Saturday, July 02, 2005

Erratic Thriller Flashback

I just read a old issue of Video Watchdog from 1995. I discovered the magazine a year later with the issue on Dawn of the Dead that opened my eyes to all sorts of random Italian, Hong Kong and B pictures. I was rather religious in my collection of VW's until recently. In Portland I got many of my issues for free and when I moved I bought an issue or two, but frankly, the world has been streamlined. Ten years ago you needed magazines to know what was coming, how transfers looked, etc. etc. Most of those needs have been surplanted by the internet, with its greater immediacy. But ten years ago, the internet was still in its infancy. I mean, I was working off a shitty old mac until I upgraded to a iMac in 1998 after graduating from college. I have since converted to the PC, to the contempt of my Apple sensitive friends. Most of my computing was done at school, though I was emailing a plenty by 94, and had friends who were creating websites, etc.

But in the early ninties, if you wanted to see a film in its original aspect ratio, you had to have a laserdisc player. Though some discs ran you $25, a Criterion was around a hundred and sometimes more. Few retail and rental locations stocked them, so it often meant driving to Lake Oswego, or Northwest Portland to get my hands on them... and those few stocked usually a selection that wouldn't match my current DVD collection; we're talking 500 titles, though as time went on some got near the thousands. Portland was not a harbor for LD collectors, though in its time, if you were down with LD, it meant you were down with me. You'd wait for an announcement sheet from Ken Crane's, or Laserviews, or a sign up on the local Tower to find out what was coming. And if you hadn't seen the film, but only read about it, well, it was going to cost you some serious coin.

I spent the majority of my high school years employed doing grunt labor part time (read: Fast Food), which meant getting a widescreen copy of Little Big Man ($69.95), with maybe a 10% discount at Ken Cranes (but then... shipping costs sort of equalized that out) was working two shifts on the weekend. The Star Wars Trilogy Box Set... $250 back in 1991? Shit, man, that was a huge investment. Like many of my compatriots, there was lots of listing that went on, which was all done manually, and every new addendum meant a new list, with the lists often listing the discs specs, though those lists were shown to people who already knew said specs. But because of the bulk of their size, and my temporal living arrangements (I was in college and had at least one new place every year, often two) my collection never got above a hundred for long.

I should also add that I didn't get a drivers license until I was 20, so many rentals were made at the insistence of having friends or family drive my ass around (a thousand pardons) or involved precarious bike rides in college. In 1992, as I was starting my summer job at the unmentionable Fast Food joint I worked at, Jaws came out widescreen. I can't remember exactly where it was that had it (you couldn't always count on the local shops to stock lasers on release dates, I think back then video dates were on Wednesdays, which shifted in the mid 90's), I think Tualatin, but we got it, and I got to watch it the next day, since I got off work around 1 am.

And in rereading the language of the transfer was so important. Framing issues were constantly brought up, image quality, sound quality (it should also be noted that it wasn't until around 1996 that AC-3, which became 5.1 surround was meant for home use, and around the same time DTS also became a possibility - I didn't have 5.1 at home until the begining of 2000, though I had six speakers at that point. Meta note: the first film I watched at home in 5.1... Mystery Men) at best you were rocking a 2.0 surround mix. While often the laserdisc had a second audio commentary on the analog right channel (mono mixed, of course). Transfers were relatively better, but color noise, especially with reds, was a constant problem. Laserdisc were easy to dupe to video, though required expert timing with the pause and record buttons, and the longer I had the player, like my friends, we'd make our own cuts of films, especially films we felt were flawed. You'd make a 94 minute cut of The Fugitive, a 103 minute version of Jurassic Park (melted ice cream scene... You're GONE). When you had some spare coin, you'd take a gamble on an expensive Criterion. Adventures of Baron Muchausen ($125), Sid and Nancy ($100), Dr. Strangelove ($100), and if you sold it, you'd be lucky to get twenty. But if you couldn't rent it (always a problem) that's the way you had to go. And there were always cool rumors circulating... Criterion Bullet in the Head... Criterion Polyester... A widescreen version of The Road Warrior... etc. etc. You'd salivate at the thought of the Elite SE's of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the eventual WS Vertigo, A widescreen edition of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2! The Hidden from Lumivision! And again, not many of these were available for rent.

By 1998, I was graduating from college, and DVD's were beginning to hit the marketplace, and us LD people viewed them with skepticism and contempt. Kevin Smith famously said "Fuck DVD" on his Chasing Amy commentary, but now almost all of the old schoolers have either boxed up or sold off our discs. But in 1998, DVD's were still trying to figure their shit out, and anamorphic transfers were not the norm. That noted, DVD's were hard to ignore. Universal put out a widescreen version of Videodrome, and it ran $20. I got it the same day I got The Thing SE, and DVD did push the prices down on SE's of Laserdiscs, albeit briefly (the format was dying and we all knew it though we swore the greatness of LD's as we watched the ship sink). Image Entertainment had a deal with Universal and thus came widescreen versions of They Live and Prince of Darkness (though at the hefty price of $35 a piece... Hefty for DVD then and now), while stuff was coming out that had supplements heretofore unthought of. By 1999 it was dead, I was leaving the video store, and moving on to my next gig, and as I left, it was decided to cut down the LD area of the store. I had about 40 DVD's at that point, and about 150 LD's. But I could see the tide turning, and I sold off more than half to replace those version with their DVD counterparts.

By 2000, I was writing for with my first review being for The Graduate (if memory serves), leading to me joining the DVD Journal team in late 2000, and I worked double duty until earlier this year when I abandoned my BF post out of apathy, and the general shittiness of the titles I was getting. Good Christ, have I been writing for the J for five years now? Richard Scary.