Mise En Scenesters celebrates direct-to-video with “VHSplosion”
Some weekends Hollywood takes a break. Or at least, Chattanooga’s theaters don’t bother to bring the films released to audiences in the Scenic City. Some might take a week like this to leave the darkened theater, experience the outside world and spend some time in reality.
But given what I’ve seen of reality the last few weeks, I’d prefer to spend my time in the world of fiction where the lines between good and bad are much simpler. Far be it from me to condemn anyone for using entertainment as an escape—even if I find certain movies to be a waste of time and resources, someone, somewhere is feeling better for a little while because of a film.
A week like this one is an excellent time to look elsewhere for distraction, somewhere outside the typical movie theater experience. Luckily, Mise En Scenesters is offering something new in their repertoire. Thursday, Dec. 11 features the first in an ongoing series of fascinating exploration in the world of VHS direct-to-video releases. “VHSplosion” begins at Sluggo’s at 10:30 p.m. with a yet unnamed film that is sure to confuse and captivate.
Direct-to-video releases are a fast-fading art form that deserves quite a bit of recognition. The advent of the video cassette changed the film industry in a variety of ways. It opened the floodgates for amateur filmmakers to finance their movies and get their work shown in a very real, very widespread medium. Whatever success YouTube and Vine has given new and ambitious filmmakers, VHS came first. Of course, like most new mediums, genre films dominated the initial rise of the VHS market.
It’s probably safe to say that genre films were never overtaken by mainstream films in terms of volume. Flea markets and dime stores are still filled with various gems from this era of film history. “Gem” might be too strong a word for some of these films—quality in many of them is low and at times laughable. These are movies that would be ripe for the MST3K treatment. In fact, some might be so strange they would be out of place even there. But if the track record of MES is any indication, none of the films included in the series will be boring.
According to MES, they are digging “deep into the dark heart of the MES VHS archive to curate a selection of some of the rarest/coolest/strangest films ever made and never allowed to be in print in any other format.”
Anyone who remembers visiting a video store (a real one, owned by actual people who enjoy film, not a Blockbuster or Movie Gallery staffed by bored teenagers) has had the experience of wandering the shelves, not knowing exactly what they were looking for. There was always a section set apart from the half-dozen copies of “Titanic,” a section with disgusting covers and bleeding fonts. The younger you were, the more time you spent in that part of the store. Your fingers would drift over the titles, lingering on some covers for longer than others, looking over your shoulder for a wandering judgmental eye. Quickly, you’d pick it up, read the back, and return it to place on the shelf. You knew you’d never see that movie. Some force would stop you, be it parents or girlfriend or embarrassment. But you’d wonder what exactly this film was.
MES is now sating your curiosity. They are inviting you to see that film...maybe not that exact one, but that doesn’t matter, not really. What matters is the experience. Seeing something you wanted to see in your youth, something strange and wonderful. VHSplosion promises not to judge you.
MES has been less active this year due to the renovations at Barking Legs Theater. They’ve been homeless of sorts, as Chattanooga is lacking in appropriate venues for their special brand of weird. But they’ve endured: Just a few weeks ago they screened “Crime Wave” and now they are offering their first installment of VHSplosion at Sluggo’s. For $5, you can forget about the nonsense of the world and focus on the nonsense of the screen.
For me, that sounds like a bargain.