Category Archives: VHS

Mother, Sausalito, Albert Brooks, Dad, and the News

Last night, the following two media items were in a pile on my computer desk:

Item #1. Mother, d. Albert Brooks (1996) on VHS tape.

Mother is a pretty decent movie. Its value in this format on Amazon is virtually nil. The movie itself is not that easy to download, or wasn’t when I checked. I decided to keep it. I’d watched it just a few months earlier. Albert Brooks is John Henderson in the movie; Beatrice, his mother, is played by Debbie Reynolds. As you can gather from the end of this clip, Beatrice, the mother in Mother itself, lives in Sausalito, California, and the film was shot there on location, among other places.

Item #2: Time Flies…The Best of Huey Lewis & the News (1996) on CD.

Here again, the Amazon value of this item is virtually nil. I considered just ripping it to mp3. I like several Huey Lewis songs. True, the image on the CD itself, of Huey mid-jump during a live set, is kind of great. As I flipped through the CD booklet, I gathered that Huey Lewis & the News were a San Francisco-based band. I’d never thought of them that way, but there it was, in black and white. Next, I figured I’d find out whether one of my dad’s favorite Huey Lewis recordings had made this particular Best Of disc. And sure enough, there it was, track #10: “It’s Alright,” an a cappella take on a Curtis Mayfield song. Finally, I read the small-print recording info under the track title listing:

This 1993 recording of “It’s Alright” had been set to tape in Sausalito, California, at a studio called Muther’s Recording.

I decided to keep the CD, too.

Tapping the Light of Day

People in America aren’t seeing much Light of Day these days. Far as I can tell, 1987’s smallish “Problems of Being in a Cleveland, Ohio, Bar Band” movie has never been available to the US market on DVD. If you want a legit copy of it—and you happen to have a not-so-legit region-free DVD player—go ahead, be my guest: Buy the Region 2 edition for (when last I checked) $199.00 plus shipping. Knock yourself out. Personally, I’m living happily with my beat-up old VHS of it.

I kind of thought that the release of the 2010 film The Runaways, which detailed the formation of Light of Day frontwoman Joan Jett’s early real-life band, would’ve maybe prompted the reintroduction of Light of Day here in the States. Didn’t happen. Still, it’s a pretty decent movie. Joan Jett’s good in it, as Patti Rasnick, lead singer of The Barbusters; Gena Rowlands is her over-religious mom; Jason “The Exorcist” Miller shows up; and Michael J. Fox capably provides lead Barbuster guitar. He and little Benji Rasnick even play an improvised song, “You Got No Place to Go,” on guitar together. And no less a talent than Paul Schrader directed.

When I first came across it not long ago, that last factoid sort of shocked me : Paul “Taxi Driver/Raging Bull/Last Temptation of Christ/Affliction” Schrader had directed an all-but-forgotten Michael J. Fox rock band vehicle I had enjoyed at least twice on late-night cable as a teen? Weird. That same fact also brings me now to the reason for this post.

Last time I watched Light of Day—mostly to see if it was, like a Schrader movie should’ve been, as good as I remembered—I was watching pretty carefully. And I noticed something. Something that referred, without question, to the undisputed king of movies about fictional rock bands. Something graffitied on a punk rock dressing room wall, prominent enough, yet almost hidden among a million other scrawled and spraypainted messages in the background behind Joan Jett’s consternated Patti Rasnick. See if you notice it too:

See that? Right next to the blue shirt? Look here or check out 2:06 in this clip if you prefer moving images I’m not good enough to have faked. SMELL THE GLOVE? Really? That kind of blew my mind, as it would the mind of anyone who’s seen This Is Spinal Tap as many times as I have. Need I even tell you that Smell the Glove (Polymer, 1982) was the (fictional) album that the (fictional) band Spinal Tap spent the better portion of Rob Reiner’s 1984 mockumentary touring in support of? Just for fun, let me quote Bobbi Flekman here as regards Smell the Glove‘s infamous original cover art:

“…a greased, naked woman on all fours with a dog collar around her neck and a leash, and a man’s arm extended out…holding on to the leash and pushing a black glove in her face to sniff it.”

Who, you’re asking, might—if given the chance—advertise crudely on a bar-basement wall for such an offensive and, in fact, non-existent LP? As far as those who must’ve had All Access on Schrader’s Light of Day shoot, I’d say Suspect #1 has got to be Bu Montogomery, bass player for The Barbusters:

Michael McKean as Bu Montogomery, bass player for The Barbusters

See, in Light of Day, Bu Montgomery’s bass was played by none other than actor Michael McKean. Did the whole thing of this post just clang you on the head as hard as it did mine….?

Just in case it didn't: Michael McKean also toured extensively with another band—as David St. Hubbins, lead singer of Spinal Tap!

Nice, legible vandalism on the Light of Day set, Michael McKean! Good job! I’ll bet Smell the Glove is a really cool record! I believe your graffiti has convinced me to go out and buy it!

Hold on though: I don’t want to just post all this and rush off, forgetting to inform you that there’s a fairly intriguing Suspect #2, himself a Clevelander and a big music fan. The kind of guy for whom Smell the Glove and Spinal Tap just might’ve been a pretty big deal, round about 1987. A budding force of nature who himself worked in actual bar bands and as a janitor at Cleveland’s own Right Track Studios. A man whose only film appearance came with 1987’s Light of Day and his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as vocalist/keyboardist for The Problems, a local band in competition with Patti and Joe Rasnick and Bu Montgomery’s Barbusters, on stage right there at the Barbusters’ very own home-base bar, the Euclid Tavern. Suspect #2’s name? That would be Trent Reznor:

David St. Hubbins himself sums all of this up as well as anyone probably could:

I believe virtually everything I read, and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn’t believe anything.

Amen, David St. Hubbins. Amen.

A Big Fan of the Genre

I woke up this morning and, first thing, fired up an old VHS tape:Death Blow: A Cry For Justice (Raphael Nussbaum, 1987).

The night before, Amazon Marketplace had informed me that some kind soul in Ootawara-Shi, Japan, had purchased my copy of Death Blow from me. It takes a while to get things shipped over there, so I wanted this videotape packed and in the mail that day. Work was in 45 minutes, so I had to use that handy FF>> button quite a good deal to get through (most) of it. It’s the kind of movie where you can just catch one line of dialogue per scene and pretty much know the deal.

Actually, it was technically not my VHS tape. It was my brother’s; I’ve been selling some tapes for him. When I told him that Death Blow had sold to a man in Japan, he texted me back to inform me that: “Thats the one the bootlegger records on seinfeld.” I thought about it a minute. He was right. In The Little Kicks, a 1996 episode of Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld gains some fleeting street fame as a wunderkind theatrical bootlegger, for his work on the cam version of the fictional film Death Blow, then in fictional theaters in Seinfeld‘s fictional Manhattan.

But I knew, from looking over Death Blow‘s VHS slipcase that very morning, that the real Death Blow had been released in 1987. We we’re obviously dealing with more than one Death Blow here.

This all got me thinking. They made up a whole hell of a lot of movies over the course of the Seinfeld series run, their titles ranging from Too Dull To Give a Crap About all the way to So Bad I’d Love To See an Actual Movie Called That.

But how many of those other Fake Seinfeld Movies had real world counterparts the way Death Blow did? All it took to find out was an internet list of all Fake Seinfeld Movies and some hard IMDB digging. Enjoy:

1. Agent ZeroNot Real: Zero hits returned by IMDB.

2. Blame it on the RainNot Real: I’d probably blame this one on Milli Vanilli. Luckily, it’s not a mistake yet made by Hollywood.

3. Blimp: The Hindenberg StoryNot Real: Time to explode the myth on this one.

4. Brown-Eyed GirlReal: Too sick of this song to ever watch a movie called it.

5. CheckmateVery Real: Jeez, there’s like a million of these. ALL GREAT!

6. Chow FunNot Real: And I have to say I’m not too upset about this one.

7. ChunnelNot Real: Seems like they must’ve been going for a CHUD-meets-England/France-transit type thing with this one.

8. Cold FusionReal: Made twice since 2001.

9. Cry, Cry AgainNot Real: Though there is a Hungarian movie called Kiáltás és kiáltás, directed by Zsolt Kézdi-Kovács. I love Zsolt Kézdi-Kovács. His movies rule.

10. Cupid’s RifleNot Real: Cupid’s Rival, though, was made in 1917.

11. Death BlowReal: As described above and below. “The zoomings, the framings…I was enchanted!”

12. Extreme MeasuresReal, a few times: In Japan, they called the 1996 one Body Bunk. Total Seinfeld Fake Movie Name, right?

13. FirestormVery Real: Six Firestorms is too many Firestorms.

14. Means to an EndReal: Twice

15. Mountain HighReal: Or so IMDB barely claims.

16. The Muted HeartNot Real

17. The Other Side of DarknessNot Real

18. Ponce de LeonReal: And real old. The 1924 version (a short film) starred Monte Brice, writer of A Whole Bunch of Crap I Never Heard Of.

19. Prognosis: NegativeNot Real: I like it when a movie’s title is also a review of that movie. Diagnosis: Fabricated

20. Rochelle, RochelleNot Real: But America has already imagined this “young girl’s strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk” in such great detail, and so many billions of times, does it really matter?

21. Sack LunchNot Real: Sorry. You can never go see a movie called Sack Lunch that you yourself did not conceive, write, direct, edit, and screen for yourself.


I’m sure I forgot a few. Give me hell about it in the Comments and I’ll add ’em, but please: “Not because of who I am, but because of different reasons….

Vanishing on VHS

VHS tape entombs so much film content; this monument to <em>2001</em> only mocks the dead.

VHS tape entombs so much film content; this art gallery monument to the already-immortal 2001 only mocks the dead.

I’ve never been to Kim’s Video in New York and I’ve only popped in once or twice at Chicago video treasure troves Facets and Odd Obsession. But I love that they exist at all. We’re on the same team, you might say. Digging undigitized VHS tapes out of thrift stores and failed video stores is impossible for me not to do. I’ve even been known to digitize content myself now and then…often immortalizing movies I have next to no interest in ever seeing again. Seems like somebody has to do it. It’s the principle, you know?

All of which is why Moving Image Source’s pair of stirring articles on the tragedy of film content shipwrecked at the bottom of the VHS ocean struck such chords in me that I had to pass a few quotes along.

“I never understood how this myth that ‘everything is available on DVD’ got started,” agrees critic Dave Kehr, the DVD columnist for The New York Times. [According] to Turner Classic Movies’ database of U.S. feature films—of the 157,068 titles listed as of late February, 2009, fewer than 4 percent are available on home video.

Four lousy percent! That number blew my mind. 96% of all U.S. movies ever made aren’t even  important enough to the culture for anyone to own and distribute them. Makes me feel bad and sad about all the never-on-DVD VHS tapes I’ve found, cherished to one extent or another, and sold without acquiring myself a digital copy to have, if not to hold.

And it’s more to me than just “making a copy”—much more, in fact. I called it “immortalizing” before and so does MIS:

…having been purified down to bits, films are more or less immortal, virtually existent, having a better chance than [ever] before at being universally disseminated, immune to age, and free…from commodification. Copy-blocking programs are always circumventable….Whether a film shows up on TCM or on a DVD or in a torrent download or on a privately burned disc, it is inviolate and as impossible to “withdraw” or even regulate as a revolutionary idea or a piece of aural folklore. No one truly owns a film once it’s been digitized; it belongs to the world.

Which, as Lawrence Lessig has persuasively argued at length, is as it should be, after a reasonable period of profit accumulation by the original creator or owner or what have you.

Huge chunks of my apartment do nothing other than house my ever-morphing collection of VHS tapes, a good many of them I’ll keep specifically because they’re unlikely to ever be digitally mastered for DVD. I’ve gone through two ungodly shitty consumer VHS-to-DVD recorders in salving my need to DVD-R this sort of content for myself (and, in some small way, for others). Here’s a really select portion of my collection:

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years is cited as one of those hard-to-find titles that places like Odd Obsession specialize in having.

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years is cited as one of those hard-to-find titles that places like Odd Obsession specialize in having. All but one of these happen to be in the Top 700 of TCM's Not-On-Home Video Ranking.

One last quote, then I’m out:

With every new shift in media technology, from 16mm to VHS, from traditional broadcast to cable TV, from VHS to DVD, huge numbers of films are lost, says Facets Multi-Media executive director Milos Stehlik, who includes such titles as Robert Downey’s Chafed Elbows, Abbas Kiarostami’s Where Is the Friend’s House?, Glauber Rocha’s Antonio Das Mortes, and Leslie Harris’s Just Another Girl on the IRT among the films he fears will disappear in a post-VHS culture.

“What irritates me is that with each technology comes all this promise—that you’re going to be able to watch whatever you want, whenever you want. But then it turns out not to be true,” he says. “Because most art films are marginal, financially, to the mainstream culture, they will always get pushed out.”

Ironically, I saw Chafed Elbows (and digitized it myself) on a bootleg VHS that could’ve come from nowhere but the Facets vaults.

And I’d go Milos one further: Most films [period, full stop] are marginal, financially, to the mainstream culture. Take a look at the titles pictured above: At most, only one of them (True West) could be considered an “art film.” On the one hand, it’s sad that America’s film interests are so narrow. I wish people cared enough that they’d pay real money to see a greater breadth of film content. On the other hand, the incontrovertible fact that they don’t means that there will always be something for people like me to scoop up off the sandy bottom of film culture and treasure.

For now, and hopefully forever, America’s thrift stores will keep giving me dirt-cheap VHS tapes I never knew I wanted…and the ones no one else knows they want either. Which, again, is as it should be.

I can’t believe the first real article in this blog has to do with King Diamond.

This is what I get for going to thrift stores.

I bought just one item this time around: Hard ‘n Heavy Volume 5 on VHS tape. Take a look at that cover; cost me 50¢. The back cover, though, is what made me sacrifice the pocket change. On it, I saw a tiny picture of King Diamond and the promise of an interview with he, the Danish Supreme Being of operatic black horror metal, himself an avowed Satanist. I obsessed about him as a teen and to this day I struggle to live with myself through annual bouts of dork-metal nostalgia, during which I cue up lurid cassette tapes that haven’t seen daylight in a dozen moons. Those same dark impulses forced this VHS purchase upon me.

A morning or two later, I watched the interview portion of the tape with a sickening fascination; it reminded me of how badly I had longed long ago to see video of King Diamond, concert footage, anything; I listened, later, to Abigail, his masterpiece 2nd album; on YouTube I watched subtitled Danish TV clips of King Diamond being interviewed while my frozen pizza dinner baked in the oven. And that was when King Diamond, sans ghoulish face-paint and being grilled by the host for his unseemly religious preference, informed me and a million Denmark TV viewers of the late 80s that “Satan” means “opposite.”


He’s right, you know. “Satan” does come from a Hebrew word that means “to oppose.” Fair enough. Satan does oppose a lot of stuff in general.

Now ever since I first ate it, I thought that seitan,–that suspicious, not bad-tasting, opposite-of-meat stuff you get at vegetarian places–was hilariously named. I mean it is pronounced “SAY-tan.” C’mon now: the irony! We eat SAY-tan so we can all feel nicer and kinder and gentler to cows and stuff. And I’ve always wondered where that unfortunate food name came from. Well, it turns out that the word “seitan” is a Japanese neologism meaning, loosely, “is protein.” What would you have done next? Me, I needed intensely to know the origin of the word “protein.”

The word “protein,” it seems, is from a Greek word meaning “of first importance.” But of course! Who would want to live a day without it? Not me. But I would like to add those two word origins together…add ’em up and find out that “seitan”–or “is protein”–really means “is of first importance.” And there you have the reason I wrote this entry.

Say it with me now, preferably with a sing-song, kindergarten lilt: “SAY-tan is of first importance.”

I bet King Diamond would be so proud.

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