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APAR's WORKING WEEKEND: Out One Era, In the Other

12 Jan, 2001 By: Bruce Apar

For this visitor, spending the last week in Vegas was like criss-crossing a cornfield of eras.

It is the end of an era for the 20-year-old Video Software Dealers Association, whose annual convention will never be the same, not after this year. What if they held a convention, and hardly anybody came? We pretty much attended the answer to that at The Venetian Hotel and Sands Expo.

That’s not totally fair, though. A whole mess of people showed up, but their sights were set on AVN Adult Expo’s fleshfest, which hosted a veritable orgy of oglers. After leaving the traffic-free mainstream exhibit hall the last day of the show and walking the bustling aisles of adult ‘hood, I remarked to a colleague, “What’s wrong with this world?”

Well, to be further fair, it’s not as if nobody showed up for the non sex-rated part of the show, and those that did exhibited pointed interest in learning and networking and taking meetings. It’s just that compared to past events, the turnout was decidedly depressed.

It’s a long way, to be sure, from the rock-and-rolling dance parties of the mid-Eighties (which I’m proud to claim credit for instigating), including the event at Bally’s notable for guest star Hulk Hogan. And it’s an even longer way from the epic parties thrown by Columbia, Disney and Paramount.

There was a nostalgic glimmer of those times. At The Doors party sponsored by Artisan Home Entertainment and Video Store Magazine, my Brit mate Michael Senker turned to me and said, “This is the like the VSDA parties of old.”

Talking with Doors original guitarist Robbie Krieger before the show took me back to another era. I told Krieger I remembered attending a 1967 Doors concert at The Singer Bowl -- with opening act The Who –- when Jim Morrison “started a riot, throwing chairs at the cops approaching the stage after he started to expose himself.” Krieger replied, firmly, “Jim didn’t start that riot.” Then I notice that Jeff Donovan, star of Artisan’s Blair Witch 2, is sort of glaring at me, because I interrupted the conversation he was having with Krieger. No respect for the elderly, these young studs. (And, bizarrely enough, I espy Donovan as a bit player in a movie I have on my PC as I write this, Warner’s Bait starring Jamie Foxx.)

Eras crossed paths backstage at the general session of the convention when regal actress Ellen Burstyn was honored for career achievement, just as Ashton Kutcher (yes, girls, that same Ashton Kutcher!) was heralded as a future star for wowing Hollywood with a TV series “That ‘70s Show”) and a feature-length film (Where’s My Car, Dude). Good thing we honored him before he becomes an overnight star, because then he’ll be too big to make time in his schedule to accept such honors from the lowly video industry. (Not that I’m bitter or anything about the DVD Supersession being canceled for want of A-list directors.)

Young Ashton, truth be told, was a charmer. Before going onstage, he was sitting demurely in the Green Room, with his handler, saying nary a word, sort of sinking into the comfy couch. But then he burst on stage, and delivered a deliciously campy routine that the audience loved. It was a send-up of some dialogue from Boogie Nights and we later learned Kutcher viewed the DVD the previous night in his hotel room to rehearse the bit.

By the last day of the VSDA Convention, I was able to steal away an hour –- literally -– to rush crosstown to the Consumer Electronics Show, which, on its last day, was still in high gear.

I’ve attended 19 of the 20 VSDA conventions, but the CES holds a very special place in my heart. Upon graduating from college and hooking my first job, at a hi-fi magazine, before I ever stepped foot in the office, I worked the 1973 Summer CES in Chicago, putting out a show daily. Haven’t missed more than a couple since –- and there used to be two a year.

That signal trade event has been through several eras of its own. As recently as three years ago, it was against the ropes as major companies such as Sony and Thomson left the show floor. Several years prior, CES lost the lure of the videogame industry as it started its own show, E3. Once upon a pavilion, the movie studios exhibited at CES, but then VSDA came on strong as an expo they could call their own.

But as it proved last week, CES has a canny ability to keep reinventing itself, and once again is back with a vengeance, celebrating the digital era in all its glory, with new destination exhibits such as Microsoft, Intel and AOL.

There’s even talk of some linkage between VSDA and CES next year and beyond. Who knows? Maybe at some combined show of the future, we’ll be giving a lifetime achievement award to Ashton Kutcher, or a digital facsimile thereof.

Comments? Contact Bruce directly at:bapar@advanstar.com

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