasis in my mind as a place I had to visit in the future. I once recognized the store’s distinctive palm tree logo from the newspaper ads, looking at the store with longing as the car I was riding in quickly passed by.

It wasn’t until around 2005 or 2006 that I actually set foot inside the place. I had gotten lost in Cambridge while trying to find a movie theater I was supposed to pick up a prize I had won online. Despite having walked for quite some time and started getting sore feet (along with a partial sunburn), I pressed on in the hopes that I only had a little more to go before reaching my destination. Instead, I found Video Oasis.

I was both happy and confused. Although I was glad to have an opportunity to actually visit the store, I could have sworn it was located in a different part of the state. The storefront certainly didn’t look like the one I remembered. But it didn’t matter if this was due to fuzzy memories or a change of location, I was finally there. Besides, I could probably ask for directions inside.

I was totally unprepared for what I found inside. It was actually bigger on the inside than it appeared outside. “Standalone, one story Best Buy” big. Rows upon rows of shelves (of the non 2×4 and cinder block variety) filled with DVDs or VHS (depending on what section of the store you were looking at). A barred door was chained shut in a corner, with a sign on it saying you had to ask someone up front to open it in order to inspect or purchase the vintage toys behind said door. “So that’s why they have a Shogun Warrior in one of the windows” I thought.

“Are you all right?”

The guy up front had taken noticed of my stunned expression. I had been so surprised by what I had just seen, I had frozen in place.

Embarrassed, I replied with something to the effect of “Oh…I was just surprised at how big it is in here. I’m just gonna look around now” and quickly darted down the nearest “Martial Arts” aisle. I walked around checking out all the cool covers and rarities until I worked up the nerve to ask for directions and more information about their rental and membership policies. It turned out that I had gone in the opposite direction of where I needed to be. I had to turn down the offer to sign up and take home a rental due to money issues, but vowed to return as soon as I had a steady supply of income.

But that time was further off than I thought and various issues (including an unplanned move) kept me from returning. By the time everything had calmed down and I was able to find the time to get there, Video Oasis had closed. If you maneuver around past the bus in this Google Map street view, you can even see the store’s signs and the darkened, Shogun Warrior-free windows.

As is the case when a loved one passes away, one has to work past the sadness and remember the good times. Although I’m sad to see it go, I’m still glad I had been able to visit at least once. It is also important to cherish those that are still with us and make every opportunity count. So if you’ve been thinking of renting certain movies from a certain store, do it now. They could close up tomorrow for all you know. Writing this also led me to discover that It’s All True/Channel Zero still exists in blog form. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.

Goodbye Video Oasis, you will be missed.