The first films I remember watching was the original, unaltered Star Wars trilogy. The storytelling and the special-effects blew my mind, quickly kick starting my love of Cinema. They transported me to another galaxy, to a more fantastical reality. I had never experienced anything like them, and nearly every day, I’d put one of the VHS tapes into my VCR and watch it. Sometimes, I would fast-forward to get to my favorite scenes or to skip moments that terrified/bore me. Once the film was finished, I would make sure to rewind the tape all the way back to the beginning, hoping that the film tape inside would not get jammed or unwound.
VHS tapes (Video Home System) were first introduced in the US in 1977 at a press conference in Chicago. Developed by JVC (Victor Company of Japan) as a response to Sony’s Betamax machine, VHS video cassettes became popular due to their “long playtime, fast-rewinding and fast-forwarding” and were considered to be “incredibly compact and small” (“The Rise and Fall of the VHS”, southtree.com). VHS was actually inferior to Betamax in picture quality, but it became especially popular because a person could record two hours of programming on one tape (using a VCR- Video Cassette Recorder) instead of the one hour on a Beta(“The History Of The VHS Movie Industry”, knoji.com).
VHS would become as popular as DVDs were in the early 2000s – mainly because people were now able to record their favorite shows and movies. They could watch one show while recording another at the same time. By 1987, “90% of the $5.25 billion VCR market in the U.S. alone was based on the VHS format.” Moreover, VHS tapes triumphed over Sony due to the latter’s prohibition of any pornographic content on its Betamax tapes. JVC had no such thing, and the porn industry thrived on VHS (southtree.com).
For a brief moment of my life, all the films my family owned were on VHS tapes. From films like The Terminator and Star Trek: First Contact (another personal favorite of mine), to Disney classics like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. I vividly remember watching cartoons like Popeye and Looney Tunes, as well anime shows that comprised of a set of multiple VHS tapes like Capitaine Flam (as it was known in France, where my father is from; in the US, it was called Captain Future). I also recall owning a few tapes with recorded movies from TV on them, like George of the Jungle and Four Weddings and a Funeral (fast-forwarding came in handy to skip the commercial breaks). And of course, how could I forget those VHS tapes with various home videos on them, from my parents wedding to my second birthday?
All the films I saw for the first few films of my life were on VHS tapes. And like kids these days with streaming services, they were readily available and easy for me to watch. I came to love fishing inside a big plastic box for a specific tape, slipping it out of its sleeve, inserting the side with the arrow into the slot of the VCR, making sure that the film was at the correct time, and pressing the play button. It became second nature to me, and watching films on VHS became my favorite pastime- one that I didn’t need help from an adult to do.
Of course, all good things must come to an end. The beginning of the end for VHs tapes came in 1996, when the first DVDs appeared. VHS was no match in picture quality to the newer format, and the Blu-ray Disc only solidified that fact (not to mention the picture quality of today’s HDTVs and 4K Ultra HD TVs). They were smaller, lighter, and easier to use (no need to worry about unwound film tapes anymore). VHS VCRs also became obsolete with the emergence of DVRs, Smart TVs, and Internet Streaming. Attempts to increase the quality of VHS (with things like S-VHS and D-VHS) just flew under the radar and were no match to the popularity of DVDs and other new formats. Recording restrictions (copy-protection) were also imposed, and as a result, VHS VCRs became relegated to just playing old tapes or as playback devices for copying tapes to DVD. The last VHS to be made was 2006’s A History of Violence, and in the Summer of 2016, the VHS VCR was discontinued (knoji.com).
Today, I only have a handful of VHS tapes left- only the ones that mattered to me the most (which were just enough to fit on one small shelf). Unfortunately, the VCR that my family owned broke a few years back, so I haven’t been able to watch any of those tapes. But even though I can’t use them, just by picking them up and looking at them, I am able to remember all the times I was transported to other realities as a young child, witnessing and living extraordinary adventures unlike anything else in my life.