In the 20th century without the internet, exposure to the larger world often came through renting VHS tapes. Rare is the person who grew up in the '80s or '90s who doesn't have fond memories of cruising the aisles of the video store looking for the right tape for a sleepover or weekend. Clunky, indestructible and often showing highly misleading cover art, the VHS tape seems like a relic of another era with its mantra: "Please be kind and rewind."
For these reasons, James River Film Society members Jameson Price, Dakotah Coates and Coleman Jennings have created Strange Projections, a monthly tribute to obscure VHS films currently held at Gallery 5. Anyone who's ever seen the documentary "Adjust Your Tracking: the Untold Story of the VHS Collector" knows that devotees, whether collectors or viewers, are a fanatical bunch.
"I'd say a good way to describe them, besides weird or oddball films that people may not know about, is cult films," Price says. "The VHS format is both for total nostalgia and for the tracking effect that projecting VHS tapes causes." So far, they've screened "Fantastic Planet," an animated and politically charged science fiction tale and "Highway to Hell," a 1991 satanic road trip classic starring Rob Lowe's brother, Chad.
Next up is "Strange but True Football Stories," a 1987 documentary narrated by none other than Vincent Price and featuring a one-eyed quarterback who led the NFL in passing one year and a player whose diet consisted of blood and raw meat. It will be the last of the series to be screened at Gallery 5 before moving to the James River Film Society's home in the Fan.
Come March, the bimonthly events will take place at the Visual Arts Center and at a later time — 7 p.m. — but with the same focus on cult VHS films. Although both locations have bars, part of the move's appeal is being able to screen films both inside and outside, which also allows for food trucks.
Jameson Price is part of the generation raised on VHS, so for him, there's a gritty nostalgia to the format. He likes the occasional tracking glitches and color waves that can occur with the VHS experience.
"There's something cool about VHS, too, because it was such a massive format that lasted for a few decades, meaning there are films that only exist in that format," he says, noting that millions of home movies and amateur films are forever stuck in their plastic VHS cases. "Because we're focusing on bizarre cult classics, VHS is best."
Strange Projections screens "Strange But True Football Stories" on Dec. 19 at 5:30 p.m. at Gallery 5, 200 W. Marshall St.