None of that matters to the founder of Playbackthetape, a nostalgia-based salon that meets monthly to watch and discuss movies, TV shows and commercials, all preserved on VHS tapes. This week Playbackthetape is celebrating both its one-year anniversary and its move into its new, permanent location in the Reading Room at Petworth Citizen.
Each meeting has a thematic link — Thursday night’s is “The Birds and the Bees” and it includes the episode of “Seinfeld” where Elaine talks about faking orgasms and an animated TV special, never released on commercial video, based on the comic strip “Cathy.”
The off-the-air recordings serve as a time capsule — a “physical record,” as Earley says — from a different era: “With a TV special, you might hear four different regional dialects on the news breaks, see local commercials, all these details about a very specific time and place.”
Earley has tons of tapes (which are usually donated or rescued from the trash bin) that are just waiting to be joined with others for one of the themed nights. Some give deep looks into the lives of those who once owned them, meaning they’re just as personal as they are cultural.
“I have this box of tapes from this woman in Arlington,” Earley says. “She had a tape of [an episode of] the ‘Today’ show from start to finish from 1985. It also has marked on the label ‘do not tape over.’ Is she in this? A family member? What’s the story? That one is a gold mine.”