Weekend Entertainment

Home Movies, Now In Theaters

Just like RPGs, your party is brainless, heartless, and cowardly.

Still need to try this with Dark Side Of The Moon.

My mom looked forward to the Wizard of Oz coming on TV once a year, never knowing that the land of Oz changed to color, because they only rented a color TV once a year for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. I came along well after VHS defeated Betamax. She would tape Sesame Street to play on Saturdays, because I didn’t understand weekend TV schedules. It was no use arguing with me.

I also watched The Land Before Time every night for probably a year. I shudder to think how stuck in my head it would get if I re-watched it now. It was a golden age of home VHS, purchased in thick, cushy, seemingly airtight white plastic cases, or rented in clear, harder, sharper clicking boxes. To think, studio executives panicked about the VCR, saying they wouldn’t know how many people were watching, or be able to charge them. [1]

The VCR was probably the first machine I learned to operate. Not as baffling as the cassette player in the car, with its ambiguous Side A and Side B. Not that I had any concept of how either worked, but I knew which buttons to use, and the cycle of noises that each made. I was deadly serious about making sure each step was complete before I requested the next, and I never had it eat a tape on me.

This image or file is a work of a Federal Bureau of Investigation employee...?

Stunning they got this to work as well as it did.

I’ve fallen off the movie scene for the past couple years, as far as new releases or searching for hidden gems on DVD.[2] I do keep an eye out for old movies playing on the big screen at several different cinemas.

There are three Movie Taverns in Atlanta. Dinner-and-a-movie places. I’m a semi-regular. Between the two right off my commute, I’ve seen The Princess Bride, Casablanca, Ghostbusters, Jaws, The Goonies, Back To The Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, A Christmas Story, and missed Jurassic Park.

Last Tuesday, after work, I went to see Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. It’s one of my all-time favorites, and I’d missed it a few different times in its circulation. As I settled into my seat, the manager came out and said they were having trouble ingesting the movie. I was imagining film into a projector. She said they were very sorry, we would have our tickets refunded [3], they couldn’t even find a DVD.

I cancelled my order and walked out to my car. Then I realized I had my movie collection on a portable hard drive, recently re-ripped at full DVD quality. Butch Cassidy was on there. I grabbed it and walked back inside, found her, said this is going to sound crazy…

We went into the projection room. It was nothing more than a walk-in closet filled with server racks. Instead of servers, they were filled with amplifiers; it was an entirely digital theater. She showed me a big mysterious box that corporate sends with all of the movies, and how the master control was stuck trying to load the file.

I did not want to touch anything aside from plugging in the drive to make sure the file was there. We were locked out from even doing that. Five minutes later, the projectionist returned from his fruitless search for a disc. Ironically, I’d seen one in Target on the other side of town. He asked me if it could be played on a DVD player. I was confused, because the file was on a hard drive. But then he pulled out a consumer grade blu-ray player, and I understood what he was asking. He HDMI’d it into the stack of amplifiers, plugged my drive into the USB port, and we walked out to the theater to navigate through the folders.[4]

The rest of the crowd asked if we could watch last week’s Retro movie, Casablanca. The manager started to apologize again, but I had it on my drive, and the projectionist had a disc (again, consumer grade). It was also a good choice for the delayed schedule. (Casablanca is much shorter than Butch Cassidy.) He put it in the same blu-ray player, gave my back my drive, and hit play.

I wish I’d found out whether it was a DVD or blu-ray, because it looked spectacular on the screen. I built my DVD collection back before blu-ray, and intended to wait and see what comes next. If what I saw was blu-ray, it was good enough to convince me that’s all I’d ever need for a good projector.

Some say Butch and Sundance survived the shootout with Bolivian troops. This summer, the chase to see them on the big screen continues.


[1] Cannot for the life of me find a citation for this.
[2] I’ve at least won some recent battles against smartypants-tvs to disable their smartaleck smoothing,
[3] In the end, they gave me three raincheck tickets, a small pizza, and a glass of milk. I took care of the tip.
[4] This is apparently the standard setup for theater rentals.

Wizard Of Oz Lobby Card – Public Domain, via Wikimedia

VHS Diagram – Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Butch Cassidy Trailer – 20th Century Fox manages to spoil many of the great lines, via YouTube

  • I had a slightly different brush with "home movies, now in theaters" a while back:


    when, at the end of the one-night-only showing of "Magical Mystery Tour" the Cinerama's screen jumped to what was quite clearly the menu for a standard home-release DVD. The effect was momentarily disorienting in that setting, but we all got a chuckle out of it.

  • It is kind of mind boggling that some of our old electro-mechanical devices worked as well as they did; like you say about the VHS cassette.
    I only recently learned the old IBM magnetic tape data readers actually vacuumed out a loop of tape (how long I don't know) and could inch it past the heads back and forth more rapidly and accurately than if it was held in tension between the reels. That was a 'buffer'.

    Also, even growing up in the '70s and '80s we never had a color T.V., never mind a VCR or Cable. Hence, I'm not much of a movie buff (or video gamer). Mom 'n' dad got those things after we all moved out.

    My two favorite bars always have some hand picked movie playing, and they're heavy on the sci-fi and horror genres. You can count on walking in in the middle of The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak or Maximum Overdrive at least once a month.

    • Felis_Concolor

      There's a reason those 9-track cabinets were so damn tall for a single pair of reels. Just look "below the fold" to see how long the vacuum pipes were.

    • nanoop

      That buffer.. I worked at a company that made audio and video "furniture" for entertaining children in malls etc. That kind of buffer is more easy on the tape material than the tension necessary to wind it up on reels, and a loop is easily implemented, too. (edit: for multiple copies)
      I also learned there that a job that demands education is way more interesting than labelling 2,000 audio cassette tapes.

  • Felis_Concolor

    My father got started with Sony's Beta I: our tape library was huge and I learned early on how to create low cost mass storage shelving out of hundreds of feet of 1"x6" planks. Dad wasn't averse to sampling all the available technologies; we used VHS for crappy mass storage, and stuck to Beta for stuff we were serious about watching again. The best Beta units were Sony models, while it was Hitachi's VHS players that had dad returning to the dealer every year or so to repair worn out parts until the sad day we were notified, "they no make the parts for that no more." Though they were trounced in the first round, Sony bounced back with 8MM, aka "Beta's Revenge" and smashed the horrible kludge that was VHS-C. I still have a compact editing rig around here, composed of 2 Video Walkman units and the rare jog/shuttle console which could link them together for picture-perfect splicing of video and audio channels.

    DVD really took off right about the time I discovered Amazon.co.jp would sell movies and music direct to you; my total expenditures from 1998-on are somewhere north of 8 million yen, and the burn rate actually became steeper once I cut out the middlemen in the convention dealer's room. In 2002 I eschewed unit counts in favor of a tape measure to estimate collection size. A linear foot contains approximately 21 standard size single DVD cases.

    If you can figure out which market to buy from, and which credit/debit card will work for international purchases, you can often save upwards of $20 per imported CD, DVD or BD collection. You'll need the savings on the latter, as the reshuffled region locking will necessitate purchasing a multiregion BD player. Most DVD players are now set to Region 0/All as the factory default. Hint: it's cheapest to buy your Madness titles from Amazon.co.uk, while your DVD of Le Grand Blond avec une Chasseure Noire should come from Amazon.fr for maximal savings on market price and lack of VAT.

    Today's cheap mass storage prices would let me archive every single damn thing I own in triplicate on server drives, then send the backups to 2 different regions for safe keeping for less than a new set of 901 Series VI loudspeakers. And if you're paying 50 cents per gigabyte of USB 3.0 storage, you're a special kind of idiot unless it's armored and encrypted. And that rate, you can keep a comprehensive collection of classic movies in your pocket just for those occasional Movie Tavern emergencies.

    Speaking of the Macy's parade . . . my SO's daughter has worked hard to be on her school's cheer squad – which was one of many schools given the opportunity to participate in this year's event. The head of the program said yes before clearing it with us, but we weren't about to give her any guff for pouncing on that deal.

    See you guys (and gals) in NYC!

    • nanoop

      Ah! Pierre Richard, doing the stallion… Seems to be my memories of the 80ies day!

  • Vairship

    Woohoo! The Toaster is warming up again! I love the smell of the dust on the vacuum tubes in the morning.

    • monkey_tennis

      Is it dust on the vacuum tubes you can smell, or just some bread crumbs carbonising on the heating element?

      (Either way, fresh AT is one of the better things to wake up to…)

  • Off Topic: Atomic-Toasters!; Atomic-Toasters… sing it with me!

    [youtube 1sP01ylAkfo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sP01ylAkfo youtube]

  • Mr_Biggles

    APRIL 12TH!!! One of my favourite days.