United artists

Do you remember the first time you watched a movie on a DVD? What was it?
– Wife, last night

Sometime in 1978, my father brought home two boxes that did wonderful things. Both were really good at just one, of course, but together, they revolutionized the way our household worked.

And sometimes, he'd make his own movies.

The first one was something called “microwave oven”, and in just under a minute, that oven could heat up any old lihapiirakka, a Finnish mince meat pie, or leftovers – I would love to say pizza but in 1978, there weren’t many pizza places in Helsinki – for me to eat during the day, when my parents were at work.

The other one, a grey box that got fed by other black cubes, about the size of a brick, was what back then, in Finnish, was called “picture recorder”. “Video” elbowed its way into the language much, much later. Our wasn’t Betamax, it wasn’t VHS, it was a Philips “picture recorder”, and we used it to record shows on one of the two channels we had in Finland. There was a chance that both channels were showing something good. There was also the chance, with better odds, that we’d be at a hockey rink somewhere when The Love Boat or James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small was on.

It was the second major TV shift in my then-short lifetime. The first had been color. I remember how the hockey announcers would always have to add the “Finland tonight in blue sweaters, and in black and white sets, attacking from left to right.”

But to be able to watch shows whenever you wanted, over and over and over again, was truly a paradigm shift.

And together, those two boxes – and the lihapiirakkas – are the foundation on which this sculpture I call “my body” is built.

Oh well.

In the fall of 1978, Mikko Alatalo, arguably the biggest pop star in Finland, won an annual Finnish song contest with his song, “Vicky Lee”. Alatalo was so big back then, that he was even a poster boy for Casio watches, and especially their cool youth watch, “Black Casio”, a plastic, digital watch that encapsulates 1978 perfectly. And one I had.

But, that fall, Alatalo took Finland by storm, and as always, the day after the contest, the schoolyard was all atwitter about the songs. Who won? Who should have won? Vicky Lee was a love song, a funny song, to a girl named Vicky Lee, performed by a man, desperate to get into “an intimate relationship” with her.

If I can’t be number one in your heart
Let me at least be your number two gig
If I can’t be your
Won’t you have me as your chauvinistic pig?

Where aaa-are youuuuu, Vicky Leeeeee?
Why aren’t you the air that I breaaathheeeeee
Why can’t I marry youuuu?
What do I have to do to get to youuuuu?
What do I need to do to get into a relationship with you, mostly intimate

For one of the above reasons, that competition got stuck on one of those bricks. And I watched Vicky Lee every day after school for about a month. It was Vicky Lee – oh, and the lyrics were really funny .. at the time – and he was the guy from the watch ads, and well, the whole thing was so cool. Even if I didn’t really know what “intimate” meant.

I looked up “Vicky Lee” on Spotify just now, and I still knew the lyrics by heart.

There were two other shows on the same tape, and to this day, I remember them vividly. One was about a St. Bernard, yes, a dog, and the other one a cartoon about a guy who went to a store, tried on a costume, and whatever that happened to be that week, he’d end up in an adventure where he needed it. And none of my friends remember the show. Which is crazy because it was the coolest thing.

A few years later, my Dad came home with another box. By then, it was no longer a “picture recorder”, except for my father, who, ironically, was the one that sold them to people every day. The rest of the world was calling it a “video recorder” or just “video”, even in Finnish.

The tapes looked different, but that didn’t matter. (Although, I am pretty sure my Dad has those old tapes, at least one, somewhere). The cool thing with the new, um, “video”, was that you could operate it sitting on the couch, using a remote control. Provided that the couch was close enough, because the remote and the actualy player were connected by a wire.

Not only could we rewind, pause, and fast forward easily, there as actually a store in town that rented movies.

We, Dad and I, drove downtown to rent a movie, while Mom stayed at home and prepared something to eat. We entered the store, and I as blown away by the selection of movies they had. They must have had hundreds of movies there, in that one room. But the one shelf that pulled us back, was the James Bond shelf.

My father was, and is, a huge James Bond fan. I had seen the Ian Fleming books on our bookshelf, and had even read Doctor No, but the real reason I was so attracted to the Bond movies at the store was a more obvious one: I had never seen a Bond movie, but I had heard a lot about them.

The latest Bond movie at the time was For Your Eyes Only. I hadn’t seen it, but I had read the MAD magazine parody so I knew it’d be good. We left the Chuck Norris flicks on the shelves – but yes, we probably rented them all in subsequent years – grabbed 007, became members of the videoclub, and drove home.

I rushed inside to put the tape in, while my Dad shut the blinds to make it dark in our living room, all for the true movie viewing atmosphere. I was sitting on a chair, with the remote in my hand, waiting for something to happen.

And then, the UA logo appeared on the screen, and started to turn as the music got louder. Every second seemed so long. The music got louder, and the damned logo still just stayed there. Then the movie started with an exciting scene where Bond takes on the villain, until – as always in the Bond movies – the movie gets interrupted by The Bond Song.

I heard the first tunes of “For Your Eyes Only”, decided that it was a boring song – have changed my mind since – and pressed “fast forward” on the remote.

“Hey!” my father yelled from behind me.

“Hey, hey! Stop it! This is what makes the movie experience! The credits!” he said.

So, the first movie I saw on DVD? I have no idea. I guess it wasn’t that big of a deal anymore. I do know, though, that I for sure didn’t jump over the credits. Because Dad was right. That is what makes the movie experience. That, and the dark room. And the snacks.

2 thoughts on “United artists

  1. I remember when we met, and our video store had around 20 movies in a small shelf close to the floor. Six months later the video store had a whole wall full of dvd films. I felt sad, just as I did when a record store clerk told me that the CD was going to replace the LP. I had just not realised that it was for real before. I felt sad and stressed about the destiny of my mixed tapes, just as I did about my VHS collection some years later.
    Sometimes I feel old.

  2. Great piece. And you’re going multimedia!

    I have all the Bond movies, except the last few, produced since I acquired my made-in-China box set.

    Even better, I have (bought, thank you very much) the "megaset" of The Saint, which stylistically and in story terms foreshadows Bond and shows Roger Moore as he should have played Bond, not as the caricature he became.

How does that make you feel?