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Arts & Culture

'Stuck On VHS' Celebrates Lost Culture From The Video Store Era

"Stuck on VHS" is the first book from Alamo Drafthouse's new publishing division.
"Stuck on VHS" is the first book from Alamo Drafthouse's new publishing division.

From Texas Standard:

Thanks to video streaming, gone are the days of going to the video store, strolling the aisles in search of the perfect title. Gone, too, are all the trappings of the VHS rental experience – the candy by the register, the posters and branded merchandise to promote the latest releases and, of course, the stickers on VHS tapes reminding you to rewind.

One man wants to pay homage to VHS-era nostalgia, the stickers in particular. Josh Schafer's new book, " Stuck on VHS: A Visual History of Video Store Stickers," is a sort of time capsule of the bygone days of home movie rental. It's also the first book from the new publishing arm of Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas.

Schafer is Alamo's "VHS Culture Captain." He's charged with keeping the legacy of VHS culture alive, which is akin to the work of those who praise the virtues of vinyl records even as the music industry moves deep into the digital era.

VHS tapes were revolutionary, Schafer says, because they brought a large number of movies into American homes.

"You could go to a store with experts on film and enthusiasts on film, and they can help you find the films that you wanted to see, or didn't know you wanted to see," he says.

The importance of VHS stickers, in particular, might puzzle the uninitiated, but Schafer says they give clues about the era. They ranged from stickers with the video store's location and address, to the rewind-reminder sticker.

"These give information about the era," Schafer says. "These are real places that existed, and people came in, communities came in, and rented. ... They were a huge influence on the way people consumed media."

He says the stickers are some of the only evidence that some video stores existed.

Schafer's favorite stickers often take a humorous approach to the thing all video stores beseeched their customers to do: "Be kind. Please rewind." One favorite sticker was a VHS tape in cartoon form; another warned borrowers that the tape could melt if left in the sun. 

The loss of VHS culture also meant a loss of many films that were never transferred onto DVD or made available for streaming. That included small-budget films, workout tapes and special-topic films.

Schafer says the stickers he used for the book came from his own VHS collection, and those of his friends and colleagues who are also aficionados. It's all part of an effort by Alamo Drafthouse to keep VHS culture alive, and to get people interested in film more broadly.

Alamo's Video Vortex stores are another part of that effort. Schafer couldn't say whether the stores are profitable, but he says they're an important extension of the film "culture" that the company offers at its theaters.

"You can go into a movie theater and you have eight, 10, 11 screens you can watch these movies. ... [But] you go into an Alamo with a video store and you have, you know, 10,000, 30,000, 70,000 titles that you can go through and experience," Schafer says.

Written by Caroline Covington.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.