Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens: Video Spectatorship from VHS to File Sharing

By Caetlin Benson-Allott | Go to book overview

Introduction
Opening Up to Home Video

As early as 1980, when a mere 1 percent of US homes owned a VCR, the opening moments of a terrifying new movie, Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, portended the influence video distribution would have on motion picture aesthetics.1 Cunningham’s movie was heralded for its gruesome reinvention of horror movie gore, but its most important innovation was its assault on the viewer: the broken glass that flies at the viewer’s face when the movie’s title card appears to crash through a television monitor and into US movie culture. Film critics overlooked Friday the 13th’s salutation to home viewers, almost as if they considered video exhibition more gratuitous than the bloody dismemberment of comely camp counselors. By the end of the 1980s, however, the lowly videocassette would mount such a challenge to cinema-centric (or cinecentric) traditions of motion picture spectatorship that video’s thematic and aesthetic effects on feature-length “films” had essentially rendered the term obsolete. Since 1988, US audiences have watched the majority of their movies on a video platform, be it VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray, Video On Demand (VOD), or streaming media. Different video platforms come and go, but prerecorded video as a distribution model continues to structure motion picture production and consumption. In other words, movies are now primarily videos for both their makers and their viewers. This change has been called “revolutionary” in both popular and academic film histories, but to date there has been remarkably little critical discussion about what this revolution looked like. How did the video revolution affect the spectator, the viewing subject that movies imagine and address themselves to? Killer Tapes and Shattered Screens examines how video exhibition influences the historically shifting premises and promises of spectatorship, but rather than offering a history of video technology, it analyzes how the movies themselves understand the

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