Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is launching a publishing arm, with its debut title focusing on the significant (if overlooked) role played by VHS tapes in the evolution of film as a medium.
Video historian Josh Schafer’s book, Stuck On VHS: A Visual History of Video Store Stickers, makes a case for film preservation from an unexpected angle. It showcases the small but distinctive messages and retrospective aesthetic that have been applied to artifacts any Gen-X cinephile will instantly recognize: former rental videocassettes. The book features essays by Schafer, who edits Lunchmeat, a magazine dedicated to the lore of endangered horror and genre movie titles like Enter the Devil, Sorority Slaughter and thousands more that gained cult followings via VHS tapes. The book’s design and photography, including three peel-off pages of VHS stickers, is by Jacky Lawrence.
“90% of the movies from the silent era are gone forever,” Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League said in a press release. “Sadly, we are seeing that tale transpire again with VHS today. A huge wealth of amazingness is disintegrating before our eyes, and this time it isn’t art from 100 years ago, it is from the 1980s. Josh is Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s VHS Culture Captain, a role not often found in ours or any industry. I’m really proud of his book, a love letter to this fragile era in our recent history, and I’m equally proud of his work to spread the excitement and awesomeness of VHS treasures in general.”
Stuck on VHS will be celebrated this month in conjunction with the Found Footage Festival’s VCR Party Tour. The Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar in Austin, Texas, will be the first stop on the tour on January 8. It will then move on February 10 to downtown LA (where a long-awaited Alamo site opened last summer); Denver on February 22; Brooklyn on February 27; and San Francisco on April 8. Starting on January 20, the book will be available for sale at Alamo Drafthouse theater locations and MondoTees.com.
“These stickers capture a time and place, not only as important design and communication specimens from a distinct era,” Schafer said. “But also, these pieces of video store ephemera help us more distinctly remember and understand the incredible and vibrant world of video rental stores.”
The book initiative follows a commitment by Alamo since 2017 to open Video Vortex rental stores inside its theater locations. Thus far, Video Vortex outlets have opened in Raleigh, NC; Brooklyn; San Francisco and LA, with more planned in 2020.
In a parallel effort, Alamo’s American Genre Film Archive has started work on properly transferring and permanently storing a large number of films and other projects that were only ever released on VHS.