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VHS gets love from two upcoming movies

Most avid readers will speak to an emotional attachment to books through associations of the senses - the roughness of the page, the smell of ink and glue - when describing a love of reading. Filmmakers and connoisseurs of film will cite an obsession with the physical properties of the celluloid through which movies are projected.

But for a generation of filmmakers who cut their filmmaker teeth by shooting with the family camcorder and editing with two VCRs, there is a logical fixation with the object of the plastic and magnetic 1/2” VHS videocassette and the visual artifacts of its recorded image.

Two movies will be released in the next months which hold the VHS aesthetic dear. One is Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind in which two video store clerks decide to deal with a store full of accidentally erased tapes by remaking the classic movies in their own, VHS homebrew fashion.

The other paean to VHS is Son of Rambow, Garth Jennings’ film which was the darling of Sundance this year. The title is that of the homebrewed movie that two little boys make after discovering and being mindblown by a bootleg copy of Rambo: First Blood on VHS.

Trailer for Be Kind Rewind.

No trailer yet for Son of Rambow, but a review from The New York Times.

This begs the question: with Super-8 and VHS all but a distant memory, with MiniDV on the way to extinction, what formats will the future filmmakers obsess over and what artifacts will they attempt to reproduce for nostalgia as they grow up and the formats of their youth are phased out?

Reader comments

R.Dec 07, 2007 at 3:52PM

No such discussion would be complete without passing reference to the PXL-2000.

JohnurDec 07, 2007 at 4:02PM

The current wave of our future is tapeless recording where HD quality video is recorded direct to memory cards or drives connected to the camera. The limitations of this technology are the storage capacity of the drives and the physical connection that needs to be made to the computer to digitize/import the footage. I imagine that in the future some wireless technology will make on-location storage inconsequential. Filmmakers will be able to run their cameras for however long they want and record to a remote location (their home computer maybe). Filmmakers will become less and less attached to physical characteristics - things they can touch and smell - and will concentrate their sight and sound senses on the medium.

MattDec 07, 2007 at 4:18PM

I think it would be awesome if Be Kind Rewind was actually released on VHS, even if it would only sell a few copies, as those few copies would be bought be exactly the type of people who would treasure them most.

TuCatsDec 07, 2007 at 4:37PM

God I hate to engage on this relatively trivial level, but if MiniDV is on the way to extinction, what are you presuming is killing it off? I don't mean the cool "maybe" of technologies yet to get serious traction... What deflection in market forces do you see killing off MiniDV systems today?

Or do you mostly mean that any format of today will be replaced by a format of the future?

ToddDec 07, 2007 at 4:49PM

Rambow sounds like a story based on the unbelievably wonderful shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's amazing. Far and away one of the best theater experiences I've ever had.

MikeDec 07, 2007 at 4:49PM

My first reaction to hearing about Son of Rambow is that it's simply inspired (ripped off?) from the real-life kids who recreated Raiders of the Lost Ark over several years. But the NY Times review makes it sound like a neat and weighty story in its own right.

Adam LisagorDec 07, 2007 at 5:44PM

Re: TuCats - I didn't necessarily mean that the format of MiniDV is nearly dead. Super-8 even still thrives in its own niche. But standard definition tape-based formats are being eclipsed by high definition tape-based and tapeless formats, so that in matter of years, the visual and aural qualities that we've come to associate with the format will be less and less common. For instance, we will continue to see movies shot digitally in the theater, as Blair Witch Project was eight years ago, but they will not have the same qualities because newer formats are more widely available. And while consumers are still widely using MiniDV, high definition formats are becoming available to consumers which will replace current formats. And the changeover is happening at an increased pace.

aliotsyDec 07, 2007 at 5:45PM

Nostalgic filmmakers will cobble together shorts with cell phone cameras.

Slightly related: retro chic kids will listen to music on iPods. Snooty, ironic retro chic kids will have Creative Zens and Zunes and snort at the kids that are merely retro chic.

Donovan GreeneDec 07, 2007 at 8:44PM

People will one day wonder how anyone ever used so archaic a format as P2 cards, and love their simple design, and inaccurate rendition of color. MiniDV is dead by the way.

Greg K NicholsonDec 07, 2007 at 8:46PM

MPEG compression. Ubiquitous in videos taken on mobile phones, those appearing on YouTube; even digital terrestrial TV is suffers from it (in the UK at least).

Adam LisagorDec 07, 2007 at 9:19PM

@Matt, re: Be Kind Rewind VHS edition: brilliant, brilliant idea.

@aliotsy, re: retro chic kids: I will snort at all of them.

@Greg K, re: MPEG compression: agreed, entirely. Big, sloppy chunks of MPEG, added in post with a plug-in, much like a film scratch today.

AntonDec 08, 2007 at 8:49PM

RE: TuCats and then adding on to Adam Lisagor's comments: The old mediums that video images were recorded on will all become obsolete because we have become wise enough and our computers have become powerful enough to process and view video simply as digital data as opposed to on tape or DVD. Mpeg 2, DV-NTSC (i.e. MiniDV) and HDV are all just forms of compression which itself is becoming more and more rare. With cameras like the Red One shooting 4k resolution in a 4:4:4 color space, compression itself is becoming obsolete. Texture is texture though, and for people who grew up watching videos on VHS, that texture will give feelings of nostalgia and for people who have enjoyed videos on Youtube, the texture of that choppy flash compression will give off feelings of nostalgia. But all of that is to say that digital images are becoming more and more clean and in the future digital artifacting will be a thing of the past.

Dan PhifferDec 09, 2007 at 7:36PM

This Christmas I'm doing a "VHS rescue": converting an out-of-print VHS tape to DVD format and giving copies away. This year I'll be rescuing Lemurs With John Cleese, which is super-awesome, but only available in a dying format.

PoagaoDec 10, 2007 at 3:54AM

In the future we'll look back on the days when we came up with our own stories and composition and used real people as actors. "What's 'focus', grampa?"

judson Dec 10, 2007 at 11:30AM

Well i'm 52yo. Started making regular 8mm at 11yo then to super8 16mm and double super 8. then sony reel to reel and on to vhs mini and now I shoot direct to drive with an isight. Though I trained in print and image quality I'd always give in to convenience and surveillant capabilities. I hate you tube, looks like shit. I think live, always on digital video with options to save as the future.

Darius K.Dec 10, 2007 at 4:45PM

Both of these movies sound kind of like a modernized Cinema Paradiso. Which ain't a bad thing.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.