A few years ago, I purchased an analog-to-digital converter so I could import all of my family’s VHS home movies into the computer.
Capturing the video required playing it in real time, so I watched as milestones from my childhood unspooled before my eyes. It was like reliving the long-ago moments of a cobwebbed memory … except with a timestamp on the screen and tracking that needed adjusting.
Unfortunately, I fell asleep and drooled on the keyboard, which shorted out the light on the “caps lock” key. (So now when I’m typing, I have to express my anger in italics.)
The thing was, I’d forgotten how boring home movies were in the 1990s. (Note: I wasn’t being angry there; I was just placing emphasis.)
It was a different era back then. The economy was strong, the Cold War had officially ended, and new episodes of Saved By The Bell were still being made.
But when it came to cutting-edge technology, we weren’t quite there — as evidenced by the lack of Internet and the elephantine cell phone Zack Morris carried.
Speaking of cell phones, they’re the camcorder of choice nowadays. They’re small and portable, and they encourage us to film from various angles.
But in the ’90s, camcorders were large and bulky, and they looked more like a shoulder-mounted cannon than a consumer electronic. So instead of lugging the things around, we’d set them on a tripod, press “record,” and walk away.
Hence the boringness. Most of my home videos are shot from a single vantage point, and they play out for at least an hour. The whole time, I’m begging for somebody to pick up the camcorder and change the perspective. (Unfortunately, my counterpart from 20 years ago was more concerned with playing Nintendo than manning the camera.)
In one example of immoderate reminiscence, the tape labeled “Christmas Eve 1993” is 40 minutes of my cousins and I tearing open presents — all shot from a single, never-ending angle.
That’s it. Nothing else happens. It’s not a Hallmark moment — it’s a Hallmark epoch. And not an interesting one, at that.
What was the point of preserving this spellbinding footage? As a historical study, it’s not that interesting. What doe-eyed archivist is going to care that I got a pair of socks in the waning years of the 20th century?
Besides, all that crap Santa Claus brought has since been hauled to Goodwill and the local landfill. (Except for the socks, which not surprisingly rotted. They didn’t stand a chance.)
These days, we’re conditioned to film in abbreviated takes, to accommodate social media such as YouTube, Vine, and Vimeo. We’ve learned to preserve our memories in seven-second snippets.
But we didn’t do that with VHS. The incentive back then was always to fill the tape — as if any blank space was an unforgivable wastage tantamount to tossing out food during the Great Depression.
“I need to fill the tape.”
“Do something interesting, will you? There’s only 5 minutes of tape left.”
“No, don’t turn it off! Let it keep going till it runs out of tape.”
The result is hours of footage of people sitting around, stealing glimpses at the camera.
“Did it shut itself off, yet?”
“Did it run out of tape?”
“What should we be saying?”
“Should somebody juggle oranges, or something?”
“Allen, see how much tape it’s got left.”
If my old VHS movies offer a window to the past, then I’d rather draw the blinds.
Actually, I’m just kidding. I’m glad I have all those VHS tapes — especially during the holidays, when I can watch them together with family. Sure, we fast-forward through some of the drawn-out, stationary shots — but at least the footage exists.
What I really regret are the times when we didn’t take video or pictures. Those moments live only in my memory, and they’re susceptible to time (especially if I drink a lot of eggnog during the holidays).
I treasure all of the photos and video I have. Although not all moments are worth reliving, most are worth preserving — especially if you intend to share them later with loved ones.
And that’s the thing. When it comes to family and friends and all the joyous moments they bring, you can never make too many memories.