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Two Friends Transform San Francisco Basement into a Vast VHS Wonderland

Two Friends Transform San Francisco Basement into a Vast VHS Wonderland

Originally reported by Timothy Karoff for SFGATE

In a basement tucked away in the Mission District, Mitsu Okubo and Luca Antonucci have created what might be the Bay Area’s most extensive VHS tape collection. The “Basement VHS Club,” as it’s affectionately known, has become a sanctuary for lovers of rare and eccentric VHS tapes, housing over 3,000 titles ranging from notorious B-movies to “ethnographic films” such as “How to Yo-Yo” and “Tree Stand Safety.”

The duo met as MFA students at the San Francisco Art Institute and soon realized their shared passion for analog media, science fiction, and horror. Over the last decade, they’ve meticulously curated this library, transforming what was once a nondescript basement into a living museum of VHS culture.

A Labor of Love

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Both Okubo and Antonucci hold day jobs—Okubo as an art handler and Antonucci as the co-founder and publisher of Colpa Press. Their project began as a casual diversion; the basement didn’t even have proper Wi-Fi. But it soon morphed into something far grander. Okubo described their initial approach to collecting as indiscriminate but noted that as the years rolled by, they began to focus on “really weird tapes” that often didn’t receive the preservation efforts granted to more mainstream films.

Rarity and Nostalgia in a Degenerative Medium

One of the most intriguing aspects of their collection is the inclusion of tapes like “Rock n’ Roll 3: Sexy Girls, Sexy Guns,” a film so obscure and sensational that it was referenced in Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 film “Jackie Brown.” Unlike streaming services or DVDs, VHS tapes degrade over time. “Every time you watch a VHS… it is literally falling apart,” Okubo observed, making each screening an exclusive, ephemeral experience.

More Than Just a Collection

But the Basement VHS Club is not solely about preservation. For Okubo and Antonucci, it’s about building community. To that end, they host public watch parties every Wednesday night, where attendees can discuss the week’s film on Radio Valencia on Fridays.

A Treasured Archive of the Forgotten and Overlooked

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

The films in their collection are as diverse as they are fascinating, spanning classics like the “Scream” series and low-budget DIY ventures that served as instructional guides before the YouTube era. These “ethnographic films” offer rare glimpses into bygone eras and practices, capturing the essence of times when movie-making was often the domain of Hollywood and television stations.

The Future of the VHS “Seed Bank”

Okubo and Antonucci refer to their collection as a “VHS seed bank,” akin to the Global Seed Vault in Norway. Although the world’s last VCR was produced in 2016, they hold the belief that everything is worth preserving—just like the plant seeds stored in the Global Seed Vault. But while they recognize the tapes’ transience, for Okubo and Antonucci, it’s precisely what adds to the allure.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

The Basement VHS Club serves as a tribute to the fleeting yet impactful moments that VHS tapes bring to life, one play, rewind, and play again at a time.

Dan Banchero

Sunday 17th of December 2023

We have a fairly large collection of VHS tapes, most used only once or twice, and some not ever used. We are getting ready to dispose of them, and wonder if you might have any use for them. They are yours for the taking if you can use them.