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Ever thought VHS might make a comeback?

Ever thought VHS might make a comeback?

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision are hosting a panel of VHS enthusiasts at the NZ premiere screening of Rewind This! on Wednesday 19 August at 6pm. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

Rewind This! is an American documentary about the impact of VHS technology, from the revolution of being able to time-shift television programmes, to the rise of the video rental store, to the appeal of B-grade and cult movie distribution, to the enthusiasts of today who build up their own collections of VHS tapes, always on the look out for the rare and sought-after.

So is the New Zealand story any different to the rest of the world? Some might argue that because of New Zealand’s isolation, limited television and cinema programming, the rise of the VHS had a huge impact on our movie watching habits. There was nothing like the traditional trawl through the video store on a Friday night, picking out which movie to watch with a couple of mates over fish and chips - based purely on the VHS cover.

Andrew Armitage opened the iconic Aro Street Video store shortly after the boom, in 1989, to “specialise for the special eyes”. His aim was to import many movies that just weren’t going to be seen anywhere else in New Zealand:

“I gazed upon the treasures available on the international market with envious eyes, and wondered how could we get more of that here. The impact of VHS was just as significant as anywhere else, there was an opportunity to add much more variety to the already generous range available.”

It is sometimes hard to remember in this digital age, but VHS is an analogue medium; and magnetic tape wears out through use and experiences loss of image through generations of copying. Artist Kayla Ward finds just that kind of visceral damage interesting for her art forms.

Beyond the physical aspects, much like vinyl, VHS tapes had their own art and could become object of art in themselves. Enthusiast Dave Sommerville has a fair collection of VHS tapes and he says:

“I can often be found at local cinemas or trawling second hand stores for tapes. I love tapes because of their vibrant cover art, bombastic over the top trailers and the thrill of finding a fun film that I'd never otherwise hear of.”

If you step into the reference library at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision one of the things you will encounter are shelves and shelves of VHS tapes.

“While we are digitising more and more of our film collections we still have a huge backlog and in many cases the only viewing copy that we have is a VHS tape. VHS was great because the tapes were so long you could compile a whole lot of short films on to one tape. That was a revolution then, but now its a bit of a nightmare. Can you imagine fastforwarding through two hours of commercials just to get to the 30 second KFC advertisement Hugo said You Go” says Diane McAllen Digital Programmes Developer.

Most viewers at home, however, were keen to make use of VHS machines to record a television without the advertisements. Of particular popularity in New Zealand were favourite music videos that featured on Ready to Roll or Radio With Pictures during the 1980s and early 1990s. Do you remember leaning forward with your finger hovering above the pause button?

Professor Robert Chapman’s valuable recordings of daily news broadcasts, and current events programmes on his VHS machine remain a wealth of information for researchers of New Zealand political landscape during the 1980s.

“As live to air broadcasts in those days were exactly that “live to air”, no master material was kept except for the out-of-studio recordings and these VHS tapes represent the best audiovisual record of this time” - Louise McCrone


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