The JVC GR-C1 is perhaps the most iconic video camera ever made and sold. It was one of the first cameras used in a real movie. It worked with standard VHS tapes, but in a much smaller housing. This camera was the start of a video camera race around the world. It is also the only camera in my timeline that I never purchased or sourced myself, but I actually got to work with it and I still have a tape in my big box with recordings to prove it. I just have no idea what I filmed and thus what is on that tape.

While researching for this series of “My Video Timeline,” I was looking for footage of the cameras I’ve used and have long since discontinued or can make digitally. And as a result, I came across a video by Marques Brownlee that I had seen before. The very first episode of his new Youtube series Retro Tech.

Retrotech S1E1 – The JVC GR-C1

In the first episode, Marques gets his hands on a JVC GR-C1 just like I did in the ’80s and then goes on to explore that camera. Marques is known for his MKBHD Youtube channel where he does one or more tech reviews of new products every week. His channel has over 17 Million subscribers. Marques is assisted in his exploration with this camera by the slightly older but now very experienced Youtuber Casey Neistat whom he invited to his studio especially for this camera. Casey’s channel has 12.6 Million subscribers to date.

The JVC GR-C1 is one of the first compact camcorders on the market. JVC adapted the VHS cassette to a VHS-C cassette that uses the same tape as in a VHS tape. To play that tape, you can use the recorder in the camera, but you can also put the VHS-C tape in a VHS-C tape holder that has the same dimensions as a VHS tape. That tape holder opens the small cover of the VHS-C cassette and pulls the tape out of that cassette so that the whole thing could be played in a normal VHS recorder. Ideal for VHS owners, but not always good for those little sensitive rolls of tape. That was one of the main reasons for me not to choose the JVC, but the Sony CCD-V8. The second main point I found was the tape recording length: 30 minutes.

But as I wrote; this camera became a huge hit. It was iconic in many ways, especially when I went to the cinema in Meppel to watch the movie “Back to the Future” with Marty McFly and Doctor Emmet Brown, played by Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Marty is asked in one scene of the film to take the camera to an abandoned parking lot in the middle of their town where, for the first time in history, Emmet Brown sends his dog Einstein in a DeLorean a minute into the future. Marty must capture this on tape and uses the JVC GR-C1 to do so. A brilliant moment of product placement in the film because in the following months a veritable run takes place in American hardware stores. Everyone wants to buy such a camera and because of this huge demand, new models were introduced to the market at a furious pace, so the Sony CCD-V8 came on the market just after the JVC GR-C1.

Back to the Future with the JVC camera.

It does not end well with the Delorean time machine in the last part of the third film. At the time, I couldn’t believe the filmmakers would let the story end this way. But when you are in the middle of the movie you have no sense of time at all. Time is important to many, but…

“Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has! Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one!” (Doctor Emmet Brown – Back to the Future III)

Back to the Future III end scene

The cast of the film still meet regularly and share their experiences with their fans. The films are still broadcast and regularly reappear on today’s streaming channels. At the time, we all watched the films in theaters, then rented them on VHS and later bought them again on VHS in Widescreen. But also on DVD and BluRay. I still have the BluRay discs and they are with me ready to be watched on our Apple TV. 

Netflix, Prime Video and SkyShowtime regularly carry the films. There are books of the movies, Funko dolls, movie posters, DeLorean model cars and fans are doing their best to go full-on into those extremes by turning old Deloreans into a time machine. Who knows, maybe one of them will one day manage to…..the future will tell.

If you are a fan of these movies, look for the movie “Still” about Michael J. Fox on Apple TV. In it, his life with his family full of ups and downs is told in a documentary lasting over 1.5 hours. Michael J. Fox received an unexpected diagnosis in the early 1990s a few years after the release of the third film. The eternal optimist suddenly had to learn to deal with the incurable Parkinson’s disease.

The impressive documentary about Michael J. Fox’s life “Still”

Back to the Future. Marques, along with his team and Casey Neistat, created a wonderful episode that tells the history, but more importantly, the meaning of this iconic camera. Today’s generations no longer work with these cameras. Everyone mostly uses a cell phone that has one or more cameras built into it. Anyone can edit those videos on the same phone and then share them with the world online through Youtube and other platforms.

So much has changed in all these years. But it’s so much fun to see how young people interact with old technology. It’s literally an exploration for them. But it’s also very nice to see that we have laid the foundation for the future, the time we live in now. And as Dock Emmet Brown said “The future is up to you, so make the most of it. Almost forty years have passed and who knows how we will be recording and sharing our images in 2065. All the cameras from ‘My Video Timeline’ will be very far behind us by then.

In any case, I am very happy with my experience with the JVC GR-C1, the same camera as in the film. If only for a very short time. Soon, I’ll have to start looking at the recordings on that tape anyway. I’m so curious!

Until the next one….in the future!

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