Reclaim Video, or #ds106flix

I am just coming off a quick, fun trip back to Virginia. I was invited to talk at Old Dominion University (I’ll say more about that in my next post) which meant I was able to sneak in some time on the ground at Reclaim Hosting‘s headquarters in Fredericksburg. Despite it being so quick, it was  a really productive trip given we invited Ryan Seslow down last weekend to finish up his installation for Domains19 in what is yet another post to write 🙂 But before any of that, I need to write about the goings on at Reclaim Video because it is the best thing ever.

Part of our latest setup is the ability to both archive and stream our collection simultaneously. We are using a splitter out from our VHS/Laserdisc/Beta/Selectavision switcher to  run the signal both to the TV in Reclaim Hosting as well as an iMac that we are using to both archive the films with the Elgato Video Capture software while at the same time Streaming with OBS Studio to http://reclaimvideo.com/live. It is a slick setup, and essentially allows us to capture anything we play at Reclaim Video for posterity as well as to share it more broadly. Beyond that, we are storing our archived videos in a Plex Media Server that we can then create programming and effectively run Reclaim Video’s TV both locally and streaming from anywhere.  It’s hard for people to fully wrap their head around a fully digital VHS store that can be imagined as a localized and eventually communally curated and programmable Netflix, but that’s what we are talking about here. It’s the coolest thing I have been a part of yet, and the idea that Reclaim Video is simply self-indulgent nostalgia is far too limiting, it’s that and so much more! 

I spent the time on the ground getting familiar with the ropes of the system Tim put in place, and I spent most of my free time archiving and streaming movies from Reclaim Video—it’s a dream come true! 

Amityville Horror movie poster from 1979

The first film I archived and streamed was the original Amityville Horror (1979). It’s an old go-to from me given I grew up on the South Shore of Long Island where the story is set, and the beginning of this film when the kid kills his family still freaks me out. This film brought the horror home and even mixed in Satanic spirits from hell, making it doubly relevant for a young Catholic kid. What struck me about it this time around was that the invisible Jody and her creepy rocking chair and fleeting demon eyes never get less scary. What’s more, James Brolin performance reminded me a lot of Jack Torrance in Kubrick’s The Shining, a dad with the potential of going murderously bad is a scary plot line. What’s more, Brolin also looks a lot like Christian Bale with a beard in this one. Finally, more and more the 70s seem so far away. But watching Margot Kidder walk from the station wagon to the kitchen with two armfuls of groceries in the old heavy duty brown bags transported me back to my childhood and images of my mom only like movies can. 

This capture was of an early VHS tape (will get all the details), but the quality was pretty decent and the archiving went off without a hitch.

The next film up was a change of pace, I jumped forward a couple of decades to 1997 for the taut action film Breakdown  starring Kurt Russell. This is a Dino De Laurentiis production, and it underscores his understanding of solid action film: simple and solid. I also changed up mediums and watched this one on laserdisc, given 1997 was one of the golden years of their existence before the DVD fully took over. The plot is brilliant, a married couple changing careers and coasts drive cross country from Boston to San Diego to start again. During their road trip they are targeted by a group of thieving rednecks who note their nice new car (a jeep Cherokee with leather seats—which tells you something about the 90s) and figures they have money and if they kidnap the wife they can get the husband to wire himself cash and pay them off. But it’s not that easy, as you can imagine, and J.T. Walsh plays an awesome, matter-of-fact villain in this one which is a perfect foil for the flustered and incredulous Russell. It was also fun to discover we have not one, but two copies of Breakdown on laserdisc, one which is still factory sealed!

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Breakdown was on during the day, but as evening came I returned to the 1980s with the 1983 classic Valley Girl on good old VHS. This film is evergreen for me, the soundtrack is amazing and Nicholas Cage’s performance is everything. The 80s class tensions of so many teen films that often frame wealthy suburbanites versus the kids on the other side of the track never gets old for me. And this one nods to punk and new wave in some fun ways with out being as sociological as Suburbia (1983) which was made the same year and made the cut for my playlist as you will see shortly. I think the stand-out for me this time around was Deborah Foreman’s relationship with her hippie parents. They are like totally understanding and don’t punish her, which pisses her off. What’s more, they run a health food store which, as she notes in the movie, is about the un-coolest thing your parents could do at the time. It’s interesting how much times have changed on this front, and that part of 80s youth culture was defined as a reaction to the hippie generation—something I remain proud of about the 80s 🙂 It is also interesting to compare the middle-class kids in Valley Girl to the misfits in Suburbia whose parents, rather than being hippies, were often Vietnam vets who were all messed up by the experience—the two films who make an interesting double feature about two films by women who document opposing visions of LA subculture at the time. 

I had to duck out for a couple of days to go down to Norfolk and attending the Old Dominion University’s Faculty Summer Institute for online teaching and learning, which was amazing and it provided the opportunity to visit arguably the best video store I’ve ever been to: Naro Video. But I’ll save that for the third post I need to write bout this trip 🙂

Once I returned from Norfolk I planned a VHS double feature of Suburbia (1983) and Straight to Hell (1987) —two recent additions to the collection—and it worked out well for at least the first film.

Suburbia played fine, and it is one of those VHS films that I would have never seen in the theaters, but when I heard about it through the skateboarding subculture I had to watch it (other films that punk skaters championed were Basket Case (1982), Clockwork Orange (1971), and Repo Man (1984) to name a few). Suburbia is darker than I remember it, and the kids—as I mentioned above—are outcasts that have no where else to go so they squat in an abandoned neighborhood on the city line that is over run with wild dogs (which was the inspiration for the Pet Shop Boys song Suburbia). The film deals with the mysognist, homophobic, and racist culture of these reject punks quite adeptly, and the scene wherein one of the women is stripped naked by marauding punk rockers while D.I. is playing “Richard Hung Himself” live is particularly powerful years later.

Penelope Spheeris was not exploring the tropes of class-driven romantic comedy like Valley Girl, but rather exploring the socio-economic realities of an LA in decline. Again, this would make a great double bill with Valley Girl given they came out the same year and show pretty radically different visions of LA.

The next film was supposed to be Straight to Hell (1987), but that was not in the cards given our workhorse VHS player, the early 80s Panasonic Omnivision, stopped working right after Suburbia. I think the heads need a good cleaning, but hope it is nothing worse given I have deep emotional attachments to that machine given it is the same make and model I grew up with. Anyway, to salvage the evening I switched to laserdisc and put on Carl Franklin’s 1992 independent masterpiece One False Move. This movie would not only pre-sage Franklin’s amazing Devil in a Blue Dress a few years later in 1995, it was also my introduction to Billy Bob Thornton who co-wrote the script. When I saw this film in the theater in 1992 or 93 I was blown away. It almost has a Faulkneresque feel to it when dealing with violence, race and the South, and the low-budget adds to the horror of the opening scene, as well as focus on good writing and excellent acting. Bill Paxton is a perfect foil to Billy Bob Thornton as the good ole boy sheriff with a heart of gold and some skeletons in his closet. It’s independent 90s cinema at its best, in my humble opinion.

From there I kept the laserdisc train rolling until I figured out a temporary replacement for the VCR, so I re-visited George Romero’s Creepshow (1982) which requires 3 discs making the archiving a bit more difficult because you have to actually remove the disc and put in a new one at about an hour and forty five minutes in during “The Crate” episode, which was Miles’s favorite when we watched it recently. I am still partial to Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson’s performances in “Something to Tide You Over.”  What else can I say about Creepshow that watching it yourself won’t cure?

My last order of business before taking off was getting a temporary solution in place for the VCR. As luck would have it about 6 months ago I purchased another Panasonic Omnivision, but this one was a Portable Recorder VCR (also from early 80s) and it was owned by John Grahame (you can get the entire back story here) who bought it in 1982 for almost $1300 given he was doing video work for a living at the time (he shot Francis Ford Coppola’s One From the Heart on video as a dry-run). So, I hooked the portable VCR and it worked like a charm (which is in mint condition and arguably a museum piece) to keep the VHS flowing on the ground. To celebrate, I concluded my run on the ground at Reclaim Video with Sean Penn’s juvenile delinquent prison film Bad Boys (1983).  [For some reason 1983 was the year this time around.] Bad Boys is a personal favorite and a film I discovered in the early 80s thanks to VHS rental stores and the rise of the VCR. I was transfixed by the prison fight scenes and Penn’s cell mate who was a nebbish nerd who used his knowledge of science and electronics to exact revenge on the prison bullies. It was also the beginning of seeing Penn as an actor beyond Jeff Spicoli for me, and this would make for a good double-feature with At Close Range (1986), another classic 80s film I discovered on VHS that I need to secure a copy of for Reclaim Video.

And that was my run at Reclaim Video. And while I enjoy the fact I can remotely run this amazing little video store from Italy, nothing beats being there and locking in for a bit.

Update: Seems I have been remiss in failing to note that Lisa M. Lane was behind the #ds106flix frame thanks to her comment on a previous post about the space. One can dream, right? Big fan, Lisa!

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