(Planet Me)
Friday, June 08, 2012

VHS came and set us free. Sometimes I wonder, how & why do I love films from the late seventies and early eighties so much. Were they better? No. Were they more quotable? No. But they were the films I have watched more than anything.

Moonraker is not the best Roger Moore-era Bond film. However, when it was broadcast in the summer of 1984 on television, I recorded it, and thus, watched it eleven times – twice a week – during the summer holidays. Even at the age of eleven, I realised that Moonraker was flawed. But I desperately wanted one of those space shuttle toys.

In those days, a film cost upwards of £98 on VHS to keep. The Best of Abba was £80. Raiders of the Lost Ark, I remember, cost £65 : the idea being that the film was so astonishingly expensive that the only people who could afford to buy them were video rental companies.

When “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” sat on the shelf of Blakes, you rented it. Not because you wanted to watch it, but because you had no idea when you may be able to see it again for the next few years. Until it was on television, where a nation would sit down in front of the cathrode ray tube, and sit transfixed at the television event of the season. Until the next Spielberg film was on.

Video tapes were the portal to a new dimension. A 180, recorded at double speed, might get you three films. I tried not to use high speed, because it recorded the TV broadcasts at 12 frames per second, not 24. The human high can determine normally around 10 points a second, so for high action sequences, 12 frames barely covered the perception of a human eye.

On the other hand, a 180 could easily fit two 90 minute comedies (without credits or adverts). A 180 was a cruel length. We all knew the best films – unless they were comedies or schlocky actioners or cheap horrors – were always over 100 minutes. A tape was expensive. You had to choose the film to the tape. You had to hope that if you were recording, that the end of whatever you were watching would fit (just) into the slightly longer than designed tape length. A 180 was often 184 minutes. A c-90 would normally have about 46 minutes and 45 seconds of tape inside on each side. Machine spools weren't precise. These were machines that ran for approximately the length of time it took to unspool 45 minutes of double sided tape into a case. Tape was expensive.

Even now, recording Pulp at Glastonbury in 1995, I was couched with tapes ready in case the ending of “Common People” got cut off. The ending of “Common People” got cut off. I raced to the machine, inserted the tape, pressed record, and prayed.

So the films I watched the most - when I had the time to watch a film eleven times in one summer - were the films that I had recorded onto videotape. There was no DVD, no Blu Ray, no Internet, no mobile phones, no games consoles. The computers had 128k of memory, and the games consoles came in an amazing 256 colours!

It. Was. Boring.

And, not to confuse matters, the versions of these films often bore little resemblance to the ones you saw on video or in the cinema. Doubt me? Well. FLIP YOU YOU FAIRY GODMOTHER!

Big films of the day were often “re-edited” for television. Superman II contained an extra 20 minutes when it was broadcast over two nights. “The Godfather Saga” was re-edited with an extra 45 minutes and re-arranged chronologically, which still only exists as a long deleted video tape box set. “Scarface” was so drastically sanitised the DVD release contains a documentary about the TV version. “This whole town is a chicken, waiting to be plucked!

Man, to be the guy who re-edited films for television. To be a voice artist who overdubbed lines for ITV. Someone made a lot of money pretending to be Eddie Murphy for “Beverly Hills Cop”. I have had enough of these Monkeyfighting Snakes!

These films were all that existed for me : endlessly recycled. Even then, I knew that Michael Dudikoff in “American Ninja” was utter balderdash. But nonetheless, I ate the small palette of films on endless loop forever. The works of Arnold Schwarzenegger 1982-1992 (“Conan The Barbarian” to “Terminator 2”), Spielberg 1975-1989 from “Jaws” to “Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade”, and a fondness for Jackie Chan. David Lynch, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Peter Hyam, and countless others : mostly bonkers . These were the currency. And, in those days, people like Ridley Scott hadn't yet reach the confines of the kind of dull, unquestioning mediocrity of “A Good Year”, or the kind of meaningless rubbish about nothing that many so-called 'meaningful' films are, actually, just explorations of unperceptive navel gazing. After all, what sums up being a teenager in Thatcher's Britain more than hanging around bored for two hours watching “Who Dares Wins” posturing about The People's Defence League Of Idealist Commies holding Richard Windermark hostage before that Bloke Off The Professionals shoots his girlfriend with an Uzi and proclaims simply – in a perverse mirror to Sean Connery's oneliners - “Bitch.

Now, had Collins been shooting a small dog armed with poisonous teeth, it would've been up there with “Shocking”, and “All those feathers, and he still couldn't fly.” But in the meantime, whilst I, and many others tired of waiting for the crash boom at the end – this is a film about the Bloody SAS – which does not stand for 'Standing Around Squad', I wished I was watching that legendary 18-rated cut of “Airwolf”, or even “Sledgehammer” again.

Trust me, I know what I'm doing. These films were my life.

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