A favourite Friday night pursuit for many (if we are lucky enough to have a significant other) is to curl up together on the sofa and watch a film, gorge ourselves on snacks and relax after a hard week at work. Nowadays, services like Netflix, Now TV and Amazon Prime make this kind of evening a simple case of locating our remote control, but in the 90’s there was far more to it.
Watching a film required planning and effort. If the selection of movies available on tv was dull, the only way to see the newest releases in your own living room was to rent a VHS or DVD from your local video store. This added a whole other dimension to the proceedings. Unable to simply sink on to the sofa and press a few buttons, it was necessary to get into a car, drive to the video shop and stand there arguing for twenty minutes over whether to rent a rom-com or the latest Arnie action thriller. Then you would be oversold with a ‘rent 2 get second film half price’ offer (who can resist a bargain) which allowed you to get both films after all and render the argument completely redundant, despite the fact that you wouldn’t have time to watch them both without staying up for half the night.
This required a mammoth effort for folks who had done a hard week at work, but you know what? It added to the importance of the occasion. Going through the ceremony of selecting the right video to take home and combining the trip with a stop at your favourite Chinese takeaway and the off license to make the drive more worthwhile made you truly feel that you had earned the rest of the night off. The eventual collapse on to the sofa felt all the more enjoyable and you relished the prospect of whatever film you had finally settled on.
The downsides? Well there was always the fact that as you had gone to so much effort, if the film was awful you felt cheated. Then there were the times when the spotty youth working in the video shop had put the wrong film back in the box, so you were stuck with watching a VHS or DVD you had no interest in, or a miserable trip back to the shop to change it and complain. There was the fact that the VHS was like a cassette tape and there was no simple way to select a specific scene if you wanted to rewatch it. The seminal phrase ‘Be Kind, Rewind’ was born out of VHS rental shops. When people didn’t, waiting several minutes until the tape was ready to watch was infuriating. DVDs were a definite improvement on VHS for that reason alone. But there was still the inevitable trip back to the shop to return the thing the next day. And the extortionate late fees if you forgot.
So yes, services like Netflix, Now TV and Amazon Prime win in terms of convenience and immediacy. But a small part of me will always hanker for those lost Friday nights, where the trip out to set up for the night ahead was as much a part of the evening’s enjoyment as watching the film itself.