WORLD OF VIDEO OPENED UP on the
southeast corner of Twenty-first Street and Second Avenue in
New York on November 10, 1984, according to my diary. It was
one of the first stores in the city to rent movies, and I
think I was its first customer: I lived eleven stories up in
the same building in a one-bedroom apartment, house-sitting
for a friend who had recently gone to Los Angeles to make
videos for a new show called MTV. She had left behind a VCR
and a giant TV that had been hooked up to cable and HBO—four
things that were still pretty rare at the time. In that
Orwellian year, she was my Big Brother.
Half the tapes at World of Video were
formatted for Betamax, a longer form than VHS with much
clearer sound and sharper images. Sony owned the rights to
Betamax and wouldn't share them, so the alternative, cheaper,
inferior VHS version was born. Early VHS recordings had
notoriously bad sound. I still have a copy of Michael Cimino's
Heaven's Gate on two cassettes, and you can't
understand a word. It should have had subtitles.
Renting a film for the day was a happy
new experience. The obvious advantages were privacy,
convenience, the view-at-any-time factor, the pause button,
and the rewind mechanism (to play it again); videotapes were
also the perfect solution for the author of Why I Go to the
Movies Alone, the title of a little book of verse I wrote
in 1980. I think I rented nine hundred films in my first month
of membership. (World of Video was a "club"—it charged an
initiation fee and published a homemade newsletter.) I
couldn't believe my luck in living in the same building—there
were late fees right from the start of video rental, but all I
had to do to drop off a movie and maybe pick out another was
take the elevator. A visit to the liquor store across the
street was harder work. I would literally spend hours poring
over the titles—the foreign and cult classics, the directors'
cuts, the adult section, comedy, action, drama. It was all at
World of Video.
Back then there was only one copy of each
title. If The Swimmer—starring Burt Lancaster, based on
a short story by John Cheever—was just out and that was the
tape you wanted, you would have to make a "reservation" to get
it. I remember renting Blade Runner, keeping it for
seven days, and almost getting kicked out of the club.
("Hogging" was the term for late returns.) Come to think of
it, I should have kept that tape forever; it was the version
that originally came out in theaters, the one with the
Harrison Ford voice-over, and you can't get that version
anymore (except maybe on eBay); the only one they sell now is
Ridley Scott's director's cut. No hard-boiled Philip
Marlowe/Jim Thompson film noir voice-over; lots of dead space
on the sound track instead. The director's cut sucks.
Pornography was the perfect subject
matter for the VHS experience. World of Video had plenty, and
all kinds—hetero, gay and lesbian, s/m, and a new variation,
amateur porn. This I really liked. I was never into
professional porn, with its fake moans, its circular tits that
never sagged, its stupid story lines that took up half the
show. Amateur tapes were real—real smiles, real laughter, shot
in real time, with people who lived next door. Good
take-your-time sex instead of a thirty-minute closeup of a
slam-and-ram. Amateur porn was natural. Natural is good.
Natural used to be good for twice a night.
Rental porn essentially killed adult
theaters. Physically, everything changed. Instead of heading
up to Times Square, buying a ticket, and picking out a seat
comfortably far from the rest of the wankers, you could grab a
hard-core video and look forward to your very own couch in
your very own living room and that fast-forward button, the
key accessory to porno-viewing pleasure. You could even invite
your friends over. Home entertainment was starting to happen.
Forget ABC's Saturday Night Movie. World of Video was
the way to go.
Richard Prince has exhibited his
paintings and photographs for over two decades.