It occurred one Saturday afternoon that my own deep and personal mourning for the innocent VHS had found a new low. When describing VHS to people who appear to be gradually younger and younger, it mimics those conversations witnessed with parents, explaining to their I-pod bound offspring what the big black thing is that’s playing a crackly, slightly warped version of Shine on You Crazy Diamond. This fateful Saturday was very typical for a young male of four and twenty years. I was in an antiques warehouse on the North Norfolk coast of Welles-Next -The-Sea with my Mother; a popular avenue of distraction for my demographic of course.
Among with the usual smell of stale wood and tat, a pile of VHS lay in the corner gathering a new skin of dust. These were noticed, not because of them being videos but because of the label they were released on. Their spines had the comforting grey, black and teal that adorn the releases by the wonderful DVD label Artificial Eye; the bastion of art-house cinema releases from all across the globe. These spines are like a draw to the second hand-DVD trawler, forever in an endless search for that out-of-print Godard or that discontinued Ozu.
Why had someone left these poor, innocent VHS in the corner of a forgotten antique emporium? Looking at the titles made it seem even more baffling. There were three Andrei Tarkovsky’s and two Robert Bresson; a more perfect combination of transcendental cinema could not be stumbled upon if tried with vigour. The monumental Andrei Rublev sat there in a huge, aptly thick tome of double VHS packaging, lonely in the corner next to the workout tape of a faded celebrity and a free DVD of Most Haunted. How could this be? Pickpocket, Solaris, Ivan’s Childhood, all cinematic perfection left to rot away. Then it hit that these films were being left behind through mere format and not simply on their own merits. It felt an overreaction to call it a crying shame but it really was just that.
The temptation to buy them was close to overwhelming but knowledge that the full Tarkosvky collection and the two Bresson’s sat happily at home on my own shelf eased the pain. I distanced the films for a minute and thought, this medium that I grew up with, this bulky, clumsy but adorable medium was now as antiquated as Victorian furniture and even the giants of cinema could not save its collapse. This was my Nietzsche moment, the flogged horse transmuting into a mistreated pile of VHS cinema. I did not break down though Bela Tarr may be forced out of cinematic retirement to adapt my story for the screen. Perhaps one day I’ll go back and give them a loving home. Until then, I can know for sure that my mourning is completely justified and that, outside of the ironic collecting of 1980s Video Nasties, my precious VHS will, as Orson Welles effused, “disappear into the universal ash”.