VCR in the Age of DVR

My VCR stopped working recently.  Yes, I said VCR, as in a video cassette recorder that uses VHS (Video Home System) tape.  This was the third VCR that I have owned in my life.  My first VCR was bought in 1984 for about $500.00 at Crazy Eddie’s, the now defunct electronics store.  My third VCR was a used Magnavox given to me, about fifteen years later, by a friend after he bought himself two nice new shiny, silver Sony VCRs for less than $100.00 each.  The Magnavox worked well, but one day, after a few years of faithful service, it conked out. 

“Why don’t you just get a DVR? ” Friends asked me, in tones of annoyance, when I asked them if they thought stores still sold VCRs.  (A DVR, for those who do not know, is a hard drive that records TV shows.  You can rent one from your cable company).  The answer is that I have an apartment full of VHS tapes, the majority of which are contained in two large white plastic garbage bags on my living room floor under a table. The contents are mostly movies that I have taped and have not yet watched.  I put them under the table two years ago (temporarily!) in order to make room for my ever expanding collection of DVDs, most of which I have not yet watched either. More VHS tapes reside, on hanging shelves, inside the door of my linen closet, which greet me every time I need fresh linens.  My linens are piled on top of my broken turntable, which I will one day get fixed so that I can listen to vinyl records I acquired and have not yet heard.  I have even more VHS tapes in my old room at my mother’s house in Mt. Vernon.  So, for the existential possibility that I could watch all of these tapes, and tape more programs and movies to have the possibility of one day watching, I needed a VCR.

The salesman at the electronics store gestured at the paltry selection of two brands of VCRs that the chain still carried – a Zenith and a Sony.  “They’re both the same,” he said scrunching up his face as if to say “who cares?”  “I can’t wait for a year from now when we wont have to stock these anymore.”

“You know, I think you’re the worst salesman I’ve ever seen,” I told him as he walked away to help another customer find a blender.

I couldn’t decide.  Both VCRs had four heads and Hi-Fi sound, features which used to be a big deal in the salad days of VCRs.  The Zenith was $55.00, the Sony $80.00.  “I can’t decide,” I explained to my friend, David, a television network cameraman, and supportive friend, who was accompanying me for moral support on what he hoped would be the final leg of my VCR odyssey.

“I’ll have to come back later,” I told him, and started to leave.

David blocked my way, folding his arms across his chest.  “We are not leaving until you make a decision,” he said, calmly but firmly.  I chose the Sony.  David lugged it to my apartment.

Today, life with VCR #4, my tapes are still largely unwatched, but I can cruise the video collections of local libraries, and stores slashing prices on their VHS tape inventories, knowing that if I find an unexpected gem I can take it home and have the possibility of watching it.  As for the plastic garbage bags on the floor of my living room?  Just the other night my upstairs neighbor was asking me about a movie he once saw.  All he could remember was that the story involved a very long staircase and various historical figures.  He asked me if I knew the title.  I fished my hand into one of the plastic garbage bags, rummaged through the tapes, pulled out one and handed it to him.  “Stairway to Heaven,” I replied.  He was suitably impressed and I felt justified in my video obsession.  He took the tape eagerly.

That was two months ago.  I’ll bet he still hasn’t watched it.


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on July 30, 2011, in Feature Articles. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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