Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Of magnetic tape and head drums

One of the modern wonders of the world resides in my Grandmother's house.
No, It's not the sugar cookies that have been in the treat jar since 1982.
Nor is it the actual functioning Atari 800 in the basement.

The most amazing site in this house is the collection of VHS cassette tapes.

My Grandma had HBO and cable for many many years in my youth. Not far from the TV was the most recent copy of TV Guide. In these precious pages was the key to her "game plan" for the week.
Her goal was to record as many movies as humanly possible with the VCR.
Was that "The Goonies" on at 7:30 AM? She'd be up to start the recording.
I see that "Mask" is on at 11:30 PM....never fear--Grandma would be up to hit record.
She was TIVO before TIVO even existed. She should sue for prior art.

Could she have set the VCR to record on its own? Perhaps....but I never noticed the time on the VCR display anything but 12:00.

Many of you that watched movies in the "old days" will recognize the VHS cassette tape storage cases. You could put dozens of tapes in each case.

My Grandma has rooms full of these cases. In each of these cases are recorded movies.
If you're looking for a certain genre, never fear. She's arranged them by movie type; Westerns, Action, Horror, etc. She'd label the outside of the case with marker on a strip of masking tape indicating the genre of movies.
Pull open any case and you'll find that every tape contains 3 movies. (For sure she recorded in EP--Extended play to get 6 hours per tape)

It's time for some mental math.
She has approximately 250 cases stacked high in her house. Each case holds 30 tapes. Each tape contains 3 movies......carry the 3....decimal point shift....pull out the HP calculator....and it appears that she has no less than 22,500 movies in tow. Eat that blockbuster.

There are two thoughts I have regarding these movies. One is from the past, and the other is in the future.

I was raised in a very religious household. We did not watch movies or TV that was inappropriate for young children or oppressed teenagers.
From time to time, my Grandma would send a care package for the grand kids. Inside would be a few VHS tapes with movies she thought we'd enjoy. We'd sit down and enjoy "Labyrinth," or perhaps "Star Wars."

Unfortunately I don't think my Grandma realized what some of the other movies on the tapes were. She must have classified "Labyrinth" as a horror movie, because when it finished, Friday the 13th part 3 started up.
The shock...the horror...the satisfaction....
I must have watched and re-watched that movie 15 times in the hidden quiet of the basement. There was a topless scene that was probably viewed about 156 times. I think the tape was starting to wear out.

It seemed that every kids movie on the tapes were followed by some great spectacle of action, horror, and curse words. Without these precious tapes, I would have never seen Nightmare on elm street when I was 9. I would have missed Judge Dredd, all the Conan (Arnold) movies, Red Sonja, and Stripes. That would have been a shame.

I wonder if my Grandma has a VHS storage section called "Free Cinemax Preview."
As an older teenager I remember watching some movie from my Grandma, and the clip ending abruptly, and shifting to a gratuitous sex scene including a lady with dinner-plate size nipples.
As I headed away to college the next year, I assume my younger brother kept that one in his sacred stash.

I don't think my Grandma has seen 5% of those movies, but for some reason she religiously recorded them. For what purpose I know not.

As she approaches her upper 80's, I realize that she won't be around for much longer. So what is to become of her VHS movie collection??
How can you put a price on this? She probably dedicated thousands of dollars towards materials, and probably tens of thousands of hours recording, cataloging, stacking, etc.

Surely there must be someone out there who would value this treasure??

Alas, I think the market for TV-recorded VHS movies is a soft one. So much time dedicated....for what?? Nothing.
It's the same way I feel about collecting baseball cards as a youth. It's a good thing that I have every Barry Bonds baseball card ever created. The buyers are knocking my door down.

I gotta go. Time to clear out space in my basement for these cases. Do I even still have a VCR?


Allison said...

Please tell me you had a Pong session on the Atari.

It's good that you had Grandma. This way you got 80s topless scenes instead of girls in bras in the JC Penny catalog.

Sully Sullivan said...

Nevermind the VHS, that fully functioning Atari is worth some cash for sure. Shit, I'd even but it...$20....alright alright...$22.50 final offer.

If you have like 45 hours on your hands you could convert all those bad boys to DVD.

Gary ("Old Dude") said...

not even sure they even still sell VCR's---I got a ton of tapes myself----but mine are store bought originally, so I even have the original box covers---but at best I might seel them to a second hand store for two or three bucks a copy.----(sigh)

LOBO said...

We just recently moved, and I swear on a stack of bibles I threw out somewhere in the neighborhood of maybe 5-600 authentic audio cassettes. It was weirldly heartbreaking (aka "but I spent 12 bucks on this Warrant cassette once!").

Regarding "magnetic tape" recordings, I'm glad to see them go. I've bought Van Halen 1 and Motley Crue Shout at the Devil maybe 10 times each. No matter how good your sound system was, it couldn't handle the crap manufaturing and design.

I, for one, welcome this "Digital Age" ...


Doug at Taunt Vortex said...

You can't imagine how relieved I am. I kept reading this post, despite the uneasy feeling that toward the end, you were going to mention some unlabeled VHS tape that you found, and popped into the old VCR.

Then, much to your horror and dismay, you discovered that this particular tape was a "home movie" that your grandmother had made.

Dodged a bullet there. Not that anything like that has ever happened to me...

Don said...

Cool. Some of them my still be viewable, but I'd be more interested in the Atari. I mean honestly, how many people can claim they have a working 800?

Anonymous said...

I had a friend who had a similar stash in his basement until he was "convicted" (in his conscience) of it possibly being illegal and upgrading most of it to DVD. However, I remember watching many a movie, including some, if not all of the ones you mentioned. Plus lots and lots of Beavis and Butthead and Headbanger's Ball.

Jayson Cole (KrunkMode) said...

Ahhh, I used to have that VHS holder. It was a real peice of shit! I always put the tapes in the wrong way, and have to scavage through all the tapes to find Beverly Hills Ninja.

Major Undeclared said...

Unbelievable! How could anyone forget the collection? I think it's funny that you think you're gonna inherit it when she dies. I have coveted them for years. Though I am gonna have to rent another place to store them.
One video grandma gave to me when I was little had these movies.
"The Land Before Time"
"The Sound Of Music"

By the way, I did find a secret stash.

Stephanie Barr said...

I once had a stash like that, but to a lesser degree, and, yes, I was the fruitcake that taped them. Now, I've got a few hundred DVDs (after having given up my 400+ laser disc collection).

I may be a *little* too fond of movies.

Alex L said...

I saw a story on some show that they just stopped making vcr's so you'd better hurry if you want to pick on up. I relied on my firends to see all those movies I was deemed to young for, well at least till I was about 10 or 11. The parents got pretty chilled after that. Of course watching showgirls or striptease in primary school was fairly pointless.

Heinous said...

Great post. Heh, Granny Tivo.

I still remember my Great Grandma letting me watch "Death Race 2000" when I was eight. I relayed the whole plot to my parents later in the week. I think they had a talk with her after that.

eve cleveland said...

I miss the uncomplicated beauty of the Atari....Atari F*ckin rawked, Dude! I bet I could still kick some tail...bust that out this weekend and let me see if I've still got my touch.

Prefers Her Fantasy Life said...

This post made me feel sort of sad. My aunt will only buy her books and movies--she's into DVDs now. She must have as many as your grandmother, and she marks all of hers with a number and then writes the location on a corresponding index card. I'm in line to inherit them. But frankly, I have no interest in her Jag or Miami Vice or Magnum PI series.

And what? You have a brother? Where's he been hiding?

Matt said...

allison--Bingo...Pong was the first video game I ever played...and I'm still losing to 13-year olds online at 33. Can you say loser??

Sully--Your offer is tempting, and doesn't charge me any listing fees. (via ebay)
45 hours?? I would think that the movies must be read in "real-time" in order to convert to DVD...that's like...a lot.

Gary--you can get 3 bucks a piece??!! Send me the address.

lobo--I feel your pain. I recently donated all my cassette tapes. It hurt...especially the first 3 I every purchased--Tiffany, Pet Shop Boys, and Winger.

Doug--My wife laughed out loud at your comment. She doesn't even do that with my posts. How much do you charge to "ghost-write" on a blog?

Jayson--BH ninja is a classic, and at the same time, a terrible movie.

Major--We'll be taking this into probate court.

Stephanie--The only movie I've ever seen on Laserdisc was the Jazz Singer. Neil makes everything better.

alex--I wonder if my local town-ship knows about the stoppage of VCR production. I think the local movie rental place still has some VHS tapes.

heinous--I knew better than that. By telling my parents, I would have forfeited my "collection."

Eve--On the atari game system, I used to play Pac-man a lot. The only thing I remember, is that when you "ate" a ghost, the sound card gave off a noise that sounded like someone saying "buttwipe." And now you know...and knowing is half the battle.

Prefers--My brother is tall, blonde, and very uncoordinated. He also feigns attempts at humor like myself.
He is a writer at my new review site,

The Nemesing One said...

Less than a year ago we purchased a 50" 1080P Plasma Screen TV - the first thing my wife says is, "Make sure you hook the VCR to it - not surprising, this TV makes those look good too - you have my email, make sure that if those tapes are about to be thrown away, I'll drive cross-country to Idaho to pick them up.

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