Hari Shanker R

Hari Shanker R

A Happiness Engineer at Automattic.

2006: A Video Odyssey

The other day, after a four-hour rendezvous with music, I decided to change tracks and start doing something ‘productive’ (to borrow my dad’s lingo; one which he deliberately adopted post MBA) Considering the long-list of chores, I was supposed to do that day, that was my only choice. I decided to give first preference to the much-postponed task of cleaning my shelf.

As the decade-old metallic shelf (which shone like a new pin, thanks to a recoat) opened, the soothing smell of Brise’ de Printemps permeated all over the room. I started by dusting a few old suitcases which had never been touched for years on-end. Half-readying myself for some really nasty dust, I opened the tidiest of the decade-old suitcases. It had nothing more than a few old files which belonged to my father, which to my surprise was left without much dust. As, I was taking them out, my eyes fell over some black thing, half hidden by one of the files. A close look at them finally showed me the key to the billion-dollar question that had been bugging me for a decade or so. I’d finally found my Tom & Jerry Video Tapes, which had gone missing!!!

It was after the renovation of our house, that these tapes went into hibernation. I remember being so sad and desperate, refusing to eat one whole night over those precious Tom & Jerry tapes. After all, they had been the window to my most favorite Cartoons in that post-Cartoon Network era (as a matter of fact, I still don’t miss The Tom & Jerry Show!). I decided to try the tapes on our old Akai QH312R VCR, which still occupied a dignified position beneath my Philips DVD player (though it was untouched for some 5 years). A liberal usage of spirit on the ‘head’, 2 old alkaline batteries for the remote, the A/V code borrowed from my DVD player, and bingo! The old warhorse was again ready for battle!

I half-expected the screen to show those countless layers of lines (indicating a fungal ‘infection’), but lo & behold, my eyes & ears were once again treated with the roar of the MGM lion (with his sound noticeably muffled, though) 2 hours and 13 minutes later, I was left speechless, endeared by fits of laughter, and nostalgic; wondering how these tapes survived the tide of times

This rendezvous left me in retrospection, thinking about old times, when Computers where still referred to as complex devices usable just by techies; when DVDs, Home Theatres & Plasma/LCD screens were hitherto unheard of.; when good-old VCRs were the final word in Home entertainment. I was a child of that era. This old AKAI VCR of mine introduced me to the world of movies,(and later made me a die-hard movie addict!) I vivdly remember laughing uncontrollably, watching Mohanlal’s antics in Kilukkam(The first Mohanlal movie I ever saw). How can I forget those times, when I was terrified to death, seeing the Dinosaurs come alive on my TV?

The arrival of the Video Cassette (or Video Tape) was a natural consequence. It was born in the early 1950s when broadcasters found it difficult to manage movie reels extending unto miles in length. Tapes were compact and easy to use. Besides, the tedious process of developing & washing the 35mm film became redundant. A few television studios like CBS tried replacing films with tapes, and succeeded. They realized that tapes reduced production costs significantly. Soon other broadcasters followed cue. Within no-time, almost every public broadcaster widely used Video Tapes.

However it still took two decades for the commercial release of Home Video Cassette Players/Recorders. This new product launched in mid-seventies, was a grand success. Now people could record their favorite TV shows and watch them over & over. They could even record Home Videos at throw-away costs & view them quite easily. The American movie industry closely watched the Home Video market, and decided to cash in. Popular movies were soon released on Video. Thus, the Home Video revolution was born!

The first Home Video tapes were called the Beta tapes. Introduced by the Sony Corporation, these tapes were played in a device known as ‘The Betamax’. Due to poor marketing, this format didn’t actually live up to the hype. The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) took advantage of the situation, and introduced the VHS system. It well-marketed, and received a great response. Soon, all major companies introduced Video Systems that could play VHS tapes. But, there was no interoperability between the VHS & Beta systems. Gradually, despite being better than its counterpart, the Beta system had bid adieu to the mainstream market. However, it managed to replace VHS in commercial broadcasting and is still accepted as the Video Broadcasting standard.

VHS tapes had their share of disadvantages, in fact loads of them. A minor fall, could irreparably damage a much-protected tape with jerky picture. Besides, tapes were vulnerable to temperatures. Prolonged, non-use could render them out-of-juice, making them defunct. Besides, the crispness of Video & Audio decreased arithmetically with time. With the emergence of the Compact Disc in 1982 & later the DVD in 1996, the VHS tapes began to lose importance. Gradually with the availability of dirt-cheap DVD & VCD players, the Video Tapes lost ground. Today, mainstream movies are not being released on VHS. You cannot find any VCRs in the market either! Like the Record Player, the VCR is extinct!

The arrival of Home Video changed our lives as a whole. It made a couch potato of every movie buff. Words, like ‘Play’, ‘Rewind’ & ‘Fast Forward’ had totally new meanings in our lingo. We could now record our favourite TV programs, and watch them over again! The moviemen who had first laughed all their way to the bank, gradually began to feel the pinch; a huge reduction in the cinema goers! (Today, the revenues from DVD sales surpass theatrical revenues, for almost all Hollywood flicks other than huge blockbusters)

Though DVDs provided theatre-like sound and sharp picture, a minor scratch on the silvery surface could make a whole scene or even the entire DVD unusable. The ‘DVDs will last long’ myth was soon disproved. DVDs were equally vulnerable to fungal attacks. Till date no TV capturing gadget that promises the user(&pocket)-friendliness of the VCR has arrived. As a matter of fact, Camcorders still use tapes to record video.

The disappearance of Videotapes from the markets disappointed millions of viewers. Even the Hollywood did it’s best to tackle the plummeting popularity of the Video Tapes in it’s own way. It made movies. Scary movies. The Japanese novel ‘Ringu’ by Koji Suzuki (which was already adapted into a successful Japanese Movie with the same name) inspired ‘The Ring’ & it’s sequel. The movie, directed by Gore Verbinsky, has Naomi Watts as a divorced thirty-something with a child, working as a journalist. While investigating her niece’s death, she comes across an unlabelled Video Tape with a bizarre video; that changes her life forever. Anyone who sees the tape will die in seven days! She learns eventually in the hard way, after the death of her ex-husband(New Zeeland actor Martin Henderson) that the only way to save oneself from the killer tape is to copy it and pass it on! Both movies achieved smashing success at the box office (and their Home Video sales broke all records). It’s a worth-watch that will actually scare the wits out of your head, and change the way you see the now-unassuming Video tapes.

I remember, seeing it the first time on tape some four years back(precisely the last movie I saw in Videotape). When I saw ‘The Ring’ again, the other day on DVD I had my share of scares, but I still missed watching it on tape! I miss the robotic perfection of the tape being pulled inside. I miss the discreet ‘tracking’ lines almost hidden above & below the picture. I miss recording my favourite programs on
tape.
I miss my old times with the VCR!!!

**************************

It was past 2:30 at night. A sound sleep at noon deprived me of sleep that night. Idly scrolling through the menu of ‘The Ring’ DVD, I saw an item in the main menu. The link read, “Don’t watch this!” It was the ‘forbidden’ video. Since I had nothing else to do, I decided to have a close look at the bizarre video again. Those pictures flashed again: The Ring, The Ladder kept beside the wall, The woman combing her hair in the mirror, A finger being pierced, The same woman jumping down the cliff, The well… and static. My heart left a beat. Was I going to get a phone-call announcing the seven-day period left for me?? Naah, it’s just a movie. Besides, I’m watching the movie on DVD, not on tape…

Suddenly the phone rang!!

1 Comment

  1. govind

    and wat exactly does”Apocalypse in a cliche’ factory ” mean?maybe an incident worth note in ur mundane uneventful life?

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