I once heard that the sense of smell is the sense most tied to memory. Strangely one of the smells that I found to be universal no matter where I went was the smell of a video rental store. Though the concept of movie rentals died out in the last decade, my family visited them frequently in the 80s and 90s in Louisiana, Nevada, and Tennessee and they always had the same scent. It’s an acrid, vinegary smell of plastic and commercial electronics cleanser. It’s the bitter, stale smell of recycled air and electric servo motors slightly burned from overuse. It‘s tied completely to my childhood so, despite its seemingly negative description, it’s one of the sense memories I find the most comforting.
Being born in the early eighties, home video technology wasn’t exactly new but it also was still a luxury. I remember our first massive silver Pioneer VHS player. My mom bought a VHS copy of Ghostbusters as our first movie and for perhaps a year or more it was the only movie we owned. A military family, I remember distinctly the video rental store near base in Louisiana. It was tiny, even to a three-year old, and had model airplanes hanging from the ceiling. And it had that smell… We rented a ton of movies, and especially cartoons, for my sister and I so it was a place we visited frequently.
When I was five we moved to Las Vegas and soon my mom added Crocodile Dundee to our video library expanding it to two tapes. For my birthday that year I received two dinosaur tapes, both less than 30 minutes long but I still have them and still love them.
It was in Las Vegas that my mom let me pick out the first movie I ever chose to add to the video library and I got it from a video rental place. I remember how wide open and bright it seemed compared to the one in Louisiana. We’d been there plenty of times and it housed one of my first disappointments in media, discovering the My Pet Monster video I was dying to rent was only available in BETA… I never got to see that episode! But this day my mom let me pick a movie to buy; one that I could add permanently to our collection VHS tapes and we could keep and watch over and over. As a huge dinosaur fan, and having just been introduced to the Crestwood Monster books series I picked one. The first movie I ever bought: Godzilla versus Megalon, the 1986 Video Treasures public domain release.
It was after seeing this movie that my love affair with Godzilla began. It is without a doubt one of the strangest of the Godzilla movies; and the version I saw was a heavily edited cut. It features a weird robot (Jet Jaguar), underground civilizations, two big monster villains, and some of the zaniest Godzilla moments ever. I remember the beginning with the kid in the paddle boat and the moment where Godzilla slides across his tail to drop kick Megalon being held by Jet Jaguar like they’re a pro-wrestling tag team and the ref is scolding Megalon’s partner (Megalon actually DID have a partner, another great monster, Gigan). Watching it now it is one of the most ridiculous of the Godzilla movies. It was when Big G was aiming for the kid market, and luckily I was a kid. I loved it. I still do. And I couldn’t be prouder that my first movie was this one, as ridiculous as the movie itself is. It takes me back to that place and those feelings of joy and wonder I had watching it as a kid. I can almost hear the industrial tape rewinders and smell that video store smell.
With The King of the Monsters arriving in a genuine updated form in theaters this past weekend it got me thinking about that movie. The first movie a lifelong film fan ever bought, and a memory of simpler times when all we needed was a VHS player and a fun movie to be at our happiest.