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After the fact: A youth spend seeing movies on tape
By Bert Ehrmann
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Fort Wayne Reader
Now that I think about it, I didn’t see a whole lot of movies in the theater growing up. To be sure, some years we’d see a few, but some years none at all. But it’s not like we missed seeing anything we wanted to see, we’d just have to wait a while to see it on “tape,” which in my peer group was pretty common.
In 1986 there were some truly great movies released like Aliens, Platoon and Stand By Me. And some alright ones that none-the-less were very popular like Top Gun and ”Crocodile" Dundee and some that would become cult-classics like Big Trouble in Little China, One Crazy Summer and Maximum Overdrive. But the only movies that I actually saw in the theater that year were Transformers the Movie and Flight of the Navigator.
That’s right — when I could’ve been seeing things like Aliens or Stand by Me in the theater, two films that I still watch every year, instead me and a friend rode our bikes to go see the big-screen version of a TV cartoon and one I went with my brother and his punk friends to see for a birthday.
Most movies I saw growing up were either rented on VHS or on cable, HBO at our house. Which means that to me a lot of movies have release dates a year after they actually came out.
To me, Aliens came out the summer of ’87 when myself, a cousin and my brother stayed up late, watched it on HBO and scared each other silly camping out in the living room afterward. And the same goes for Top Gun too — except there the next day we chased each other around on our bikes engaged in aerial dogfights.
With new movies when I was growing up unless the theater was in bike-riding distance, where we lived there was a little two-screen theater nearby in a strip mall, and unless that theater actually screened the movie we wanted to see, which for a little two-screen theater in a strip mall was doubtful, we would be out of luck since getting a ride to more distant cineplex was doubtful. No parent wants to drop a kid off across town, then go home for a few hours before returning back to pick them up. And if the movie was rated “R” that was another matter entirely.
We never had those problems seeing movies on cable or VHS. VHS renting was much easier for the parents. The parent takes you to the rental store where you pick out whatever you want to see. And unless the box art for the movie was too titillating or gruesome it usually wasn’t a problem. Then all the parents have to do is haul the kids home with said tape — which is much easier than a trip to the theater.
If the movie was on cable it wasn’t an issue for us to see whatsoever. We’d watch what we wanted in our parent’s bedroom when they in the living room and then trade places when the parents were ready for bed.
It seems odd to think about it now when movies are released on home media just a few months after the start of their theatrical run, but in the ‘80s movies would first be released in the theater then six months later would turn up for rental on VHS, then a few months after that for purchase on VHS then a year after the theatrical release would turn up on cable. THEN maybe a year after that release on network TV. Which could sometimes be a big deal since the network TV versions of movies that came out then could be multi-night affairs where additional scenes might be added to the movies that weren’t included in the theatrical or VHS versions. And this was years before “director’s cuts” of movies.
I remember my dad telling me when he grew up that some of his fondest memories were of spending Saturday afternoons “at the movies” watching a procession cartoons, serials and films. But to me some of my fondest memories were of me and my friends taking trips to the rental store or spending all day Saturday afternoon waiting for 8 o’clock for HBO’s movie premiere of the week.