Thursday, September 11, 2008

BEST OF: Revisiting VCR fever

This column ran in The Cambrian Nov. 19, 1987, long before TIVO, iPods and widespread reliance on the Internet. Because we are modified Luddites to the core, we still use a VHS video recorder more often than the fancy-dancy DVD recorder that we keep forgetting how to program. I’ve never, ever downloaded a movie, perhaps because we don’t watch as many films or even as much TV as we used to when my mom was alive.

I must beg for your indulgence and understanding as I confess something awful. Maybe there’s hope. Maybe we can be saved, even though there’s no known cure and the disease is progressive.

We are VCR junkies.

We were OK at first. Mom only used the Sony BetaMax to tape shows we’d have missed, or that she wanted to keep for future reference. Innocent enough, but those are the first symptoms of decline, obvious to those who are aware of the addictive potential.

The next clue? After her first Sony machine died of microchip fatigue, Mom went right out and bought another Beta set. VCR fever had her in its grip, despite her protestations that we had to have it to play all those tapes she had accumulated.

A likely story.

She merrily continued to add to her collection of old movies, ice-skating performances and competitions, nature shows, political speeches and special documentaries.

The tape cartridges began taking over the world. We had to shift around two long shelves of books to make room for the vast array of videotapes, and some really good books wound up in the great book-graveyard in the shed. Shameful.

In the meantime, to add to the woes of a compulsive VCR user, the Cambria area caught up with the rest of the world, with its very own video rental stores and outlets, burgeoning with video tapes to rent.

All of them were on VHS format tapes.

It was a dilemma. Sure, we could have driven in to watch the movies at the theater. But my mother was in the midst of chemotherapy for her lung cancer, so watching movies at home was preferable. And, to be truthful, we had never gone to movie theaters very often before, so I can’t blame it all on her.

Besides, I make better popcorn than they do, and we can buy Milk Duds cheaper at Bob and Jan’s.

We were hooked and didn’t even know it.

Mom took the plunge, and got a VHS VCR, too, which then sat side-by-side with the Sony.
The video compulsion was in full command as she quickly racked up “Out of Africa,” “Crocodile Dundee” and “Running Scared.” Great stuff.

As bakery owner-operators, we found ourselves not getting much sleep. Late to bed, extraordinarily early to rise makes a baker cranky when he nods off, nose first into the pumpernickle dough.

Unfortunately, we could rent and watch the good movies a lot faster than the video stores could get in new ones, and the VCR compulsion was getting stronger.

In a burst of strength, we eliminated entire categories from consideration. Anything with Chuck Norris in it. Anything with a ghost, gun, motorcycle, dead body or blood on the cover, or the word “Porky” in the title.

After all, we were only sick, not crazy.

Still, we wound up renting third-rate movies, just to see if they had any kick to them at all. If it had a good star, a good writer, a great director or even an intriguing title, at $2.50 a hit, how bad could it be? Don’t ask.

It was sad to watch the compulsion take hold.

We watched Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier trying to rip off gangsters they’d already ripped off once before and been caught at. With that cast, it should have been wonderful. It wasn’t. We watched the whole thing, and to this day, we still don’t understand why.

We watched Michael Caine on some God-forsaken island with guerilla warriors who broke into a radio station and started singing their demands over the air. No matter how sick we were, 10 minutes of that was all we could take.

We tried to quit. Really we did. Still, we wound up watching five minutes of Dudley Moore as a psychotic psychiatrist with pretensions, five minutes of Sally Fields and a short-haired, pre-plastic-surgery Arnold Schwarzenegger and little more than the opening credits on five or 10 other loser films.

Mind you, all of these were movies we never would have driven 35 miles to see at a theater, or even tried to stay up to watch at 12:48 a.m. on cable.

VCR fever had us in its grip.

Finally, we were down to such winners as “Red Desert Penitentiary.” “Maximum Overdrive.” “Amazons in Jail.”

Looking back, were we really that desperate? Had our obsession progressed so far that there was no hope left?

Anyone for popcorn?


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Anonymous said...

A copy of The Cambrian was put in the bus tray at Pete's SLO the other day-first time I've seen anything like it from other papers in the county.
Cambria is obsessed with itself.