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HORROR MOVIES AND BOOTLEG VIDEOS PART 2: TO TRADE OR NOT TO TRADE?

For true horror movie fans, bootleg videos aren't merely a diversion but a necessity.  As I outlined in Part 1, bootlegs are vital to a genre wilting, in the US at least, under the pressure of shortsighted distributors and the MPAA.  Hence the rise of "alternative video" outfits like Video Search of Miami and Shocking Videos.

     The biggest problem with such companies is, in addition to issues of tape quality and shipping speed, their prices.  Most bootleg videos sell for 20-25 bucks a pop, truly exorbitant rates for horror connoisseurs, definitely not a crowd known for its surfeit of discretionary income!

     And so we come to the video trade phenomenon, a practice notable for being unique to the internet.  You can find Trade Lists all over the web detailing their respective authors' video collections.  You probably have a list yourself--I know I do, even if I've become disillusioned in recent years and taken it offline.

     The popularity of video trades--or swaps, if you prefer--is not to be underestimated.  CASHIERS DU CINEMART editor Mike White recently devoted a lengthy editorial to the subject and I know of at least one online club, Subterranean Cinema (which I believe is now defunct) centered on video trading.  The noted Chicago Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote in his recent book MOVIE WARS about the many requests he's received for video swaps, and even the nutcase actor/author Crispen Hellion Glover has gotten into the act, having procured a number of video dubs from Subterranean Cinema's founder Don Hicks in exchange for signed copies of Glover's books.

     Trading videos can be fun and certainly economical, there's no doubt about it--it's just too bad there are so many drawbacks.

     As a former trade enthusiast, I've had the chance to dive headfirst into the internet video trading underground--and have since retreated from it.  The main problem is simply one of quantity; these days, unless you've got a really good selection of rare videos (or you, like Glover, have something else people want in exchange) you're shit out of luck.  My beef, which I imagine is shared by many videophiles, is that my collection is just too comprehensive for most traders (the majority of whose lists are frankly pretty shitty), yet not inclusive enough for the folks I really want to trade with (such as Tom Fitzgerald and Mike White, who have the most comprehensive video collections I think I've seen anywhere). 

     The alternative, of course, is to sell video dubs, which effectively makes you a bootlegger (and not an advisable course of action if the person you're selling to happens to be an FBI agent!).

     The fact is, the "good old days" of video trading are behind us.  Back then I used to have regular trading partners like Fitzgerald, who is so deluged in swaps (his trade list has become a worldwide phenomenon) that doing business with him is now a complicated arrangement requiring months-in-advance reservations.  As for my other former trading partners...well, the harsh reality is I've got everything of theirs that I once wanted, and so have no more reason to trade with 'em (it's lonely at the top).

     And then there are the many, many ancillary annoyances involved with video trades.  White, in the aforementioned CASHIERS DU CINEMART editorial, writes about the folks who put fabulously rare titles on their lists and then inform you that because they had such a difficult time locating those films they won't trade 'em (I hate it when people do that!).  I had a similar problem with a dweeb who charged me ten bucks in addition to the video I was swapping because the flick he was exchanging was so rare--and furthermore informed me that there would be a two week delay before he could ship the damn thing, in order that he could check the video I sent him for "quality!"

     The above account illuminates the age-old who-ships-first conundrum.  For a time, I was always the one who did the initial shipping, until I figured out that in this particular world the guy who ships first is considered weaker, and looked down upon by others in the "community" (and furthermore doesn't receive his own video until weeks, if not months, afterward).  Once this info was absorbed, I endeavored never to ship first, which only caused more problems; for one prospective swap, myself and a fellow trader held off mailing our respective videos for so long (trying to see who'd break down first) that we both eventually forgot the whole thing.

     In addition to the who-ships-first conundrum, there's the box-art conundrum: many traders request cover artwork for their videos, and tend to whine like banshees if none is available.  There's also the shipping method conundrum: if you Priority mail your video it's pretty much a certainty that the other guy will Media mail his, or vice versa.  The Want List conundrum is another stumbling block: if you make a list of videos you want, those titles had better be sufficiently obscure, lest you run the risk of being labeled uncool.

     What happens if you're tagged uncool by a trader?  Your email address is sent to every other trader he/she knows with the news that you're a loser, effectively blackballing you in the video trade community.  This hasn't happened to me (yet), but it's been threatened more than once!

     And then there's the fact that not all--in point of fact, very few--internet users are candidates for Mensa.  One dork wanted me to swap him a copy of WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE; I agreed, but the trade never happened because he couldn't remember the title of the video he requested (evidently Mr. Einstein was confused by the fact that I kept abbreviating it to WHEHS--which I don't think is all that difficult to figure out, especially since, again, he was the one who asked for it in the first place!).

     Of course, this isn't to suggest that all video traders are assholes or morons (just most of 'em!).  I traded with one guy who sent me a ton of Xerox reviews of the movie he traded, along with an extra video complete with its own Xerox reviews.  I stopped trading with him because he made me feel so...inadequate.

     You get the picture.  Does the above info (yes, all of it is true) make you anxious to join the video trade community?  Maybe I've made too much of this subject, but after what I've experienced trading video dubs, I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather just buy the damn things!
 


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