Episode 4, Part 1: SCHOOL DAZE AND BETAPHILES
Written by: Tim Ritter
In a day and age where Ultra HD 4K and 10K are in vogue and everyone is criticizing movies based on their transfers, pixels, hues, color saturation, grain, and picture quality, it’s hard to describe how bad the TV reception was in the 1970’s and even into the 1980’s on video!
I mean, seriously, I grew up with a 12″ black and white TV in my room, and when I finally got my own private TV, I was just on top of the world! I finally got a little color TV in 1981 and vividly recall the day MTV premiered in August on that little set, what an incredible moment! That rocket ship blasting off, VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR! Has STREAMING KILLED THE DISC STAR?!?! Of course not!
But reception on THE BIG THREE channels was very fuzzy, and even with rabbit ears for an antennae, was like watching things through heavy snow! Many times, the picture would fade in and out constantly! So when “videophiles” go on and on about “the bad quality” of a pristine Ultra HD disc release these days, I just have to chuckle because I can’t see what they’re complaining about…at all!
It may be hard to believe, but cable didn’t even START to get widespread until 1972 (when restrictions imposed by the BIG THREE CHANNELS and the FCC were relinquished a bit and most people couldn’t afford the extra $6.00-$8.00 a month anyway) and our family wasn’t able to afford BASIC cable TV until 1978 or so! So I’m sounding real old here, but I feel I’m pretty well-rounded when it comes to the various forms of entertainment I’ve seen evolve – from radio shows, to black and white TV with three channels, all the way through VIDEO and now STREAMING VIDEO and beyond. An incredible amount has changed in the last 50 years, in terms of delivering entertainment!
I have such fond memories of watching stuff on the black and white TV, though, everything from KING KONG 1976 to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA when it premiered, and the majority of all my early horror favorites – I saw in black and white endlessly, so when small color TV’s became affordable, it was quite the thrill to see stuff in COLOR for the first time. That’s probably really difficult to imagine for current generations! And as I mentioned, I lived my life around the TV Guide, depending on when they would run movies on channels I got. But it’s here where I just got so obsessed with stuff like the PLANET OF THE APES series and so much more. Horror- the Universal and Hammer movies I had read about…I’d watch everything I could!
I have a vivid recollection of being obsessed with movies and 70’s TV shows – anything with dinosaurs and shows like THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, as I’ve said earlier. Didn’t care for anything sports, unless cheerleaders or female figure skaters were involved (as I got older).
My neighbor across the street was a teenager named Joel Wynkoop. He was just the coolest ‘older kid’ to me growing up, like a brother- he was my babysitter on certain nights when my parents would go out. Joel drew cool comic books like SPIDERMAN and sold original hand-drawn copies of his work to anyone who wanted them. I’d save up my allowance to get copies of his work. Joel and his friends made super-8 movies and were doing one based on my favorite TV show – THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN. Holy smokes, this is amazing to me! It was called THE BIONIC BOY and Joel asked my dad to be a “bad guy” and drive his van away in a scene. I got invited to play one of the ‘bad guys’ in the van and this created such excitement in my little world!
My dad had always used the family super-8 movie camera to document vacations and family events, but it hadn’t been working properly. He brought it out for a test and it was an electrifying moment seeing that camera, touching it, realizing…I could capture my own images with such a device! That I could create a story with it, and capture it in that timespan…forever! That I could practically create my own fictional reality with the thing. What absolute power, I thought!
That camera did break, an old Kodak, but my mom saw how much I wanted…needed…a movie camera as I got obsessed with film and learned how to load the camera, shoot with it, and get the little cartridges developed at K-mart. So she saved up grocery Green Stamps and when the books were full, I got my own Super-8 movie camera in 1978- from the Green Stamp store. That was such an exciting moment for me!
My first movies were little 4-minute jobs, one a spoof on SUPERMAN-THE MOVIE called SUPERPANTHER, that mix-mashed Superman and Inspector Clouseau elements in a story about a super-hero that flew into telephone poles and never saved the day because he was such a bumbling fool. I followed that up with my CONAN and SWORD OF SHANNARA obsessions and made a sword and sandals epic in the back yard called CONAN THE BARBARIAN, which was mainly a long sword fight with wood props. I was able to get some neighborhood girls and their moms in bikinis in the background, though! I was off and running with making little movies throughout middle school, and they would slowly get longer and longer as I learned about editing, splicing things together, and creating soundtracks to accompany them on cassette (which were rarely in sync, but I did give it my best effort!) Of course it wasn’t long before I saw HALLOWEEN and instantly shifted my movie themes from fantasy and sci-fi to all things POV horror and slasher, copying Carpenter’s inimitable film. With titles like BITS AND PIECES, DEAD AND GONE, and NIGHTLINE…you know the direction I was headed!
Stay tuned for Ep. 04 Pt. 2…