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Karie (site owner) Written by Karie (site owner)
Aug. 14, 2005 | 10:45 PM

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by Helmut Doork

I?m proud of my oppressively large wall of videos. As I point out to everyone who asks (everyone does), this floor-to-ceiling library display of tapes is not just a random collection of more than 700 movies I happen to like. No. These are either out of print (OOP) or bootlegs that never saw the legitimate light of day. At the very least, I only stock hard-to-find films in the wall. The Roger Corman-produced abortion-version of The Fantastic Four from 1994? Got it. You want the commentary tracks from the original laser disc versions of the James Bond Criterion editions which were later banned by the producers? It?s there. Right there, on perpetually degrading magnetic tape. So I finally got around to doing what should be done. I bought a DVD recorder. At least now, my deteriorating VHS could be preserved in their current condition in a digital format.

Then it occurred to me that while the videos on my wall weren?t going anywhere, the same couldn?t be said for all their brothers and sisters on the walls of video stores across the city. I?ve seen DVD chasing VHS out of store after store. The new technology is rapidly supplanting the old. But what those moms and pops are doing is tossing out our cinematic (or straight-to-video) history. Though DVDs are being released constantly, they?ve got decades to catch up with VHS. And what happens to the movies only available on VHS? Likely, they?ll disappear like vaguely remembered waking dreams.  But if I have anything to say about it, they?ll be transferred to a digital format via my new best electronic friend. (Though my TiVo is an extremely close second.) It is my solemn duty as a certified (or is that certifiable) movie geek to save these tapes from the dustbin.

So I?m doing just that. I?ll find a store that still has the VHS format in good quantities. This is not as easy as it sounds. I will gladly accept reader input to direct me to video stores that still do this. Then I scour the racks, one at a time, mostly taking notes, occasionally taking a tape if I absolutely know the limited availability. Then I take my list home to run the titles by IMDB (if you have to ask, why are you on this website?).  When I put the title in the IMDB search function, I look to the upper right corner, where the film?s availability in three countries (US, UK and Germany) is listed. If I see blank space, I got a VHS that demands to be duplicated. Oh, yes, I?m well aware that duplication of this sort may violate any number of copyright laws, but I soldier on. If I don?t break these rules, the movies will not be saved. FBI warning be damned, I?m makin? copies. Armed with my now well-researched list, I head back to the store and rent as many tapes as I think I can copy before the due date. This weekend, I rode my bike all the way from mid-city to Bubank, to Los Feliz and Silverlake. I was on my hands and knees at one store where the VHS has been largely relegated to sharing a small room with unused display racks that lie on the floor. I couldn?t have been happier, though because I uncovered the likes of Pia Zadora?s Butterfly and Joseph Sarno?s hard-to-find Confessions of a Young American Housewife. I take my stash and head back to Copy Control Headquarters (my bedroom) and start saving my little corner of cinema.

Luckily, copy protection like Macrovision is present on more current (and available) videos. The ones I?m copying are usually free of this making duplication a breeze. So while I?d have a hard time getting my DVD recorder to make a copy of Terms of Endearment, there?s no such problem making a copy of Hustler Squad. While I?m making the copy, I go back on my computer and find an image (usually a poster) on the internet and save the image to print on a box cover. There?s some great poster companies that have helped with this immeasurably. Some video stores give you the box with the video and I can just make a photocopy of that. In only three weeks of owning the DVD recorder, I?ve made more than 125 copies of movies.  These movies otherwise might never make it to anyone?s DVD player. But at my house, they reside safely and maybe permanently on my shelves to be loaned and seen by the masses. Well, the masses who have my number. So to those passionate cinephiles at the UCLA Film & Television Archive who tirelessly toil to reclaim our more serious cinematic history, my hat?s off to you. I?ll be on my hands and knees at a dusty Koreatown video store looking for a copy of the elusive VHS copy of I Dismember Mama.

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