Photograph courtesy of Emily Webber of LondonShopFronts.com
Anybody who follows me on Twitter may have noticed me using the #VHSMovieClub hashtag here and there. The particularly observant among you will have noticed that only I use the #VHSMovieClub hashtag. That’s because, to all intents and purposes, I am #VHSMovieClub. And so is my wife.
#VHSMovieClub is an amalgam of two of my great loves – the cinema of the 80s and early 90s, and charity shops. (Not charity, charity shops. HUGE difference.)
Now that DVD is being supplanted by Blu-ray, and the ownership of films as physical media is being marginalised by digital downloads and VoD, VHS seems to be gradually taking its rightful place as the vinyl of video formats.
Purists will tell you that, quality wise, VHS is not to cinema what vinyl is to music. And they’re correct. So correct, in fact, that my analogy pretty much falls apart on that basis. Pretty much. Except that for some of us, quality isn’t exactly what it seems.
Take Firefox for example. Watched it last night, on an ex-rental VHS given to me by the lovely @skinnertron. Would I have preferred to watch it digitally remastered in glorious HD on a 50″ inch plasma screen? No. I wanted the VHS experience, the nostalgia trip, all the speckled filth and dusty residue of a decade in which the mobile phone was invented, Captain Sensible sang Happy Talk, and Britain was effectively governed as a dictatorship.
I want to watch it on a television with a 15″ screen and built-in VHS player – the kind of diminutive, highly unstable unit my mum was fretting about when she told us that if smoke ever started pouring out of the telly we should leave the room immediately and call the fire brigade.
Of course, sometimes the experience can be a little bit too authentic. Imagine my disappointment at discovering that a copy of Zardoz plucked from a cardboard box at Brick Lane market was nothing but a snowstorm of static, offering just the occasional glimpse of Sean Connery’s leathery red posing pouch. That’s #VHSMovieClub all over though, you roll with the punches. (Then you realise that the tape was in perfect working order, and that Zardoz was a work of deranged lunacy visionary genius.)
#VHSMovieClub does seem to have caught the imagination of one or two tweeting cinephiles. @bennycrime is a fellow believer, although neither of us has the wherewithal to work out exactly where our interest (in VHS, and pretty much everything else) overlaps.
It was Benny’s idea to try and use Freecycle as a way of getting more VHS players back into circulation. Damn fine idea if you ask me. Haven’t got a clue how it would work, but it’s a damn fine idea.
@ewebber has also run with it, on the basis of my wildly optimistic assertion that someone who takes a photo of a different London shop front every day (including weekends) would be a natural bed-fellow for such a venture.
She subsequently – and very kindly – took the photograph atop this blog post, and also set up this Google Map:
View VHSMovieClub in a larger map
This allows me (and anybody else who cares to bother) to flag and photograph the VHS inventories of any charity shop on planet Earth. So far, I have done two, both pictured here, and nobody has done any others.
A worthless endeavour, you might say. And you would be right. And I would say “So? What’s your point? Why are you so damn preoccupied with the superficial value of using your time in supposedly meaningful ways. Christ, you’ve changed, god knows, you really have.”
All of which is all well and good, but where would any club be without some hard and fast rules. #VHSMovieClub has rules. Several of them. Namely…
1.) You do not plurk about #VHSMovieClub
2.) YOU DO NOT PLURK ABOUT #VHSMovieClub
3.) You don’t get to keep the tapes, not unless they’re seriously unusual. Anything bog standard has to go back within a week or two of being watched, preferably to a different charity shop. Or you can lend it to someone. Or add it to a stockpile you will one day use to construct a stately pleasure-dome fabricated entirely from VHS video cassettes.
4.) All over the country Charity Shops are hemorrhaging VHS copies of The Full Monty. Sure, it was pretty well put together, and that bit in the job centre was very amusing, and, yes, it made us all feel slightly better about the fact that we had reduced Sheffield to the status of a third world country, but enough is enough. Like a rampant bacterium, The Full Monty poses a threat to the very video home ecosystem on which we depend. As such, every copy you encounter must be purchased, and burned to a crisp.
(Please note: there is a concern that the VHS Full Monty plague will one day mutate into full-blown pandemic DVD Mamma Mia – if you see a single copy of Mamma Mia on DVD in your local charity shop, please contact VHS Direct immediately on 0845 4647484950comingreadyornot.)
5. You’re not allowed to ask staff for permission to take photographs of their inventory, or to explain your actions in any way. Kindly old women such as those staffing Polegate’s Salvation Army charity shop must be left to wonder why on earth an otherwise normal-seeming person would want to take a photograph like this one:
There are a few other rules, at least there will be, once I work out what they are. There are also a few standard practices, one of which is to buy a mixed bag of movies, and to put it to Twitter (or, if you have proper friends, Facebook) to find out which is to be your evening’s entertainment.
It’s a pretty good basis on which to get into an argument about something that doesn’t really matter with someone you hold dear. Failing that, it’s a fun way to use the interspaz as a medium through which to advertise your eclectic taste in 80s and early 90s cinema. Failing that, it’s just a really pointless exercise.
And be prepared for the odd nail-biter. I’ve had more than one #VHSMovieClub come down to a single vote. Which was my vote. Which was the only vote. And that was great, I got to watch what I wanted to, and after a while I stopped feeling like a complete dick. Which is more, I would imagine, than can be said for Captain Sensible.