The Last VCR

Posted by Madam Bubby

 

Vinyl is still around and actually thriving, especially in indie music and hipster circles, but I the same revival hasn't quite happened for the VHS, which means those old video tapes one sees in thrift stores may end up in landfills or supporting window air conditioners.

According to this source, Japan's Funai Electric, who claimed to be the last VCR manufacturer, stopped producing the machines several years ago, in July of 2016. This source also gives a brief history of the medium, which for readers of a certain age, will certainly bring back memories.

Beta tapes? Wow. I remember my Dad got every James Bond movie he could find on Beta. Yes, Beta, which did not last. What happened to all those Beta tapes?

 

VHS and Beta gay porn tapes

VHS and Beta gay porn tapes in the Bijou office

 

And those bulky cameras. People started to get really obsessed with them, I remember, at least initially, and this before the days of easy selfies and youtube videos. Want a movie of someone eating mashed potatoes at a 1980s christening celebration? It's on a VHS tape, and probably now remastered digitally and streaming somewhere on youtube.

 

Old video camera

 

Some even attributed the supposed narcissism of Generation X and millenials to this phenomenon. Hey, can I see the tape of me when I was four throwing water balloons at the next door neighbor? Or how about when I got ten Atari video games for Christmas when I was ten and threw a tantrum (captured for time immemorial) because my brother got a more expensive one?

Digital hoarding perhaps started with the VCR. There was the woman on the show Hoarders taping constantly on a multitude of TVs. Think walls of tapes. Her son said, well, I guess if you want a Phil Donahue show from the 1980s, this is the place to go.

 

Huge stash of VHS tapes

 

Of course, the advent of this medium totally revolutionized the porn industry. Instead of having to go to a porn theater like Chicago's late, great Bijou Theater, one could rent and even buy tapes and watch porn at home. Or even tape amateur porn. Porn creators made a killing for a while on these often very expensive tapes, but now with streaming and youtube, the sex exists in cyberspace rather than captured on a concrete medium like a VHS tape.

 

'80s ads for VHS/Beta sales at the Bijou Theater & Surge Studio's Century Mining on VHS/Beta for $79

'80s ads for VHS/Beta sales (including Pieces of EightMichael, Angelo & David) at the Bijou Theater & Surge Studio's Century Mining on VHS/Beta for $79

 

Will VHS make a comeback? Some grassroots indie artists and retro collectors may be rediscovering the medium (and also the major consumer movie format before video, Super 8 film). Is it the appeal of retro, or some other specific component of the medium? Time may tell.

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trident1000
"Return of the Jedi" VHS tape was not Return of the Jedi.
Wednesday, 12 January 2022 21:06
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The Legacy of Scotty Bowers: A Brief Reflection

posted by Madame Bubby

Scotty Bowers, recent photo

Scotty Bowers, a legend in Hollywood’s sexual underground in the 1950s and 1960s, died at home in Los Angeles on October 13 at the age of 96.

When I found out about his book, Full Service, I must admit I was excited to read it, mostly because I always enjoyed titillating, “Hollywood Babylon” scandals. And here was someone who actually made satisfying the sexuality of Hollywood royalty of that period (and others) his business, literally.

He started his “infamous” gas station procurement network in the late 1940s, mostly hiring out young studs for closeted gay actors and others in the Hollywood business (and there were many).

According to his book, his career as a sex worker began in 1946 while he was working as an attendant at The Richfield Oil gas station located at 5777 Hollywood Boulevard, at the corner of Van Ness Avenue. In 1950, Bowers stopped working at the service station, and he then began working as a party bartender (one his party “tricks” involved using his schlong to stir drinks), while continuing his sexual services to both men and women. And he himself, because he was gifted with such a stunning endowment, according to Bowers, was quite popular.
 

Young Scotty Bowers
Young Scotty Bowers

I must admit I was surprised that the famous Hollywood actor Walter Pidgeon, whom I call Mr. Miniver (he was Mrs. Miniver’s [played by Greer Garson] husband in one of the most wholesome, inspiring, patriotic 1940s movies, Mrs. Miniver), was one of his first clients. It’s still sometimes difficult to separate the screen persona from the real person (and in Pidgeon’s case, he was married to a woman, of course), but that was Hollywood: ultimately, illusion.

What I found to be, according to Scotty (and I don’t dispute at all his reliability in this case, as many others do), the close to ultimate Hollywood illusion: the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn romance. I remember when growing up, it was pretty much a given that these two were the romantic Hollywood power couple of the period (at least before Burton and Taylor came along). Yet, according to Bowers, both were gay (or in Tracy’s case, probably bisexual), and Scotty apparently was one of his sexual partners. Hepburn, who some have argued was really more fluid in her relationship to gender and sexuality, used Bowers as a means to “hook up” with several women.
 

Young Scotty Bowers
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

But what I think when reading the book and also viewing the documentary (I made a special trip to see it), Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, is that one can get distracted by all the Old Hollywood “scandal” and peccadilloes.

Scotty himself suffered many tragedies in his life that are perhaps closely related to, or perhaps not, his life a sex worker. He lived with a common-law wife whom he met right after his service in WWII, but they grew apart, and the daughter by this marriage, Donna, died young from complications after an abortion.

He did finally manage to find happiness with his last wife, but looking at the documentary, it’s clear Scotty suffered, especially later in life, from a hoarding disorder. I remember, and this behavior is that of a typical hoarder, a scene where he is going through memorabilia in a rented storage space stuffed to the maximum. Yes, there’s history made visible in the things he cherishes, but it seems buried, hidden, physically and mentally in clutter, multiplicity out of control.

Hidden and buried, yet now, no longer a secret. Scotty helped others keep secrets, but he never made his sex life a secret. He gloried in it. And I also think it wasn’t just a case of someone who knew he could use his sexuality as a commodity. Of course, he did, if one interprets his legacy very literally. Old Hollywood needed and wanted him to keep its illusion of heteronormative glamour intact.

But in doing so, he ended up exposing that illusion, not out of spite, but because in a world that was built on dreams and illusions, he actually fulfilled in the most primal, honest way the personal dreams of the stars who embodied on screen the dreams of people who probably got their gas pumped (and much more) at the Richfield Oil Gas Station.

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