Rich Wilhelm

Archive for August, 2014|Monthly archive page

The VHS Experience–Dirty Dancing

In Uncategorized on August 22, 2014 at 11:13 am
Notes made while viewing Dirty Dancing VHS tape, Aug. 16, 2014.

Notes made while viewing Dirty Dancing VHS tape, Aug. 16, 2014.

Ever since launching Rich’s Really Cool Notebooks–a crafting mini-business in which I make notebooks from old record album covers, VHS tape boxes and cassette single sleeves–I have been quietly amassing a collection of examples of that cutting-edge technology known as the VHS tape. These will eventually be properly recycled, but in the meantime, I thought, why not watch a few and take some notes? This could be fun, especially since I’m one of those people to whom others often exclaim, “Whaddya mean you’ve never seen…?” This week’s movie? Dirty Dancing.

Dirty Dancing–the story of Baby and Johnny and their love of dance, set during the summer of 1963, just before the Sixties exploded–was unleashed to an unsuspecting world on August 21, 1987. Nobody expected it to make much of an impression. Critics had some nice things to say but weren’t terribly impressed. The movie didn’t have a huge promotional rollout. The general assumption was that Dirty Dancing would be quickly put in a corner and left there to be forgotten.

As we all quickly learned, however, nobody puts Dirty Dancing in a corner.

The release of Dirty Dancing certainly didn’t leave any initial impression on me. Even as the movie began to gain traction, I managed to ignore it. I’m thinking that if I dove into my 1987 journal, I might find a mention of the fact that some of my friends, perhaps thinking that the dancing was going to be dirtier than it actually was, had gone to see Dirty Dancing on a particular evening and asked me if I wanted to join them, but I couldn’t have been bothered.

I was way too cool for Dirty Dancing. At least in my mind.

By the end of 1987, I was working at a chain record store, Record Bar, in Granite Run Mall. I began to understand the impact of Dirty Dancing at Record Bar, as I rang up one cassette copy of the Dirty Dancing after another. After another. After another. After another.

Folks were crazy for “She’s Like the Wind,” “Hungry Eyes,” “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” and, of course, “Do You Love Me.” I cranked more Dirty Dancing soundtrack tapes out of Record Bar’s theft-prevention cases and placed them into the hands of more happy music consumers during the December 1987 Christmas season than I did any other title during my entire tenure at Record Bar.

There was just one problem. “Do You Love Me,” which originally hit #3 on the charts for the Contours back in 1962, was nowhere to be found on the soundtrack. If my memory is correct, the only place you could initially get “Do You Love Me” was on a 45 rpm single, at just the moment when the technological and culture importance of that medium was about to go into hibernation for more than two decades.

This lack of “Do You Love Me” caused gnashing of teeth and general wailing among Dirty Dancing fans who wanted all of their songs in one place. Sometime in early 1988 though, the More Dirty Dancing soundtrack, “Do You Love Me”-enhanced, emerged, and all would be right in the world once again. (Much, much later, mega-versions of the soundtrack that included every scrap of music in the movie would be released.)

Back to me at the Record Bar register: behind my benign record store customer service smile, I began harboring and nurturing an intense dislike for the “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” which would go on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. This is a dislike that continues on to this day.

I was still working at Record Bar on the much anticipated day that Dirty Dancing was commercially released on VHS tape. List price: nearly $100. We had someone buy our one copy at that price on release day, though I think a case of buyer’s remorse prompted the buyer to attempt a return the next day. I’m not sure whether we honored that request or not.

Despite its modest release, Dirty Dancing–the movie, the soundtrack, the lifestyle accessory–became a monster, an unstoppable cultural phenomena. And it has remained just that for 27 years.

As for me, I didn’t see Dirty Dancing until my wife Donna–we may not have even been married yet–suggested we rent it in the early ’90s. She was not among the ardent fans, and may not have originally seen Dirty Dancing in its original run, but she was curious, so we checked it out one night. It didn’t leave that great an impression on me.

In recent years, Dirty Dancing has taken on a new importance for me. In the wake of Patrick Swayze’s struggle with pancreatic cancer and a family member’s very intense pancreatic surgery at Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson Hospital, I decided that I would donate all proceeds from the sale of Dirty Dancing notebooks to Jefferson’s pancreatic cancer research center. This has led me on a quest to buy up every Dirty Dancing VHS tape (both the original and the 1997 anniversary version) I can possibly find. These days, the tapes can be gotten for much less than $100.

These sales do not generate a huge amount of money, but every now and then I’m able to make a contribution and I am a firm believer that every little bit helps.

Last weekend, I watched Dirty Dancing for the second time in my life. Maybe I’m mellowing, but I enjoyed it. I still find it annoying how a few very ’80s-type songs are plopped into a movie set in 1963, and I still find the overall Dirty Dancing experience to be hokey. That’s OK though–Dirty Dancing was never meant to be the time of my life but millions of other people have enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy it for decades to come. I will not put all of these fans in a corner, I promise.

Here are a few brief observations from my recent viewing:

I believe that Baby’s line “I carried a watermelon” should be at least as iconic as “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

The point at which Robbie the rich kid waiter whips out this Fountainhead for Baby to see proves that Dirty Dancing is both randy and Randy.

And, finally…

Jerry Orbach!!!

This week’s edition of The VHS Experience was brought to you by Rich’s ReallyCoolNotebooks, which you can find at http://www.etsy.com/shop/ReallyCoolNotebooks.

The VHS Chronicles, Tape 1: Ed Wood

In movies, VHS Chronicles on August 9, 2014 at 5:23 pm

This is what I do and I am not proud of it: I get these good-to-great ideas, try them out, and then move on to something else. I could stand to have a better attention span.

One of the ideas that I had a few years back involved both my blog and the little business I have making notebooks out of record album covers, VHS tapes, music cassette inserts and cassette single (cassingles!) sleeves. I thought that, as I made the VHS notebooks, I’d actually watch some of the VHS tapes before properly recycling them. I’d post entries on my blog about what I’d watched.

I figured this would give me a chance to catch up on a variety of movies I never saw or haven’t seen in years. Plus it could be a way to promote my notebook-making business. Synergy, you know what I’m saying?

With this idea embedded in my brain, I posted my first “VHS Chronicles” entry after watching Tim Burton’s excellent Ed Wood, I posted the entry shown below. I was on my way. Only I wasn’t. Ed Wood turned out to be my only “VHS Chronicles entry.

It’s a few years later now and it’s not like I’m any more organized than I was back then. But I think the “VHS Chronicles” idea is worth reviving, especially at this time, when I’m gearing up for the Fall ’14 Notebook Buying Season. Which is totally a thing, you know.

I make no promises. This could be a one-and-done series, just like it was a few years ago. Despite that, I’ll start today by reposting the original Ed Wood entry. And we’ll just go from there.

By the way, this series will be brought to you by Rich’s Really Cool Notebooks, which can be conveniently found at http://www.etsy.com/shop/ReallyCoolNotebooks.

And, now, a few words, essentially untouched from my original entry, about Ed Wood. You will note that I touch on the idea-after-idea concept in this entry.

I have a hard time watching movies in my own home. Here’s why: I feel like there is always something else, something more important, that I should be doing. And, the fact is, sometimes this is true. But, on the other hand, I ought to let myself catch a movie now and then.

I think I have a solution to this dilemma. I’ve recently been buying bunches of movies in the now deprecated format of VHS cassette. I’m buying them in thrift shops, sometimes as cheap as one thin dime a piece (think of it: VHS is now at least two, maybe three, formats ago. VHS is so 2000 and late) and turning the boxes into covers for the notebooks I sell over on my Etsy site.

Of course, this leaves me with the actual tapes, which I plan on recycling in the most proper way possible. I realized though that, before I do this, I could actually sit down and watch some of these movies. This could be fun and edifying to me since many of the movies in question fall very clearly into the “what do you mean you haven’t seen…” category. When I do settle in to watch one of my VHS movies, I’ll report my findings.

So, with all this in mind, I spent one afternoon last week watching this Ed Wood.

Truth be told, I have seen Ed Wood once before; Donna and I rented it within a year of its release. But it was fun to see again, and dare I say even a little bit inspiring!

Here’s the deal: Ed Wood was not a very good film director. He is credited with the movie often considered to be the worst of all time, the inverse Casablanca, also known as Plan 9 from Outer Space. But all these years later, people still watch Plan 9…, still talk about it and enjoy it on some level. And, oh irony of ironies, the movie made about the life of the all-time worst filmmaker (highly fictionalized in spots, but still, lots of fun) won two Academy Awards.

This is what inspires me about Ed Wood, the man: he had ideas and he actually did something with them. He followed his muse to a logical conclusion (well, maybe not so logical, but a conclusion nonetheless). How many of us have idea after idea that we never follow through on?

This is why, when I turn the Ed Wood box into a notebook, I’m keeping it for myself. It’s going to be a creativity log, in which I write down the moments of inspiration that I act on, whether the result is good, bad or, as in the case of an Ed Wood movie, something else entirely.

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