Sunday, January 11, 2015

Talking Videodiscs (aka-Thank You Rose Bowl Flea Market)

Always happy to run across older video formats when out in town. Especially when it happens amongst the colorful crowds at the hallowed Rose Bowl Flea Market, of which today's marked the first of 2015. Bargain hunters, master hagglers, and curiosity seekers galore come from occasionally incredible distances to buy, sell, trade everything from used furniture to antiques to pop culture ephemera. And today, despite often difficult rain, we ran across this longtime holdover from the pre-video rental store boom of the 1980s.

Enter the almighty,  and often forgotten RCA videodisc. Introduced in the very late 1970s,  the video disc was an essential dream own for young cinephiles like myself when the only way one could rewatch a favorite film, was to head out to the local movie house for a re-release. Outside of this, and early cable outfits like the Star Channel, there was little to no other way to check out a Disney favorite,  let alone Star Wars. While I at the time had heard about grown ups owning a rudimentary VTR, or even 16mms, there was no one around to allow this to feel like reality.

That was until a parent's friends introduced me to the wonders of VHS around 1982(and another,  to the RCA videodisc). Being only able to play whatever they had for a few hours was exciting I must confess. But the video disc, was another curious animal altogether. Comprised of a slim plastic shell that encased a thing,  vinyl-record sized reel of tape designed to be loaded fully into the player. Upon insertion with the power on, an indicator would notify the user that the tape has been loaded, , allowing the shell to be removed for the duration of play. If the film ran a certain length, there would be a notification to change discs. This was especially fun when viewing epics such as Gandhi. If the curious see this primitive method carrying echoes of the long gone 8-track, one couldn't be blamed at all. The mindset behind the player has traces of that classic music format all over the discs themselves.

The videodisc format was also important to my youth in that they were among the very first home movie formats I had ever seen being marketed to the masses. Even years later, the only way one would see home video go sell-thru, was via specific titles. Up until this point, most home video releases were for rental purposes only, and the major studios saw no reason for the average person to collect VHS. It wasn't even until the latter part of the decade with MCA/UNIVERSAL's long delayed release of the repeatedly re-released E.T. The Extraterrestrial,  that major department and grocery stores would be caught dead selling movies. So most tapes in video rental stores were sold to vendors at bulk only prices akin to 89.95 each. So the videodisc,  was a bit of an olive branch to what would become our current landscapes of five dollar blu-ray, and stocking stuffer DVDs. I still retain vivid memories of videodiscs selling with a handsome furnished wood color television displays at the local GEMCO.  The Capacitance Electronic Disc method was initially developed in the early 1960s, and took nearly twenty years to hit store shelves under the SelectaVision moniker. So considering just how wild the home video world would become in a mere thirty-plus years post 1981, makes for a sweet slice of future shock in and of itself.

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