Adventures in Laserdiscs

Trainspotting, released by Criterion Collection on Laserdisc.

A number of years ago, I went through a pretty serious love affair with Laserdiscs, the home video format that was a high-end alternative to VHS and Beta cassettes in the 1980s and 1990s. While never achieving mainstream commercial success, the format was embraced by diehard movie lovers and filmmakers who wanted the best possible home version of their work. Movies on disc would feature widescreen presentation (at a time when nearly everything on tape used the dreaded “pan-and-scan”), audio commentaries, deleted scenes and other bonus features. In other words, an early version of what would become standard on DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K Ultra Blu-Ray.

My laserdiscs have been sitting in boxes for the past three-plus years, and they haven’t been touched since my move from Minneapolis to Chicago. My Panasonic laserdisc player broke down, and since the media is long since obsolete, repairs today are virtually impossible, and so the movies sat in storage, wasting away. Meanwhile, I finally moved on to Blu-Ray and streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max, and also purchased a very nice 4K television last year. It would seem that going back to a home video format now three generations removed is beyond pointless, it’s just silly.

And, yet…part of me still doesn’t want to give up on these large, bulky discs. I found myself enjoying Laserdiscs much more than I had expected, and under the right conditions with the proper restoration and dedication and care, the format could still rival DVD. I found that animation was especially impressive, as one never had to worry about compressed digital artifacts, excessive edge enhancement or other compression problems that plagued DVDs. Criterion Collection was another welcome example of LDs at their best, and many of their titles include bonus material seen nowhere else. And let’s not get into all the great music discs that have never been released on the later formats.

And so I had a crazy idea: maybe I should write a book about this subject. I am very eager to get back to writing about pop culture and movies, something that I haven’t done since the publication of Pop Life and Greatest Hits in late 2017. All of my efforts since have been on the art and photography side, which is very important to me, but it’s not everything. I still need more creative outlets. So maybe this idea could work?

Right now, I am assembling a spreadsheet of my laserdisc collection to see where things stand. After that comes the all-important writing part, and since I’m looking at roughly 100 movies to review, this could become a very meaty book. At this point, it’s all just speculation and guesswork. But we’ll see how things go.

Of course, I ought to remind you that I also have two major book projects that are standing ahead in line, and those really should be completed first. As always, I think the solution is simply to write. Just get words written down and take things one step at a time and see how things go.

Again, patience is key. I have a number of art books to complete, including a third anthology volume, the portraits, the next volume of street photography that follows up The White Album, a book from the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit currently playing here in Chicago, and a photo album of baby’s first year. And I still really need to be making progress on that Ghibli book, and I’m telling myself if I could only write a couple pieces every week, I’d be making great progress.

Such is the life of an independent author and publisher. You have the freedom to crank out as much as you possibly can, and that’s a very liberating concept, but it’s a lot of hard work. We’ll see how things go.

Finally, here’s a short gallery of a couple laserdiscs from my collection. Note just how amazing the packaging and cover designs are, especially when compared to modern physical formats. One could almost have a lot of fun collecting laserdiscs just for the cover art.

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