I have friends who owned a small chain of art video stores. They had—and kept hold of—*thousands* of films on VHS that never had a DVD release.
These weren’t just low budget pictures. There were lots of art films, non-narrative experimental films, and *especially* lots of foreign films, often from significant directors--and significant American directors who did some work with small production companies--that had a single VHS release and that was that.
Especially with foreign films it was frequently the case that the rights would be owned by small, sometimes one-off, production companies. They’d lease the rights for US distribution for a limited period. When those rights expired the original rights holders had simply disappeared—there was no one to negotiate with. Furthermore the original film elements, negative or prints, were also nowhere to be found. They may, or may not, be sitting in warehouses somewhere in the world, but nobody knows where. And you can’t make a releasable DVD when your only available version is a VHS tape.
There can also be other impediments—music rights only negotiated for VHS and things like that—but with the foreign and arty films it seems most often there’s simply no material left to create a new release and no one to buy it from. And with likely sales at best somewhere around 1-3,000 copies nobody can really afford to track it all down let alone do the digital transfer work, etc.
It’s a huge problem for those doing serious cinema studies: frequently the only non-theatrical version was released on VHS, and good luck finding that, let alone any 35mm prints.
In my friend’s case, when they closed their last store they sold something like 2,000 of their rarest VHS’s to a local university film department who managed to raise private funds to buy them, at a significant discount off the eBay price. They were ecstatic to get some of those movies.
For the hipsters the fun in VHS may be in obscure 80s slasher and 70s asian grindhouse films, but for film studies it’s actually a sole source of significant research material.
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On May 21, 2014, at 9:37 AM, Robin Hendrickson <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> It's not just low-budget horror or comedies that haven't made it to DVD.
> Consider the zillions of hours of amateur or home-made recordings
> people made during the VHS era, both off of the TV and using
> videocameras. There's gold in those mountains of VHS tapes piled up at
> the curb or at the Salvation Army. Lots of these VHS tapes contain
> recordings that are archived nowhere else and are worthy of
> Same goes for audio cassettes! (And 8mm films, and 35mm slides, and...)
> Note, I didn't say it was SOLID gold... But there are jewels to be found indeed.
> - Robin