What We Talk About When We Talk About Obsolete Cinema

Over 5+ years and 60+ double features, we've been asked one question more than any other -- what makes a movie Obsolete? Turns out it's not that easy to answer. Is it the quality of the movie? VHS fetishism? Do we have a definition at all, or is it just an elaborate front to get you to watch movies with us?

Of course dictionaries have their own definitions of "obsolete," the most appropriate one for us being "out of date." But that's also really vague, especially when it comes to an art form that's been around over a century. After all, one man's CITIZEN KANE is another man's "Who does this Welles kid think he is?! I'll smear his name for all eternity!!" 


One thing is for sure: Obsolete doesn't mean bad. No doubt both good and bad movies exist, and there is certainly a special place for the joys and camp of crap cinema, but Obsolete Cinema is not simply a dumping ground for the world's forgotten Ed Woods. We showed WEIRD SCIENCE, for crying out loud! With REAL GENIUS!

But it's an understandable misconception. Our hearts lie in the past, an era of USA UP ALL NIGHT and Skin-emax. It wasn't Cannes, but it wasn't necessarily disposable either. Late night cable and video store back catalogues were fertile ground for us because they had everything, and for the most part on the same level. Don't forget, Cinemax played good movies too. You could have your big budget vegetables and finish it up with Cannon Films for dessert.

When programming our shows, Josh and I want to find something amazing to latch onto in a movie, whether it be the concept, the cast, the fact that the film is nearly forgotten, that we saw it but forgot it, or some "Why oh why?" mash-up of all those. For various reasons, few Obsolete favorites embody all that as consistently as William Shatner.


In March 2013, Josh had the brilliant idea to dedicate an entire show to William Shatner. That month is Shatner's birthday. Josh had a VHS copy of INCUBUS, the long forgotten occult horror gem that is the only film ever shot entirely in the fake language of Esperanto. There were these elements of convenience, but the key element was of course Shatner himself. You know him, you love to laugh at him (as much as he laughs at himself), but how many non-STAR TREK films and shows can you name that he was in before the '90s? Exactly. But the audience response to the first ShatShow was huge, and it's become our most recurring theme, this year marking four in a row.

But Obsolete Cinema can't be summed up by only one person. That would be too easy. 


Our mantra "embrace the analog" should speak for itself. We try to show movies on VHS whenever possible. There's a fun nostalgia aspect to it, but also as home video viewing evolved and the format became obsolete, we discovered that experiencing a movie on VHS is very different on Blu-Ray or a streaming service like Amazon Instant Video (Affiliate Link). Even when projected on a big screen, VHS is leagues away from film or 4K projection. If you haven't seen VHS in a while of course you'll be struck by how AWFUL it looks by comparison, but remember a lot of us used to watch movies this way. Most movies, in fact, and HBO, Showtime and USA UP ALL NIGHT didn't look much better.

We didn't always aim to show movies on VHS. When Obsolete Cinema started, we showed what we could in the most convenient ways we could -- DVD, VHS, whatever was handy and worked on the video rig at Don Pedro. It wasn't until sometime in 2014 and specifically January 2015 that it became integral to us. That January we had a special screening of the documentary REWIND THIS!, a fascinating look at the history (and future) of home video disguised as a love letter to VHS. With filmmakers in attendance, the audience turn out was great, and everyone left feeling happy and nostalgic. The understanding was that although we may not all be the hardcore collectors shown in the documentary, we lived through a pivotal moment in entertainment history, summed up by these seemingly disposable plastic cassettes. Suddenly, it all meant something.

Obsolete Cinema started to feel like a little more than a niche. Showing old movies on VHS was a little more than a gimmick. There was a personal aspect to it, which brings us to the last and possibly biggest and hardest to explain aspect of what we mean by Obsolete... 


There's something to our other mantra, "movies you think you remember on a format you can't forget." A lot of us live under this misconception that if you see a movie once, you know it. But JAWS watched as an unsuspecting kid in a theater will be a different experience than JAWS on a cropped VHS as an adolescent and even different than for the 100th time as an adult on remastered Blu-Ray, quoting lines while a toddler runs around the living room.

Movies are immortal, but we are not. We remember, mis-remember, and gain new insights. One of the best examples of this is the quote, "Play it again, Sam." You know what that's from, right? CASABLANCA. Except that it isn't. No one says that in the film. Ever. But unless you already know that or re-watch the film, you may never know. Your age and knowledge going into watching a movie changes things too. Did I know Dan Aykroyd was getting a spectral blowjob during that montage in GHOSTBUSTERS? Not so much. I was 8. He crossed his eyes. It was hilarious. It's just as hilarious now, only for different reasons.

Because Obsolete Cinema spends a lot of time in 1970s-90s headspace, we run across a lot of these moments. They're smaller and more obscure moments than anything in CASABLANCA or GHOSTBUSTERS, but that tends to make them more personal. And personal revelations are a great part of sitting in the dark watching movies with strangers. That part never changes.

So: When is the last time you saw the film? How well do you really remember it? Do you now understand what oral sex is? You could say these are also key components of Obsolete Cinema.


That's a whole lot of words to say very little. Or too much. Unfortunately there is no easy way to explain what makes a movie Obsolete. There's a lot at play, and definitions vary from person to person. The best way to figure it out what it means to you is to join us for a show or three, every fourth Sunday of every month at Freddy's Bar. Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on programming.

See you at the shows!