With the effusive internet expansion of VHS collector culture and general analog era appreciation gaining ground in the name of nostalgia, full-blown books are simply bound to happen. Exemplary analog-oriented printed editions have come in the form of the academic yet accessible Videoland along with the fun, culturally informative VHS Ate My Brain, both of which celebrate the video era in entirely different yet absolutely essential ways. Enter Noel Mellor’s love letter to the wonders of the video era entitled Adventures in VHS. While also producing a podcast of the same name to build the VHSteam, Manchester, UK based writer Mellor is offering up Adeventures in VHS in book form to revisit all of those radical rentals that helped cultivate his appreciation for cinema, endeavoring to take us on an analog-fueled journey through five dozen different titles that exemplify the array of eye-popping, brain-bending, taste-shaping slabs that populated video store shelves. He’s also detailing the experiences of growing up analog in the book, lovingly recounting the abundance of magnetic-minded memories and home video experiences from the halcyon days of rewind times and analog all-nighters. Read on, my fellow Videovores, and learn how you can ride along with Noel as he rewinds his video adventures for all Tapeheads to enjoy…
Go ahead and pop in that slab o’ magnetic magic, mang. Take the analog adventure. Always.
Can you tell us a little about yourself, and your writing history?
I’m lucky enough to be able to call myself a professional, paid writer… albeit one who works in the soulless world of marketing, peddling bank accounts and mobile phone contracts to people who already have them. But that’s just my day job. I’ve been writing about film in my spare time for almost a decade now and have done so for various sites and film festivals. I suppose the most notable of these would be Eat Sleep Live Film, which I set up with a couple of friends some years back but has now gone to the great server in the sky. It was while writing for that site that the seeds of Adventures in VHS were sewn.
A look at the little nook Noel lovingly calls “The Analogue Suite”. You know we can dig it. And groovy poster, mang.
Tell us about the inspiration to write this book. What was the impetus behind the idea?
Well, as I say, I was running a series of articles for Eat Sleep Live Film called “Rentals Revisited”, in which I went back to look at some of the movies I rented as a kid that ultimately shaped my love of film. While I was doing that, all this stuff I remembered about my local independent video store and the experiences I had because of it came flooding back. Not just the films I watched, but the smell of the place, the guy who ran the store and all the other silly things I’d come to associate with films I’d regularly take out.
I covered six movies for that series (The Wraith, Society, The Gate, Vamp, From Beyond and Dolls) and had so much fun that I knew I needed to develop the idea. After a bit of research, I found myself deep within the bowels of Manchester’s city archives, where I found some fantastic photographic evidence of the inside of that store. At that stage, I didn’t know what I wanted the book to be, but once I’d sourced an old VCR, tube TV and a tonne of video tapes, it started to take shape.
The conceptual cover for ADVENTURES IN VHS! Spelled out in spilled magnetic magic? OF COURSE, DUDE!
Can you give us an idea of what the book will be like? Anecdotal? Sort of like a memoir? Or is it a study on video culture and its impact? All of the above?!
With the first section of the book, I’ve tried to share why VHS was so important to me, along with all of the trials and tribulations of getting the Adventures in VHS ‘project’ off the ground. It’s impossible not to get into a little bit of VHS and its cultural impact, so there’s a bit of that in there, too, but to be honest those history books have already been written and aren’t what I wanted to focus on. So the second part of the book is dedicated entirely to taking the reader on more of a personal journey through 60 specific tapes.
The first 20 are titles I know (because of the aforementioned photographs) lived on the shelves of my local video store in the early eighties (before I got to it in about 85). Then there are 20 films I have a more personal connection with and another 20 entries for tapes I’ve discovered while working on the book. I’d say it’s occasionally anecdotal, but is really more “experiential” than anything else. I want people to read it and feel like they’re right there with me, picking the videos off the shelves and sitting cross-legged and wide-eyed watching them in front of the 21-inch tube TV. That’s why being able to showcase the glorious sleeve artwork of every single featured tape in full colour was so important to me.
A hefty warning from the rental shop owners. VHScare tactics, mang. Heavy.
Why do you think it’s important to share these memories about the video era? What do you want this book to do for people?
I talk about it a little in the book, but I do think that for all the things we’ve gained in the age of high definition, immediate access and instant gratification, we’ve definitely lost something, too. I’m not here to tell anyone VHS is superior to anything we have now (it wasn’t even superior to Betamax), but what it did was – for the first time – allow us to walk into a shop and be faced with a wall of weird and wonderful movies to take home and watch right away. That was very special, indeed.
Nowadays, we’re not just well aware of every single disposable DVD on the shelves of our local supermarket; we know which ones will fill that space in one or even two or three years’ time. Back in the early days of VHS, there were hidden gems everywhere and all you had to do was find them. It wasn’t always easy; they all had great cover art, but what lay inside was often a mystery only revealed once you’d powered up the VCR and loaded the tape. I’ve tried to capture a little bit of that in Adventures in VHS for those like me who remember it, as well as those who wish they could.
Killer covert art from Graham Humphreys for one of the most amazing slabs of analog to ever exist! This tape = ANALOG EXCELLENCE.
Can you describe the process of writing this book as it moves along?
The whole time I’ve been writing the book, I’ve been running the Adventures in VHS podcast alongside it to help build a bit of interest in the project for when the book was ready, as well as look closely at specific films and even interview some great people. I’ve spoken to filmmakers like Lloyd Kaufman, Jim Wynorski, David DeCoteau and Brian Yuzna (to name just a few), as well as some of the folks connected with the home video era like Graham Humphreys – who most people will know for his fabulous VHS artwork on tapes like The Evil Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and Return of the Living Dead.
Now, though, the book is written and I’m focused on getting it published, which I’m doing myself (more details HERE).
A peek at a groovy care package that could be yours if you pledge to ADVENTURES IN VHS! Yo, those Flying Saucer candies are BOMB. (NOTE: The pledges have helped, and all the info on the book is HERE).
Anything else you’d like to shout out to all the Tapeheads in Lunchmeat Land?!
Not all aliens are nice.
Didn’t Hawking dispense that same warning, mang?! I think Alien makes a pretty heady argument for that notion, but ALF might mitigate all the apprehension of invasive carnage ‘cause he’s just so damn groovy. Only way to truly tell is to stand in a cornfield, wave your hands incessantly and implore to be abducted by those mystical beings from above. Or, if idle field flagging isn’t your dig, you could take Stephen and Noel’s word for it. Alien attitude arguments aside, you best be sure to groove on over to the the Official ADVENTURE IN VHS site. Because, Tapeheads, it’s the personal experiences and treasured stories about these VHS-driven times that will truly present the importance of the video era to posterity. And while information on the origin of the VHS format is absolutely imperative, it’s the impact that these analog slabs make on our lives that mark them as being an indispensible piece of human history. And that’s pretty groovy, man.