FUN FACT: I own porn I can’t watch.

So this is a copy of Adultery for Fun & Profit, a 1971 X-rated film. It won the Grand Prize at the Amsterdam Adult Film Festival, for the year 1970-1971!

BUT it’s on Cartrivision.

Cartrivision was an early home videotape format announced in 1970, released in June 1972, and dead by July 1973.

It has some “fun” features, like not selling VCRs for it: you had to buy it build into a new console TV. Which were huge, because it was the 70s.

There’s also issue of Red Tapes (of which this is one!)

See, early on the movie industry hated the idea of home movies. They made all their money on movie tickets, right? People watching movies at home, that’s gonna seriously cut into their market. This is why they later sued Sony for the introduction of Beta, arguing that it could be used to pirate movies by recording them off TV. (They lost)

So when Cartridge Television started selling Cartrivision in 1972, none of the movie studios really wanted to start selling their films on home tapes, that idea sounded scary. What if someone had a copy of all their favorite films and could watch them forever at home, and never went to the theaters ever again? The movie studios would go out of business!

So along with releasing a bunch of older B&W movies (the only ones they could license), sporting events, and shows from PBS, Cartridge Television came up with a compromise that worked for the movie studios:

Red Tapes.

So, Cartrivision tapes came in two formats: Black Tapes and Red Tapes. Black tapes you’d buy at the store like any other product, but for Red Tapes (which were relatively recent movies), you instead would go to the store and place an order from a catalog. The store would have it delivered by mail, then you’d come back in and get the tape. You’d take it home, watch it, and then return it back to the store. So… Video rental (like Blockbuster!), except they didn’t have any stock on hand, and only got the tapes on-demand by mail? Seems annoying.

BUT OH NO: it’s far more annoying than that. See… Red Tapes aren’t mechanically like Black Tapes.

You can’t rewind them.

You can play them and pause or stop them just like any other tape, but the rewind feature on your Cartrivison TV doesn’t work.

So once you start watching a film, you can only go forward from that point. You want to rewatch it? Too bad. Go back to the store and pay for it again.

Here’s that tape again. Note that it’s red: You can only watch this porn film once. Then you have to return it to the store… the stores that haven’t been doing this since JULY OF 1973.

But there’s another thing you can see on this picture (barely, because this is a blurry picture, thanks Past!Foone): The visible screws in the corners

So here’s the thing: The tape labels for Cartrivision hide the screws. A regular tape will look like this:

BUT when Cartrivision failed in July 1973, a bunch of stores sold off their unsold inventory, including watch-once Red Tapes. And people still had some of the players. But what’s the point of having a tape you can’t rewind? You’ve basically destroyed the tape now, since it’s stuck at the end and can’t be rewound!

So people bought some of those Red Tapes (cheaply, I hope) and then took them home and opened them up with a screwdriver, damaging the labels. They figured out how the no-rewinding mechanism worked, and removed it. So basically every Red Tape you will find for sale on ebay has visible screws, because someone modded it in the past.

Anyway, the format has been dead so long that it’s doubly-impossible to watch now. The players were only built into big heavy 1970s TVs, which were long ago thrown out. The tapes have gotten old and brittle. If you somehow DID have a player, and it somehow still worked after half a century, the tape will probably shatter as soon as you try to play it.

And the whole format only lasted 13 months, so there wasn’t that much inventory sold in the first place, so there wasn’t a huge number of these in existence anyway.

But a final fun fact: Someone HAS managed to get video off one of these tapes. And it was so hard that they made an award-winning documentary about it.

See, this was basically the first home video format for recording TV. The quality was terrible but it was better than nothing, and it turns out some fan with a Cartrivision recorded a copy of Game 5 of the 1973 NBA Finals game. ABC and both teams (LA Lakers & NY Knicks) had video copies of that game… and ALL THREE OF THEM LOST IT. But the fan copy survived, in a format no one could play, on a tape that would shatter if you tried to play it.

So DuArt Media Services got to work trying to rescue the tape. They had to dry it out, bake it, freeze it, soak it in alcohol, and rebuild a broken Cartrivision unit, then do a lot of manual fixups on the digital files they’d captured off the tape, but they finally managed to capture the recording of the game.

This was used for the MSG Network, who were doing a special on the 1973 championship, and had no footage of that pivotal game. With DuArt’s work, they had something to show.

DuArt then made a documentary about this, called “Lost and Found: The ’73 Knicks Championship Tape”. It won an Emmy.

The punchline? That documentary seems to be lost. I have been looking for years, and have not found a copy, other than a short excerpt on Vimeo.

So yeah. Cartrivision. I’m slightly obsessed with it, even though I’ve never actually been able to watch a single second of Cartrivison footage. Tapes occasionally show up on ebay, the odd technical manual or spare part, but players are rare, always broken, and probably would just shred the tapes even if they did somehow work. The tapes are just too old. ’

Cartrivision is just… dead and gone. Not yet forgotten, but it took media restoration experts a long time and a lot of work to even get a few minutes of footage off one tape. My chances of ever being able to play my Adultery for Fun & Profit tape are basically negative zero.