Monday, July 31, 2006

Getting the movie. Then and Now

  The proliferation of bootleg DVDs of very new movies (many of which are still showing in the cinemas) got me thinking of how far Uganda has come in terms of accessing the latest entertainment. My mind went back over the years, thinking over how things have really changed.

I can’t say I remember when I watched my first movie, although the earliest clear memory I have of a movie is of Clint Eastwood’s A Fist full of Dollars which I must have watched around 1983/4 at an aunties place. Back then I wasn’t sure whether it was TV or not.

We got our first VCR (along with the first colour TV) in 1985 and with it came 3 movies Live and Let Die, Assault on Precinct 13 and All Quiet on the Western Front. Owning a VCR meant having a constant supply of tapes to feed it. This is where the problems begun. The likes of Darlyne and Inktus might not believe that there was a time when there was no real Movie Library in Kampala (and Uganda for that matter).

I remember my old man used to bring home tapes with the words Whittaker’s (or some such name) video library written on them. Now before you start saying “but I thought there were no video Libraries” let me explain.

Mr. Whittaker (if there was ever any such person) had come up with the ingenious idea of having his friends in the UK record stuff for him off the telly, which they could send over to be lent out to the likes of Jay’s dad. But because the recording was off TV and the people doing the recording probably just set the timer and headed on down to the pub, the tapes would come with commercial breaks, public service announcements, breaking news etc. We would go some minutes into a movie like the Far Pavilions and have a ketchup ad thrown in before reverting to the “regularly scheduled programming”. Something like that would probably piss me off now but I was six at the time and even the ads were fun.

The other good thing about these tapes was that Mr. Whittaker felt that the entire 180 minutes of the tape had to be filled. Along with every movie came a few episodes of some sitcom or series. These were mostly british programmes like Fawlty Towers, Not the 9:00 o’clock news, Top of the Pops etc. and sometimes the American series like Miami Vice (somehow I do not see Collin Farrel and Jamie Foxx, in the soon-to-be-released movie, having the kind of chemistry Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas had in the TV series)

Thanks to Mr. Whittaker I developed a love for British TV, which has remained to this day.

We moved to Jinja in January of 1987 by which time VCRs had spread all over the land and the movie rental business had started developing. We soon became members of Bashir's Video Library, which was next to Town Talkies video hall.

Bashir did have the movies (the proper ones without commercial breaks) but the problem was the variety wasn’t that great. The movies were generally categorised thus;

-“You kill my father now I kill you too” old style Kung Fu flicks with titles like Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow. Closely related were the latter day versions of previously mentioned flicks. High-octane Hong Kong martial arts kickfests all based on the same cop drama/revenge script Police Story.

-Vietnam flicks. You remember the type where some badass GI would mow down a whole battalion of Gooks (their words) and not somehow not get hit by a single bullet shot at him. Case in point, Leathernecks.

-Those good old shoot ‘em up plotless B-Movies with titles like Exterminator.

On top of that the newest movie was two years old.

Did we mind? Heck no. That is until we were watching the movies faster than Bashir could stock them up. One thing I remember that stood out of place at Bashir’s was 30 something tapes of Dallas (they just didn’t fit in with the rest). We watched them all and this was the interesting Dallas (up to the point Jr Ewing dies). It’s funny when you consider that all that can now fit on one DVD.

By now the eighties were ending and we were back in Kampala. The good news was that real video libraries were opening up like Bimbo and Ripples (which was the video library to be a member of), but the bad news was that the membership and borrowing fees were way to high. This led to the emergence of a coordinated network of lending and borrowing movies among friends.

If person x had that movie you had to watch like Terminator 2, Rambo 3 or Die Hard you had to find him an equally interesting movie or trade him something just as cool (like an Asterix/Tintin comic book, The Newest Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew novel). Lunchtime at the Rocks in Kitante was the time most of these exchanges could go down. It had the feel of some kind of stock exchange with young boys haggling over what movie was worthy to be exchanged for another or one guy promising to lend movie to another for an extra day on condition that a certain comic book was thrown into the bargain.

It wasn’t long before the Ugandans hooked up with bootleggers from around the world and swamped the market with the latest VHS movies there were to offer. Soon the bootlegged copies started getting bootlegged and every other neighbourhood had a video lib stacked with 5th and 6th generation bootlegged VHS tapes.

Then there came the shortlived VCDs followed by the DVDs. Since these days everybody and their uncle has a DVD player, VHS has all but disappeared. The DVDs are ubiquitous on the streets of Kampala and boy are they cheap. For the price of an “original” tape of back in the day you can have yourself 5 full-length movies on one DVD. Nowadays the only movies you cannot get in Kampala are those you have a hard time finding in regular outlets anywhere in the world.

27 comments:

AfroM said...

Awesome post!

I remember similar circumstances in Kenya...its almost uncanny. Reminds me of a time i rented a movie...the whole family was watching it...and instead of the British sitcoms that come after the main movie...there was "How to Lambada"(There was alot of gyrating). Parents being quite conservative...awkward moment!
I was forbidden from renting movies... because of lambada :)

lissingmink said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
lissingmink said...

lol memories- when life was so much simpler.

last month our french professeur says he has material we should (see must)use for aural practise ... vhs!

blank looks all round- and he mentions video, then a minute later someone informs him we were waiting for the options, vcd, dvd..? the expression was what we call (pardon the cliche) for world cup.

i miss rambo, ninja 1-10, nightmare on elm street...
and yes the dubbed sitcoms, and music *sigh*

Anonymous said...

your blog page is so shabby; adverts on the right-hand side, a vertical line running down the page looking like its joining the two sides of the screen 2gether,different backgrounds overlapping each other,misplaced characters and unintended punctuations throughout ur writing...i hope this is not a reflection on you...interesting posts though!

Darlkom said...

How old do you think I am dude? I remember there being no video libraries and even when they wer there we were never members of any of them. I remember the earliest memory I have of watching a movie is Pet Cemetery, it scared the shit of my little 5 year old self and then I watched The Blob, you guys must remember that and The Fly. I think these movies kind of define what I turned into. No, I am not a monster.

inktus said...

i think the first movie i saw was that Amin thing back in the day, where he uses wrong English, and all the adults find it hilarious, and you laugh too cuz if they're laughing then it must be funny. then there was Predator, gave nightmares for months! but ya, 1983? you're old man!!!!

Jay said...

@Anonymous, I don't like the way the blog looks either. I was fidgeting with the code and I screwed something up. I don't know what it is so I don't know where to go and fix it. Thinking of changing templates again.

@inktus, I am not old. You are young.

Bronchitikat said...

So much for progress. Actually it sounds pretty like the development of things here in the UK.

BTW - we didn't get a colour TV til 1999, when a freak lightening strike to our chimney fried the insides of our old BW model!! Hey, it worked, why try to fix it. It's not as if there's that much on needing colour pictures!

Anonymous said...

Jay, good job. Blog looks much better now. And keep up the divine writing!

savage said...

We were broke. Heck we are still broke. We didn't have TV and definitely no VCR.Back in the 80s Jinja was full of chotaras and Indians and they are the only ones who seemed to own VCRs.Luckily, we were neighbors to some chotaras. This one chotara family had us running errands and doing chores for them for the priviledge of being allowed to sit on their carpet to watch movies, Indian movies mostly.If you didn't do chores or run errands then you would have to watch through the windows. I guess the first movie I ever saw was Disco Dancer.

Darlkom said...

NICE!!! Your new template, I mean.

Degstar said...

@ Sav,
Disco Dancer? with Shabba Doo? LOL!

aaah, the memories of Jinja. Keith Mpaulo used to sneak me into The Odeon, cz his family like owned it or sumthing, and dere was dat Cinema on Lubas Road oposite the market. i first met Chuck Norris, Bud Spencer, Bruce Lee, Rambo & David Hasselhoff - Knight Rider - at that place.

the first movie i ever remember watching was a vid of the Queen visting a flower show in Queensland, Australia or sumthin like that, naturally it had been brought back from the UK, replete with Ads 4 Morris Minors, washing machines and ketchup.

den i watched My Fair Lady and i was never the same again.

stickler said...

Sorry to do this but some of us cannot help ourselves: @Anonymous, how do you complain about someone's punctuation when you are going to type lowercase 'i's and have no apostrophe in your contraction of "it is" (it's) and no spaces after your commas, AND have wilful mispunctuation and spelling in your use of the words "ur" and "2gether"... how are you going to to that and then criticise another dude's writing?

stickler said...

Shit. Mistake. I meant to link that to my webpage. Like this

CountryBoyi said...

i like the new look of this blog. kind of clean shaven! as 2 e topic, u guys don't know what it is growing up in the countryside where one man: Tito,a village tycoon, owned a black & white pocket size tv. luckily, he was buddies with my oldman & a neighbour; which means we were more chanced 2 visit 2 watch tv. but what we actually saw was nothing but innumerable 'peas' knocking each other on the screen. but even then, it was such a huge previllege. how things change, ahah!!

savage said...

@Degstar-Disco Dancer is an Indian Movie starring Mithun

Anonymous said...

@ Stickler;i'm glad Jay took my comment in the spirit it was intended and cleaned up his blog. Now everyone is happy...except u,i suppose...
p.s-notice the blatant defiance in my writing!

lissingmink said...

hehehehe disco dancer is indian.

@degstar shaba doo- electric boogaloo(sp) was still a good movie

stickler said...

Anon,I'm not unhappy.I was just pointing out the irony,that's all.I thought it was funny.u cmplain abt the grmmr in his pst,i cmplain abt the grmmr in yr cmplaint.Ths srt of thng amuses me vry much.espcially if yr last cmmnt cn be takn as u cmplning abt my cmplnt abt yr cmplnt.

baz said...

I remember the guys who had videos would come gather us kids and narrate the movies to us. And they would lie and exaggerate and add all sorts of muchuzi until you hear how Eddie Murphy ended up in "veitnam".

Meanwhile, Jay, this is one of your greatest hits. I am going to email it around like a problem!

Jay said...

@Baz, email away

@lissing and Deg, those break dance movies were like the best movies I had seen in a long time. I am sure today I could still watch them and feel like breaking.

Degstar said...

@Countryboyi,
b4 my mum wised up and bought us a 14" Colour Sony, we used to spend all evening at Aunt Susan's downstairs - anti we grew up in a flat - watching Riviera (the first run on UTV) on her 10" B&W Tactics TV. those were the days indeed.

@Sav & Lissing,
thanks 4 clearing that up abt Shabba Doo. dude cld break, cldnt he? i'm getting misty eyed now

receipt said...

Before we threw away our VHS player (after no mechanic could repair it) we used to spend more time cleaning it than watching movies.

It sooner became frustrating as you ended up tired and resigned to watch a scratchy picture while imagining what could have happened in that scene.

Jay, great post.

I feel good being part of the DVD generation.

I couldn't post as "UNDO" as I am not on blogger.

The 0ne said...

The first Horror I watched as a kid was Michael Jackson...sorry, Michael Jackson's Thriller...the last horror I saw as an adult was The Late Show. . .

minty said...

Great post here Jay. *sigh* What do you say when your dad was the man with the TV who chose to set up a video place (in today's lingo they're called bibanda, but then they were 'Cinema halls')to make some side cash. You loathed the place for all the sweaty types that thronged for the 'latest'show, but also wanted in on the action. Y'know, Enter the Ninja, Rambo, Terminator (Swaziniga),Dirty Dancing, the works. We never understood anything, so the action was quite a godsend. Luckily, business wasn't so good (the door guy used to cheat Mzee)so the TV finally came back home.

Dante said...

what r the odds... i remember Whittakers, it WAS a legit video lib. my dad used to get movies from there too. it was on the corner at the Junction above current CPS. interesting - i think i still have a few tapes we didnt return.

lissingmink said...

@deg actually i think shabadoo was breakdance I and II... my bad