VHS v Betamax



The first film that I ever owned on VHS rather than just taping a film off the telly was Raiders of the Lost Ark, I’d seen it in the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff during the school holidays whilst my Mum went shopping in town and it was one of the best things I had ever seen. We got our first video recorder – A toploading Ferguson Videostar complete with wired remote – in 1983 but at the time you had to rent films – you could actually buy them through your local video shop but if you wanted to but then they cost over £60 and kids, this was Thatcher’s Britain, things were tough back then so renting was the only realistic option. The first video my parents rented was an animated version of The Lord of the Rings. Back then as now, I really couldn’t stand anything Tolkien related and it upset me that my parents would choose such a film to be my first video rental experience.

My sister Cathy (Still Catherine back in those days.) and I walked back to video shop to get something else and my choice was Escape to Victory where the cream of the footballing world, some IpswichTown squad members, Michael Caine and Rocky take on the Nazis with a football. Oh how I loved that film and it has a fantastic Bill Conti score too which still brings memories of the early eighties playground at school with us all trying to emulate the piece of skill that Ossie Ardiles does in slow motion during the game at the end of the film.. Films from those early days of home entertainment still bring a smile to my face – Rocky I, II and III, Private Benjamin, Chariots of Fire, Gregory’s Girl, The Fury (anybody else ever see that?) and the best of all Airplane! Oh we loved a video rental in the James household.

In the winter of 1983 Paramount announced that they were going to release Raiders of the Lost Ark on VHS for the bargain price of £19.99 – it would be mine and as it turned out it was. Dad spoke to the bloke who owned the video shop in Cowbridge – an ex-copper whose shop would get burnt out in an arson attack some years later (I know, in Cowbridge of all places?!?!) – and he got a copy in and so it was that on Christmas Day 1983 I got my first film on video. I’ve no idea which was my second video nor even my last but Raiders was my first and I must have seen that film more than any other in my life and I still love it and yes I bought it when it came out on DVD*

I watched it so many times that winter and during the holidays even my Gran sat and watched it with me which led to the situation when during the Christmas after when Raiders was shown on ITV for the first time and Gran was staying with my Uncle Brian, his family were watching it and Gran much to their surprise and baffled amusement was able to tell them what was going on and what was going to happen – “That monkey is up to no good.” and so on. My Auntie Hilary told me that she had been asked: “Gran, how can you possible know that?” only for her to proven right the next minute and then throughout the film.

Films appearing on video and television were events back then – it took up to seven years for films to be on television and I remember settling down to watch the television premier of 2001: A Space Odyssey on the BBC in 1979. I was so excited about seeing it – my Mum lasted until the men get to the plinth on the moon with Penderecki’s music echoing all around before exclaiming that it was rubbish and turned it off. Not even the possibility of seeing if Leonard Rossiter would show up again in the film could persuade her to switch it back on. It would be 1985 coming home from a school trip to Heidelberg before I got to see the whole thing albeit on a tiny TV screen on a Ferris Coach with fellow pupils shouting out “What the hell is going on? What is that big stone thing? Hey look, it’s Rigsby!” We got all the way through it and then watched Rollerball with James Caan – and that was good too. Looking back though it was a strange selection of films that the driver had on board his coach and he did keep one box of videos securely locked at all times, hmm…

Anyway, what is it about Raiders that I love so much? It’s a proper film, what is up there on the screen happened – if a man falls off a vehicle then he’s fallen off it and it isn’t some CGI done in an air-conditioned office somewhere. When you see Harrison Ford sweating, he’s really sweating and there is a sense of humour throughout the film that keeps the story rollicking along including the famous sword scene. Marion isn’t your typical love interest, she’s a feisty independent woman who doesn’t need Dr Jones and will only have him on her terms – this was quite radical for the early eighties after seventies disaster movies with helpless, I need a man women.. What also helps is that George Lucas hadn’t completely disappeared up his own arse at his point and Spielberg was beginning his comeback after the failure of 1941** and couldn’t fail, it’s one of his best and better than all the pale imitations that came after it – okay, okay I’ll let you have Romancing the Stone.

*Well of course I went for the American DVD boxset of the Indiana Jones films for the uncut Temple of Doom and yes I now have it on Blu-ray. I went for the British blu-ray boxset this time as it finally had the uncut Temple of Doom released for the first time in the UK.

 ** See it, it’s great.


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