Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I believe in America...

I grew up in the days before VCRs were a common household appliance. I was part of the generation who scoured the weekly TV guide in search of monster movies, to ensure I wouldn't miss something regardless of when it might be on. I stayed up late to watch Creature Features; in fact I still I vividly recall the night I saw Night of the Living Dead for the first time - and knowing that at 1am when it was over, I could switch from channel 2 over to channel 36 where Planet of the Apes was starting (frankly because I didn't want to make the trip from the TV back to my bed in the dark after turning it off).

When we got our first VCR, pre-recorded movies and video stores were just starting to pop-up. I remember when the local grocery store got the first bin of public domain VHS titles, at the amazing sell-through price of $14.99! That day, Dad shelled out $30 extra with the grocery bill as I picked out a copy of Spitfire (for him) and you guessed it, Night of the Living Dead for me.

The idea of actually owning a movie to watch whenever I wanted was such a thrill to me, I was able to forgive the poor print quality, splices and jump cuts throughout. It was mine, and you could take it from my cold, dead hands...

While in college, I was working in a bookstore pushing horror titles to anyone who would listen to me. One of the folks who did became a great friend, and Tony in turn got me hooked on LaserDiscs. While discs ranged from $35 for a standard film to $100 or more for a special edition (don't even ask me about the Japanese imports), I was also able to pick out a lot of titles as cut-outs at a fraction of the cost. We always had several LaserDisc stores in the Bay Area, and it was always an exciting treasure hunt when they got a new shipment of markdown cut-out titles.

I can't remember if I brought an LD player with me when I lived in the dorm at Santa Clara University, but I do know that while in school, I amassed a collection of over 100 discs. I recall distinctly that I decided I needed to create a FileMaker database to start tracking them (on my Mac LCII), before the collection got out of hand. It didn't and by 1997, when DVD had reared it's head and it was nary as ugly as we LD fanboys were thinking, I had around 700.

But those little shiny discs won me over in a heartbeat. They were light, they were smaller (more fit on even less shelf space), and by God, they were cheap! $25 a movie! And special editions didn't cost three times as much. Like I often do when faced with a new and exciting technology, I decided that I wouldn't need to upgrade all titles on DVD as they came out. The LDs were perfectly fine! And really, what were the odds that classic remasters like those done on LaserDisc for Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would get similar treatment on DVD?

Well, despite being an early adopter (and one who quickly dismissed the notion of NOT upgrading darn near every LaserDisc I owned as the DVDs came out), I could not have dreamed what the future would hold with DVDs. Nor could I have imagined that one day I might own 1,000 titles, let alone our current count of 5,732 (which does not include the majority of things we've got recorded on DVD-R (a category I let slip, and now am woefully behind in cataloging). I used to say (in the early days) that I had more DVDs than your average Blockbuster. While they soon overtook me on quantity, I still feel I always gave them a run for their money on quality (Wild Wild West notwithstanding - Vonna's a Will Smith fan).

HD-DVD came and went (we still support it - and will as long as we have titles unavailable in any other format, thank you very much France for releasing Mulholland Drive!), and we waited until the price of PS3s made jumping on the Blu Ray bandwagon palatable. We're at 267 Blu Rays and counting (as of 8:10pm on 11/24/09 - haven't opened today's mail yet), and there appears to be no end in sight.

So where is this all going? I was thinking about how thankful I am to live in a time where there are unlimited worlds of cinema at my fingertips... where for $2 (shame on you if you're not following Amazon's Black Friday Week sales) one can own a copy of a movie like I Am Legend... Black Book... or Young Frankenstein.

Whether you have one movie in your own library or 100, I hope you appreciate that ability to relive your favorite movie experiences whenever you choose, knowing that it was not always a foregone conclusion.

At The Slaughtered Lamb Cinema, it is our mission to share our passion for cinema with our friends. And we're thankful that more than 60 times every year, many of you come out to share the experience with us.

Hope you all have a great Thanksgiving.


The Slaughtered Lamb said...

269 - thanks to more great Amazon sales!

The Prisoner (Complete Series)
Near Dark

Anonymous said...

Great piece, John. I had that exact VHS public domain copy of NOTLD. I purchased it as some music store at the Washington Square mall. Picked up a copy of METROPOLIS as well. Ah, yes. The prints sucked but you'd watch those films any way you could.

Before we got a VCR in the summer of 1982, I used to tape record parts of movies and just listen to them over and over again.

I feel so spoiled now with the access we have to watch movies. We're not limited by borders, regions, or copyright laws for that matter. But then, when you think about all of the titles that have never been put out on tape, dvd, Blu-ray... it drives you crazy.

The Slaughtered Lamb said...

It's amazing to find out how many people used to record stuff off the television back in the day! Another of those shared generational experiences...

I recently came across some of our early recordings - Animal Crackers, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Ernie Kovacs... and even bits and pieces of Creature Features.

There is one I wish I still had, which was a Creature Features segment with Scott Reiniger promoting Dawn of the Dead. I listened to it so much I memorized the clip, "Shoot it man, shoot it in the head." I'll always appreciate that bit of the movie, as other than what was in the TV commercials I saw, that was my only exposure to Dawn until the Thorn/EMI cassette (and as a result, to this day I still feel that's as much a part of Dawn as the Fox Fanfare is to Star Wars...)


Richard Kastan said...

Great post. But I think there is one important aspect of the DVD boom that failed to mention: the mainstreaming of letterboxing. I can now see almost all of my favorite movies in their original aspect ratios and for that I am thankful.

God bless, and lets hope that WGN plays a KING KONG marathon again this year (my early-cable Thankgiving memory).

The Slaughtered Lamb said...

Great point, Rick.

I have to admit I've been surprised while selling off my LaserDisc cllection just how few were actually released widescreen, whereas it's the very rare to come across a DVD today NOT available in its original aspect ratio.

Certainly the prevalence of HD TVs has made that more palatable for the average viewer, but it is another reason why I built up such an extensive DVD library.

And if WGN let's you down this year - isn't it a relief you can always schedule your own Kong-a-thon?