Friday, September 4, 2015

A (Somewhat Personal) History of VHS


The VHS format is now obsolete two times over, but its influence on the entertainment industry is undeniable. It brought home video into the mainstream for the first time and changed the way we think about viewing movies more than any other home video format.

VHS stands for Video Home System and was the consumer standard for video cassette tapes for decades.

For a bit of context, magnetic tape video recording was used in the television industry beginning in the 1950s, but it wouldn't be mainstream for home use until the 1970s.

The first commercially successful Video Tape Recorder was released in 1956 by the AMPEX corporation and it was called the AMPEX VRX-1000.

Eight years later in 1964, a Japanese company called JVC (Victor Company of Japan) entered the fray with their own videotape recorder. It was dubbed the DV220 and was their standard until the 1970s.

Then in 1969 JVC began a collaboration with two other Japanese electronics giants, Sony and Matsushita Electric, who later became Panasonic. The goal was to create a video recording standard for all of Japan. The result was a format called U-matic that released in 1971. Unlike the more common reel-to-reel systems of the time, it contained the tape in a cassette. It wasn't that successful, partly because the machine cost $1400 and blank tapes were thirty bucks. There were no prerecorded movies sold for the format, it was strictly for recording television.

After this, Sony and Matsushita decided to work on their own formats. The latter started work on the short-lived VX format, but Sony began to work on Betamax, the main competitor to VHS.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Guide to Early Science Fiction Films (1920-1929)

The following essay serves as part 3 of my series on the history of science fiction films. Please take a moment to check out part 1 and part 2 if you haven't done so already.

I've also made a video version of those articles, which you can watch here and here.

In the 1920s, science fiction movies began to be a bit more common. In 1920, there were two.

One was a German film titled Algol: Tragedy of Power. It was directed by Hans Werckmeister and starred Emil Jannings, who later became to the first person to receive an Academy Award.

The plot centers around an alien that gives a coal miner a machine that could allow him to rule the world. Algol features sets by Walter Reimann, who was a designer on the famous German horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Algol was thought to be lost for many years until it was recently rediscovered.

Also in 1920, there was a 15-episode serial released called The Invisible Ray (dir: Harry A. Pollard). It's about scientists discovering a ray with special powers and using it for a criminal scheme. Ruth Clifford and Jack Sherrill were the stars.

Unfortunately, it is currently considered lost and not much information is readily available online about it.

In 1921, a sci-fi flick called L'uomo meccanico, or The Mechanical Man was released, directed by Andre Reed. It's delightful cheesiness makes it one of my favorites from the era. This is mostly due to the awesome, goofy design of the titular robot.

It was originally around 80 minutes, but only 26 minutes survive. A scientist creates a robot that can be controlled remotely and has super-human strength. However, a group of criminals kills the scientists and use the robot to commit crimes.