Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Video Watchdog (1990 - 2016 - 20??)

The news that Tim and Donna Lucas' Video Watchdog is to cease activity as a print magazine has put me in melancholic humor this evening. Running a magazine of any kind is no easy task, and few last very long. It's a shame that esoteric interests are rarely catered for on the magazine racks, so all the more remarkable that Video Watchdog ran for a staggering 27 years. The magazine’s influence on the sell-through market and film-collecting culture is frankly immeasurable. Every publication, every website and blog which offers a word of advice to readers on the technical virtues (or shortcomings) of a DVD or Blu-Ray, has some of Video Watchdog in its DNA. Magazines frequently suffer dry spells and periods of low-voltage over their lifetime, but Video Watchdog remained consistently brilliant throughout its long run – two recent articles from 2015 on the films of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Walerian Borowczyk were among the finest the magazine ever produced. So much of the magazine’s success was down to its dogged independence, its refusal to compromise the content with incongruous advertising, or acquiesce to the kind of tacky commercial cul-de-sacs the magazine’s contemporaries pursued. Thankfully Video Watchdog never did stoop to heavy metal and video game reviews or dreary set reports of instantly missable sequels. Beware of false imitations.

No appraisal of Video Watchdog is complete without a word for Tim Lucas' most important collaborator, Donna Lucas, responsible for the magazine’s art direction. From its maiden voyage in 1990 the magazine employed a simple and economic design strategy within its attractive (and it must be said, fetishistic) A5 size. It's been a pleasure to watch the design of the magazine evolve over the years. Issue 100 marked the arrival of color (heralded by a lovely foldout cover of Dorothy Gale's first glimpse at the Technicolor land of Oz). If the stylish layout of text augmented by stills, posters and ad mats reflected the magazine’s serious investigative concerns, the covers were by contrast unashamedly playful, colorful and eye-catching with big ornate lettering accompanied by a well-chosen image related to the lead feature of that particular issue, and framed within the much loved round-cornered cathode ray tube. To borrow a line from an old Video Watchdog friend: "I think that even Pete ought to be able to sell the hell out of a classy campaign like that"

Video Watchdog's mission may have come to an end at least in the struggling print format but like the Voyager 1 probe that is hurtling across interstellar space, the magazine will continue to transmit data for years to come. For this reader, the magazine still fulfills one very important function - in times when my love of Cinema is flagging, when no film in my collection can stir my interest, I can reach for an issue of Video Watchdog and have my spirits restored. My heartfelt thanks to Tim and Donna and all the contributors over the years.

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