Saturday, November 23, 2013

I miss the days when saying you were a movie buff meant something


For as long as I’ve been on my own, one of my favorite weekend rituals has been to make a bed on the couch, curl up under the covers and watch movies.  I’m more partial to the older stuff (like on Turner Classic Movies) in the winter, and the independent and foreign films (on IFC) in the summer.  Action or horror movies at bedtime?  Never!  They require pizza!

And then last year, I got that nifty Nook HD Tablet (which doesn’t cease to amaze me), downloaded the Netflix app and for the paltry price of $7.99 a month am now under those covers with my earphones and a million hi-def movies to pick from.  Ya gotta love technology.

But as much as I enjoy the low cost & convenience of it all, I think I miss the days when watching a favorite movie from your couch really meant something.  I’m not just talking before streaming or Netflix, but before Blockbuster, when there was no such thing as renting videos.  You waited until they came to tv—or you bought them.

I came across this old advertisement recently and it immediately took me back to 1982, when I first saw it in the back of OMNI Magazine.  It was love at first sight.  (And yes, I’m sure that image of the USS Enterprise played a part too!)

At the start of the 1980s, videocassette recorders cost a thousand dollars, and were uncommon.  Even if you did have one, you had to buy the movies you watched and they were costly.  (Something like “Superman” would set you back 89.99!)  RCA Videodisc Players sold for less than half the price of a vcr, and boasted you could choose from “over 1500 titles, most under twenty dollars.”

Still, 500 bucks for the player was a lot of money—especially when you had a take-home pay of 87.13 a week like I did.  I actually went to the bank and took out a personal loan just to buy this contraption.  It came with 3 free movies:  Rocky and 2 of my own choosing.  (I selected Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan and Superman II, much to my sisters horror.)  I was in love, and over the next four years—from 1982 to 1986—I somehow amassed a collection of around a hundred titles, including some movies for my sister Shawn.

This played at the beginning of every movie, letting you know you were part of an elite crowd; you owned an RCA Selectavision VideoDisc Player!

The discs looked similar to a vinyl record, hidden in heavy plastic sleeves; you’d slide one into the player, pull the sleeve back out—then repeat the process to watch the second half of the movie on the other side.

The machine had no remote and if a movie was longer than 2 hours, it came on 2 discs.  (These things were heavy too—I think my collection of 100 movies probably weighed close to 75 lbs!)

That videodisc player became my pride and joy, and for those few years I can remember going without new clothes (or other such luxuries like food) just to get something like The Petrified Forest with Bette Davis or The Empire Strikes Back.  Sometimes a couple friends from work would stop over to see my latest titles.  (I can still remember Brenda shuddering under a throw during Christine, or Pete and Kevin staring at Clockwork Orange with their mouths hanging open).

I think these two were my favorites, simply because of their covers: 


I bought this for Shawn one Christmas, a collection of Judy’s live performances and enjoyed it just as much as she did


I loved the MGM discs best—I owned a couple of their old musicals, but on Selectavision they had the best sci-fi!


All this & Kramer vs. Kramer too; Dustin Hoffman was all over these discs (at least the ones in my collection)







I’d only seen Mel Brooks “Young Frankenstein” until RCA Videodiscs came along; I’m embarrassed to say how many times I probably watched these


And finally, my Star Trek collection:  the first 3 movies, and 12 tv episodes (two episodes per disc)

trekdiscsIt was a fun ride while it lasted, but within a few years, prices on vcrs dropped pretty drastically and the video rental business took off.  I knew it was just a matter of time before RCA pulled the plug on their discs, but for me it was just as well.  By 1986, I was done collecting movies and trying to figure out what I was going to do with my adult life.

FYI, being the anal Doug I am, I kept an updated inventory of my videodiscs and still have the list to this day.  Below is my complete collection—there’s a few klunkers there, but I bought several of these ‘sight unseen’.   

                       Nothing like the cinephile I am today, of course…  Nerd smile


  1. That seems like a hundred years ago! Gosh those enormous heavy disks. I'm glad too we didn't have a choice growing up but to watch the old movies on Sunday. (You remember Regis Cordic presents?) Well, I need to go subscribe to AARP already - it's official.

  2. Thanks Shawn--well, I did like the choice of owning movies in the early 80s, but these cumbersome discs made it feel more special for some reason. I mean, anyone can own a pile of dvds, but it took a real movie fan to collect & appreciate these bulky things :)


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