My Take by Jim Carl - December 20, 2011
MY TAKE is a blog about my funny life experiences that happened to involve movies, and how I found myself in charge of programming films for a living. I’ll discuss how certain movies came to be responsible for my bad attitude, memories, associations, personal beliefs, and plain stupidity. Yes, I fully intend to trash films considered sacred in certain circles, and will probably offer a poor explanation for doing so. I also intend to squander praise on movies considered awful by most everyone, even if it makes me sound ridiculous, because I have a funny memory to share about them. Again, I’m not writing reviews. All I mean to do here is tell some good stories, and perhaps a clever lie or two. No one has ever accused me of suffering a shortage of ways to make a fool of myself, and because blogging is one I haven’t tried, at least this is one most of my friends haven’t yet seen.
THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979)
While visiting San Antonio earlier this month, I bought my mother a Blu-ray player for Christmas. Did she need one? Probably not, considering she has an entire closet devoted to movies recorded on VHS. Not pre-recorded movies, mind you. I’m talking about movies she recorded herself, sometimes up to three per tape. In today’s parlance, we’d say she’d “ripped” them from TV, but that sounds kind of violent. I can’t imagine my mother ripping anything, except perhaps copies of certain magazines found in my room, but that’s a tale for another time. Remember the days when you’d feverishly wait for a movie to play on HBO or on one of the three networks? Remember setting the timer on the videotape recorder and then worrying that it wouldn’t work? Or that you’d accidentally programmed it to record Hart to Hart on ABC rather than that cool Patrick Duffy/Connie Selleca mash-up on CBS? Here’s a better one: Remember when blank 2-hour VHS tapes cost $20? I do. It was 1979. I would have been ten years old.
Anyways, I decided to buy a few Blu-rays for my mother this Christmas. What surprised me most was how inexpensive they’ve become, and how quickly. It seemed just a few months ago that Blu-rays were averaging $29.99 per title. But no, a quick trip through the aisles at Best Buy informed me that the average price now hovered around $12. Quite a few titles were cheaper that that. There was even a discount bin where you could buy Grumpy Old Men or The Boy in the Striped Pajamas for $5.99. Being that I was shopping for my mother, I purchased only titles I knew a West Texan could appreciate: Point Break, Halloween H20, Batman and Robin, Starship Troopers, Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, The Scorpion King, and Once Upon a Time in the West. Total cost: $62.
This got me to thinking about the first movie I ever purchased on VHS. And by purchased, I mean full-price, no former rentals. It happened in 1981 at the Mall of Abilene at a store named Service Merchandise. Back in those days, there were no aisles of pre-recorded movies to browse. There was one glass display case. It had about eight titles to choose from. And it was locked by key. You’d stand there, looking for all intents as if you were shopping for a diamond ring, and then go find a customer representative to unlock the display case and let you actually handle the VHS movie. It made your head swoon. Three decades later, I can still recall some of the titles in that display case: The China Syndrome, Alien, Raging Bull, Private Benjamin, and All That Jazz. Prices varied, but the cheapest was $39.99. Adjusted for inflation in 2011, I imagine this would be the equivalent of $115. The cost made no difference. Imagine it, having the opportunity to see a movie over and over, whenever you wanted. Science fiction, it was.
The first full-priced movie I ever purchased was 1979’s The China Syndrome. It cost $39.99 plus tax. All these years later, I still have that VHS tape in my collection. I refuse to throw it away. It has sentimental value, although I can’t specifically say what it could be, except perhaps naïve youth.
Do you remember the first movie you ever purchased on VHS? Tell me about it.
JIM CARL is Senior Director of the Carolina Theatre. He has been in charge of its film program since 1995. Some of his favorite contemporary movies include True Grit, The Queen, True Lies, Postcards from the Edge, Star Trek, Aliens, The Fog (1980), Private Benjamin, What’s Up, Doc? and almost anything involving Great White Sharks, Jamie Lee Curtis, Gilda Radner, Kurt Russell, or is set underwater. His favorite movie of all time is Ordinary People. Some of his least-favorite contemporary movies include 300, Alien 3, Brazil, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Moulin Rouge, G.I. Joe, District 9, Take Me Home Tonight, The Tourist, Sherlock Holmes, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Scarface (1983) and almost anything involving Ben Stiller (except Flirting with Disaster), British gangsters, or a toy that transforms into a loudmouthed robot. His least-favorite movie of all time is Pulp Fiction. He is a firm believer in the presentation and preservation of 35mm film and will book any movie he suspects will make money, even if he hates it.