Tuesday, February 9, 2010
PORTABLE GRINDHOUSE Book Review
Available for over a month now, I finally got my hands on Jacques Boyreau's book PORTABLE GRINDHOUSE: THE LOST ART OF THE VHS BOX from Fantagraphics Books. VHS boxes and their cover art not only give me a feeling of nostalgia, but I appreciate all of the work the actual illustrators and graphic artists put into the slipcases and boxes. Having worked in DVD distribution and design, I know the amount of time and effort that goes into designing even some of the worst looking cover artwork. I think that is the one thing missing from Boyreau's book - he doesn't seem to be reflecting on the actual artwork, but instead he argues that VHS as a medium is still valuable and that digital formats are the downfall of cinema. All I can say is: bullshit. Things change. Get over with it. I guess I personally look back at VHS with fond memories for the artwork only, and never once miss having my VCR chew up a tape, wrecking it beyond repair. I also don't miss 4:3 aspect ratios.
While I do enjoy flipping through the book, not everyone who still remembers the good old days of walking up and down the aisles at your local mom & pop video store will love it. When I worked at Sullivan Entertainment publishing a ridiculous amount of Anne of Green Gables books, I remember wanting so badly to pitch some of the publishers a book very similar to Portable Grindhouse. I've always wanted to publish a book with every horror VHS cover box ever released. An ultimate reference book for every horror movie released in the 80's and 90's. Unfortunately, publishing really isn't my passion and I really don't know all of the legal work that goes into making a book like Portable Grindhouse.
Two reference books come to mind when thinking about how I would have designed the book. They are Tomart's Encyclopedia & Price Guide to Action Figure Collectibles and Tomart's Price Guide to Horror Movie Collectibles written by Nathan Hanneman and Aaron Crowell (both of HorrorHound Magazine). I can not tell you how many times I've flipped through the pages of these books. The images may be small, but they pretty much cover every single action figure ever made in three books, and almost every horror collectible you could ever imagine in the other - all at your finger tips. Portable Grindhouse is a little bit of mess. It's a hodgepodge of VHS cover boxes. There really is no rhyme or reason to why Boyreau chose the covers that he did. In addition to that, their placement throughout the book is completely random.
Another problem with the book I think is that you can find a number of really good websites and blogs that feature cover boxes better than this book does. They also detail the history behind the companies that released the boxes. If only Boyreau was able give us a little history on the companies or even the artwork, that would have been great.
Although I have my problems with the overall book, there are many things I have to commend Boyreau on. Firstly, getting this book made. Convincing a publisher to release a book like this must of been difficult. I know it's a book many of us VHS cover box fans have wanted for years. Secondly, using large images to show the back and front of the boxes. If you made the book my way (which would of had to been published in multiple volumes), then we never would get the back of the boxes featured. Lastly, the slipcase covering the book is so damn cool. It feels like an old VHS slipcase.
I think in the end, I can't completely recommend this book. Instead, I recommend any VHS cover box fans to seek out HorrorHound Magazine and check out their monthly featured articles on VHS distributors and manufacturers from the 1980's. They even include images of every single VHS cover ever released by the company. If you already collect the magazine, then I say purchase Portable Grindhouse. It's just a great addition to any horror/cult fanatics reference book collection. Even my wife enjoyed looking at some of the wacky VHS cover boxes that made the cut. Maybe if we are lucky, Fantagraphics will just keep releasing additional volumes, and it won't matter what order the covers are in.
Here's a look at the interior of the book that the publisher put up on their YouTube site:
For those that are curious, here's a taste of a few of the titles featured in the book:
- The Witching
- Barbie and the Rockers: Out of this World - why was this included?
- Video Violence
- 7 Doors of Death
- Toolbox Murders
- Johnny Bench - seriously? why and who cares?
- Bowhunting Whitetails: Just for Fun! - Funny, but why?
- Brain of Blood
- Captain Future
- The Lift
- The Intruder Within
- 'Gator Bait
- Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS
- The Legend of Hell House