Old Videotapes Never Die, They Just Start New On-Demand Revolutions

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Photo by Corey Nickols
Lucas Hilderbrand reels in our on-demand video culture.

The photo above of Lucas Hilderbrand, an associate professor of Film and Media Studies at UC Irvine and the subject of this week's cover story "Close to YouTube," was shot at Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee video store in North Hollywood

 

Given the state of flux in the video business these days, Hilderbrand says he was happy to see Eddie's "was actually renovating and the business seemed as busy as ever. That's because it has an amazing collection of videos that you can't get anywhere else. It's probably the best video store in the world."

 

Meanwhile, if you'd like to read what Hilderbrand writes about film instead of getting it through yours truly, go online and purchase the Spring/Summer 2009 edition of Millennium Film Journal 51: Experiments in Documentary. Among those you've read in OC Weekly who have contributed to previous editions of Millennium Film Journal are Ernest Hardy and J. Hoberman. Hilderbrand's piece is titled "Experiments in Documentary: Contradictions, Uncertainty, Change."

 

Online FlowTV.org in July posted a piece by Hilderbrand titled "Digital is Not a Noun." The 33-year-old explains it thusly: "For this column, I offer a polemic that might alternately be called 'semiotics of the digital,' a cranky reflection on the ways we talk about digital technologies and the meanings that underlie seemingly benign grammatical usage. (This is what happens when there's nothing good to watch on TV.)"

 

As the Weekly cover story notes, he also will be contributing a piece to FlowTV on the 20th anniversary of Stephen Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotape, which Hilderbrand called his "turning point" film. As a 14-year-old in a small South Dakota college town, he got his own copy and watched it over and over.

 

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Hilderbrand demonstrates in his new book Inherent Vice: Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright (Duke University Press) a deep affinity for the videotape format
So does he think videotape will ever die or will we experience a Blade Runner-esque future where old videos, VCRs and video cameras will be pulled out of the rubble and used again?

 

"I think there will be archives and attics with VHS tapes for decades," he says. "The problem will be finding machines on which to play them. One issue around obsolescence is e-waste: each time a new format comes along, the old technologies end up in landfills and pose ecological problems. People keep asking me if I want their collections of tapes or if it's okay for them to just throw tapes in the dumpster. Unfortunately, it's very hard to recycle VHS."

 

Whatever ultimately happens, videotape has unleashed on the planet something Hilderbrand calls the "on-demand culture," where viewers see what they want when they want.

 

"I think Hulu is interesting in this regard," he says. "As ratings drop for broadcast TV, the networks are not only putting their current shows online, but there's a broad and seemingly random database of vintage series. The site allows far broader access to a wealth of material--including the complete run of decades-old soap operas or other shows that have never been officially released on home video.

 

"My concern is that the current availability may be temporary, and if something is taken offline, there's really nothing a viewer can do to access it. In the tangible media days, the network couldn't take VHS recordings or DVD box sets back from their fans."


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