The Vanishing

The demise of VHS, and the movies disappearing along with it
by Anthony Kaufman   posted Feb 26, 2009

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Alissa33Bridges   posted 02.07.10

one of the couases why shopkeeper are not having VHS on thier shops because people don't have VCR now...... imean there is almost not demand thus no supply addicting games
alexjones142   posted 04.09.09

Quite an appropriate article, although a year too late to initiate a recovery plan (especially with some Kim's Video locations closing). There are still other video stores in major city locations, TLA in Philadephia (who rapidly sells off VHS), Premier Video in Dallas, I Luv Video in Austin, or the incredible Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee that (like Facet's) rents through the mail (and pre-dates Netflix). While accessibility is important, VHS also provides a better understanding of film stock exposure for theatrical release, and is quite often a better representation of exposure and focal decisions made on shooting location than the overly-processed DVD releases. I am in a habit of not only picking up the newest DVD copies of many hard-to-find titles (of which many regions offer more choices) but older and recent VHS because of their capacity for study in the areas of exposure, framing (of those magnificent directors in the 70s/80s/early 90s who knew how to frame simultaneously for theatrical and home 1:33 release), and marketing. Often VHS will provide much more information about a filmmaker's (as well as a studio or distributor's) intent, than the DVDs of today. Never mind the fact that it seems to be an easier format on my remote.
No. 13643 [Ed Crane]   posted 06.03.09

I think that while there's a likely to be a gap in the DVD catalogue for art films of the VHS era (70s-80s-early 90s), the ones where there IS some continuing interest will come out on some digital format, whether DVD or whatever endures. I'm surprised to see the great Andre DeToth listed as being unrepresented on DVD, since most of his 50s films are available (I have about six or so in my own collection). Is it possible that people are over-romanticizing the VHS era, in all its fuzzy pan-and-scanned glory? It begins to sound like a 42 year-old (i.e. my age) talking about how music was so much better when he was in college.
Foulard   posted 05.03.09

It stands to be noted that Scarecrow Video in Seattle, WA carries every VHS film mentioned in this article (with one or two exceptions like Cocksucker Blues which is only available on bootlegs and can be found easily enough online), and import DVDs of many of the titles like African Queen, I Married a Witch, Cruel Story of Youth, etc. Scarecrow will NEVER sell off their VHS. I think it is CRUCIAL that film fans not throw away their VCRs and continue to pursue viewing films in whatever format they are available. Buy a VCR for $5 at a garage sale! Buy an all-region DVD player! They are both totally viable and vital ways to grow as a film fan. I think only something like 1/4 of all feature films made before the advent of home video have ever been released. That means 3/4 of all movies just aren't available outside of prints (although most of those are forever lost). About half of the movies available on VHS have made the leap over to DVD. So if people decide to abandon VHS in favor of DVDs, Blu-Ray, Hd streaming and all that jazz, that means there is HUGE number of movies they are willing to just let fall through the cracks and vanish. Scarecrow Video is dedicated to preserving home viewing copies of any and all movies they can get their hands on, and I know there are other video stores out there who feel the same way. I implore people to take advantage of those resources so that they don't vanish, taking so many potential cinematic revelations with them. VHS! NEVER FORGET! Support your local independent video stores and repertory theaters!!
T Swenson   posted 02.03.09

The rights issue and infinite copyright extensions *is* the major factor. Yes, it does cost $30K for a commercial digital transfer from 35mm film, but it costs far less for it to be done offshore, or by a non-profit like a university film department. But with any hint of rights issues, nobody wants to invest even an hour's worth of time and effort to do anything. Lots of people will argue that the infinite copyright extension is *intended* to kill off as much content as possible, to avoid having it compete with new works. This is exactly the opposite intention of the original social contract of copyright, which balances the public benefit with private interests. There are still so many ways to make *modest* profits off of out-of-print materials, because the delivery and distribution costs can be eliminated via the internet. Yes, there are bandwidth and disk storage charges, but they pale in comparison to physical manufacturing, shipping, and warehousing costs. Amazon and Apple have demonstrated that the public will still pay money for things that are free if there is an element of value and convenience. I believe HP is also working on a massive digitization and on-demand library for out-of-print or never-released material. What we are missing today is the equivalent of Project Gutenberg, the non-profit organization that is digitizing and making available public domain writings. Perhaps a "Project Muybridge" is what we need to preserve (in whatever form) the motion pictures that are being lost due to indifference and neglect.
Terry F.   posted 02.03.09

I think it should be pointed out that GREED is not a VHS only masterpiece, it was released on laserdisc by MGM. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS and JUST ANOTHER GIRL ON THE IRT have also been released on laserdisc.
Michael Worrall   posted 02.03.09

Wajda's FURY IS A WOMAN was released by Kino in 2002 under the title SIBERIAN LADY MACBETH; JUST ANOTHER GIRL ON THE I.R.T. was released by Artisan in 2002; both are still in print.
Joe Bowman   posted 28.02.09

I respond to this article here:
craig keller.   posted 28.02.09

I'd love for someone to finally put out Michelangelo Antonioni's 1972 Documentary Chung Kuo. I heard there was a fresh print struck a few years ago which (I believe) only had a single screening in China, but nothing ever came out of it on the DVD front. Even after his death. I hope someone with $30,000 is reading this.
Kurt   posted 27.02.09

Let the record show that Fox DID release HELL AND HIGH WATER on DVD a year or two back. And Sony will be bringing out both UNDERWORLD USA and MAN'S CASTLE within the next year or so.
cadavra   posted 26.02.09


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Anthony Kaufman has written about films and the film industry for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, and Slate, among others. He is a regular contributor to indieWIRE, Filmmaker Magazine and The Utne Reader, as well as the editor of Steven Soderbergh: Interviews.

More articles by Anthony Kaufman
Author's Website: indieWIRE blog