The video cassette deck has become the decade’s all-purpose appliance of home entertainment—a fixture in almost half of Canadian homes. And a dizzying variety of software can be stuffed into it. Small-screen versions of first-run films still dominate the market—last week Top Gun topped the video best-seller list, while Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was No. 1 on the rental chart. But there are also movies made directly for video, with such consumer-catching titles as Sorority House Massacre and Nuke ’ em High. Video can be lowbrow or highbrow, ranging from rock to ballet, from video porn to video art. And it can teach viewers the nuances of everything from slicing sushi to hunting quail. This week Maclean’s launches its first reviews of what is happening in video—the art, the hardware, the home cassettes.
Viewing a video is an act of selective consumption, less passive than simply watching television. But for TV viewers who want to choose their own reruns, video albums of collected memories from the broadcast medium are now available. Unfortunately, TV’s Greatest Bits (Karl-Lorimar, $39.95), a nostalgia package of clips from 1964, is as disappointing as a gift-wrapped box of day-old doughnuts. Host Gary Owens (Laugh-In) and his visibly embarrassed guest, Bob Denver (Gilligan’s Island), talk trivia between insufficient glimpses of vintage programs and commercials.
But the vaults of NBC’S Saturday Night Live have yielded a pair of priceless treasures: The Best of Dan Aykroyd and The Best of John Belushi (Warner Home Video, $29.95). For black comedy striking at the heart of TV propriety, few moments of network television have surpassed Aykroyd’s “Bass-O-Matic Salesman,” a TV-commercial parody in which he crams a whole fish into a whirring blender. The Canadian-born Aykroyd is the most versatile comic chameleon among SNL alumni, but no one rivals his former sidekick, John Belushi, for sheer demonic energy. The Belushi video includes some of his best-loved routines, from his samurai deli worker to his uncanny imitation of Joe Cocker’s spasmodic singing style. Most eerie is a black-and-white film fantasy showing Belushi making insolent remarks over the graves of his SNL colleagues: soon after, in 1982, Belushi died of a cocaine-heroin overdose.
For TV addicts who crave a stronger fix of romantic fantasy than soaps and mini-series can provide, a new format is available—the romance video. Shades of Love (Astral/Karl-Lorimar, $19.95 each), a series produced in Montreal, is video’s answer to the sugarspun romance novels published by
Harlequin. Shot for $1 million each, eight of 80 planned films have already been completed; the first four were released on the home-video market last month. The stories tend to follow a formula: through a twist of fate, an attractive woman with a creative career meets a handsome stranger who is sexy, sensitive—and handy in the kitchen.
The first story, Lilac Dream, stretches the formula to absurd extremes. Tamara (Susan Almgren), advertising artist and jilted lover, retreats to an island cottage. After a violent thunderstorm, the perfect stranger (played by Dack Rambo of Dallas), is literally washed up onto the
beach unconscious. As Tamara nurses him back to life, he awakes into a convenient state of amnesia. But he has not forgotten how to treat a lady. While she works on her art, he sets the table in the gazebo, chills the wine and prepares a surprise clambake. Lilac Dream is for women whose ideal man is servile and stupid.
However, at least one Shades of Love video indicates that the series may have promise. Directed by Quebec composer Lewis Furey— best known as actress Carole Laure’s collaborator— Champagne for Two sharpens the clichés with an edge of comic irony. The premise is as preposterous as ever: emerging from the shower, a female architect is shocked to find an uninvited guest who has let himself into her new condo with his own key. He introduces himself as a friend of the landlord. After some initial outrage, Cody, the career woman (Kirsten Bishop), slowly succumbs to the seductive—and culinary—skills of Vincent the intruder (Nicholas Campbell), who hosts an afternoon TV show as a celebrity chef.
Despite the paint-bynumbers plot, Champagne for Two bubbles with discriminating wit. Cody’s spiral-staircased condo, a renovated stone church, is decorated with splashy and provocative pop-art murals. Vincent’s cooking show, a video within a video, adds a satirical touch, notably when he caresses a large salmon fillet. And Furey brings an artistic flourish to the show’s direction. Like the rock video, the romance video is a patently commercial product. But in the throwaway tradition of pop culture, Furey has shown that the new form has creative potential. While video albums unearth artifacts from TV’s past, video novels are opening up strange new frontiers of small-screen fantasy.
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