A lament for DVD commentary

When Fox decided to stop publishing The Simpsons on DVD, one thing we lamented (apart forcing you to get a cable subscription to watch the show) was the fate of the show’s audio commentary. The creators of The Simpsons recorded in-depth, insightful discussions for every episode of the show, and although you can still access … Continue reading “A lament for DVD commentary”

When Fox decided to stop publishing The Simpsons on DVD, one thing we lamented (apart forcing you to get a cable subscription to watch the show) was the fate of the show’s audio commentary. The creators of The Simpsons recorded in-depth, insightful discussions for every episode of the show, and although you can still access the commentary through the official streaming app, it’s significantly more hidden than it was on the DVDs. And we’ll probably never have commentary for shows and movies released through Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming platforms.

On the bright side, maybe we’ve been spared. As D. K. Holm at Crooked Scoreboard points out, the quality of movie commentary tracks has plummeted recently.

When the Criterion Collection first devised commentary tracks, the concept attracted film scholars and served as an useful outlet for behind-the-scenes stories. As more DVDs included them, the tracks became more and more obligatory and less enthusiastic. Although it’s over a decade old, I still remember the commentary track for the action movie Ultraviolet, where star Milla Jovovich plays with her cats for an hour and doesn’t really say anything.

But we’ll also miss out on the occasionally deeply entertaining track, like an example Holm gives of a low-budget action movie where the director is completely frank about its doomed production.

If they’re going to be phoned in, they may as well not exist. It’s a shame that the good ones may as well not exist now either.

What was the last VHS ever?

Yesterday’s post about Vidiots had us thinking about the VHS format again. Commercial VHSes have been out of print for nearly a decade, and with the last VHS player leaving the factory in July, it’s glory days are clearly behind. Just for fun, this got us asking: what was the last VHS ever? According to … Continue reading “What was the last VHS ever?”

Yesterday’s post about Vidiots had us thinking about the VHS format again. Commercial VHSes have been out of print for nearly a decade, and with the last VHS player leaving the factory in July, it’s glory days are clearly behind. Just for fun, this got us asking: what was the last VHS ever?

According to Inverse, the last commercial VHS ever published was David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, released on March 14, 2016. Others point to an extremely hard-to-find tape of Cars from 2007, but it’s hard to figure out where those came from. Either way, we can safely say the VHS died about ten years ago.

The Inverse article goes on to wonder whether there might be a future market for VHSes in the same way that vinyl records have come back. Basically, there’s not. The formats that replaced the VHS are all far better and more useful. We’re always in the process of keeping our collection available and up-to-date, but we suspect we won’t be purchasing new VHSes in 20 years.

Help a beloved LA film library preserve their old VHSes

If you read this blog, you know we have an affinity for digital preservation and weird, niche films that aren’t available anymore. We do our best to serve the university community in those areas, but there are other groups with their own missions. Take Vidiots, a video rental store that’s served Los Angeles film nerds … Continue reading “Help a beloved LA film library preserve their old VHSes”

If you read this blog, you know we have an affinity for digital preservation and weird, niche films that aren’t available anymore. We do our best to serve the university community in those areas, but there are other groups with their own missions. Take Vidiots, a video rental store that’s served Los Angeles film nerds (including directors like David O. Russell) for decades with its massive library of hard-to-find titles.

Now, Vidiots has launched a crowdfunding campaign to take wants to take their collection into the modern era by digitally preserving as much of their collection as possible. Vidiots has thousands of rare VHSes that are presumably deteriorating and may be the last copies remaining of certain films, and Vidiots wants to digitize those tapes, license them, and check them out to whoever wants a copy. Additional funds will go to creating programming to showcase these films. This is a huge benefit to the LA film community – which more or less overlaps exactly with Hollywood.

If you want to support a good cause that makes the world of film a better place, consider kicking a few dollars their way. Their campaign has about a month left to raise $45,000, any amount helps.

Hasta la vista, Molly

We have a bittersweet post to share today: after four years of service, Visual Media Collections Coordinator Molly Hubbs is leaving the AU Library. Molly has been an invaluable member of the Media Services team and a backbone of many of our ongoing projects, especially new acquisition processing and the push to digitize our VHS … Continue reading “Hasta la vista, Molly”

We have a bittersweet post to share today: after four years of service, Visual Media Collections Coordinator Molly Hubbs is leaving the AU Library. Molly has been an invaluable member of the Media Services team and a backbone of many of our ongoing projects, especially new acquisition processing and the push to digitize our VHS collection. Although we’re sad to see her go, we’re excited for her new and exciting opportunities. Best of luck, Molly!

The New York Times looks at the confusing work of film preservation

Still from Decasia Welcome back! The fall 2016 semester is underway now, and we’re happy to see students back. You can come to us to watch any films you need to watch for class… but as we’re often reminded, there are some things we just can’t get our hands on. Last week, The New York … Continue reading “The New York Times looks at the confusing work of film preservation”

Still from Decasia

Welcome back! The fall 2016 semester is underway now, and we’re happy to see students back. You can come to us to watch any films you need to watch for class… but as we’re often reminded, there are some things we just can’t get our hands on.

Last week, The New York Times ran a story about the challenges of preserving films from the silent era. There’s a lot of eye-popping statistics – especially that 70 percent of the films from that time are lost forever – but we were most amazed by the stories of alternative versions of movies. Evidently, studios used to produce pre-censored or re-written versions of movies to show overseas or in areas that could not yet play movies with sound, and their content and production vary significantly from the originals. Keeping these versions intact has been a nightmare for preservationists. If you ever need to watch something out-of-print for class, remember all these archivists toiling way to keep culture alive.

This is to say nothing of films that have never been available on a modern format, left behind on VHS. We’re taking care of these cases as we find them in our collection, so rest assured, we’re doing our part to prevent other films from being lost to time too.

The end of the VHS, and what it means for the library

Well, we’ve been dreading this moment for years now: the VHS is officially obsolete. Funai, the last company that still manufactures VHS players, will end their production at the end of the month. This comes less than a year after Betamax tapes were also discontinued. As of August 1st, the VHS will be a format … Continue reading “The end of the VHS, and what it means for the library”

Well, we’ve been dreading this moment for years now: the VHS is officially obsolete.

Funai, the last company that still manufactures VHS players, will end their production at the end of the month. This comes less than a year after Betamax tapes were also discontinued. As of August 1st, the VHS will be a format permanently in the past; outside of small artisanal efforts (the article we linked to mentions a collector community that might not go down so easily), there will never be any more VHS players than currently exist in the world. That’s all we’ve got.

This won’t have too much of a practical effect for most people who have already replaced their VHS collections, but we worry about what will come of all the VHSes that have never been re-released or preserved. Countless documentaries and ephemera will become unavailable, assuming the tapes last longer than the supply of players.

For a few years now, Media Services has been in the process of preserving our VHS collection to ensure that this problem won’t impact the AU community. We’ve been conducting an extensive audit of our VHSes to see what isn’t available on any other format and whether we’re within the legal grounds to digitize and create our own DVD copy of it. As part of this, we’re also collaborating with other groups on campus like ATV and Athletics to preserve other valuable VHS videos, including old commencement addresses.

We still have a supply of VHS players and staff who know how to fix them, so we’ll be fine in the long run. Let’s take a second to commemorate this inevitable but sad moment for physical media.

Some of the great, weird things we found while cleaning out our desks

 Now that we’re in the slow months of summer, we have a chance to tidy up our department. A big part of that this summer is cleaning out desks that haven’t been emptied in decades and finding all sorts of goodies in them. Most of what we found was old files, but a few wonderful … Continue reading “Some of the great, weird things we found while cleaning out our desks”

 Now that we’re in the slow months of summer, we have a chance to tidy up our department. A big part of that this summer is cleaning out desks that haven’t been emptied in decades and finding all sorts of goodies in them.

Most of what we found was old files, but a few wonderful relics from the past stood out. We shared some of the best to Facebook. The catalogs are pretty amazing (look at all that wood paneling!), but the cassette of a 1984 Ted Kennedy speech at the nearby Methodist church has some real historical value. Luckily the University Archives had already backed it up!

If you’re seeing a movies in the 1910s, kindly remove your hat

Finals week has arrived, folks. In deference to your stress levels, we’ll be sharing some light, entertaining things this week. Firstly, we wanted to show you these great old “lantern slides” that were once displayed in movie theaters at the turn of the 20th century. In the days long before FirstLook and movie theater radio … Continue reading “If you’re seeing a movies in the 1910s, kindly remove your hat”

Finals week has arrived, folks. In deference to your stress levels, we’ll be sharing some light, entertaining things this week.

Firstly, we wanted to show you these great old “lantern slides” that were once displayed in movie theaters at the turn of the 20th century. In the days long before FirstLook and movie theater radio stations, theaters still used the empty screen between movies to explain theater policies and advertise. Apparently in 1912, wearing a hat to the movies was the equivalent of using your phone. (We’re sure 1912’s AMC briefly considered the idea of a hat-friendly theater.)

You can see a whole bunch of these in the Library of Congress’s collection. The world of 2016 would probably benefit from a “Don’t forget your umbrella” slide.

(Thanks to film critic Manohla Dargis for pointing these out!)

Movies don’t get worse than watching them on Videodisc

Occasionally, we have a laugh about some of the obsolete media formats we keep stocked behind the desk. We still have a large number of VHS tapes and a handful of LaserDiscs – and even an extremely unloved U-matic player that looks like part of the Space Shuttle. But there’s a format even clunkier than … Continue reading “Movies don’t get worse than watching them on Videodisc”

Occasionally, we have a laugh about some of the obsolete media formats we keep stocked behind the desk. We still have a large number of VHS tapes and a handful of LaserDiscs – and even an extremely unloved U-matic player that looks like part of the Space Shuttle.

But there’s a format even clunkier than all of those. Behold, the CED Videodisc.

The video by retro technology group Techmoan, embedded above, explores this horrible media format. CED Videodiscs combine the impracticality of listening to music on vinyl, the blurry quality of VHS tapes, and the short running time of LaserDiscs. Discs only half an hour on each side and need to be flipped halfway through a movie. And if a Videodisc had any damage or particles stuck on the surface, it would skip wildly; many older discs are almost unwatchable.

We don’t have any Videodiscs in our collection, probably because the format was dead by 1984. You’ll have to make do with this video if you want to experience the absolutely worst way to watch a movie. Skip to about the 20 minute mark to see it in action.

Hollywood’s big new technology is 90 years old

As movie theaters search for new technology to drag people into theaters, the latest promise comes from Barco Escape, a three-screen technology designed for “immersive cinema” with a panoramic view or, potentially, action on three different screens at once. But as Dennis Duffy once said, technology is cyclical. These ideas have come up before – … Continue reading “Hollywood’s big new technology is 90 years old”

As movie theaters search for new technology to drag people into theaters, the latest promise comes from Barco Escape, a three-screen technology designed for “immersive cinema” with a panoramic view or, potentially, action on three different screens at once.

But as Dennis Duffy once said, technology is cyclical. These ideas have come up before – in spectacular fashion.

Back in the 50s, the Cinerama format had a similar concept, using three projectors on a wide-angled screen to create a broader picture. The technique seemed so unusual at the time that the first Cinemera film, This Is Cinerama, is basically a commercial for the format; it opens with an educational lecture about the history of film to prepare viewers for what will come next. Flicker Alley released This Is Cinerama on Blu-ray a few years ago, complete with a fake curved screen. (Available from the AU Library under HU BLU 10798.)

Other movies have used multiple projectors to show several scenes at once, maybe none more famously than the 1927 silent film Napoleon. The 5-hour-long behemoth of a movie includes a sequence with three different projectors running at once. Because of the changing size of the screen and length, Napoleon is nearly impossible to watch correctly at home. You’ll have to catch one of the rare theatrical screenings, held only 14 times since the 1930s. (A Blu-ray will also come out later this year.)

Or maybe, if Barco Escape catches on, you can watch Napeleon there. Everything old is new again!