Marvel producer Kevin Feige knew he had a winner on his hands when saw the cover of director James Gunn’s screenplay for 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy: a colour photo of an old-school Walkman. Over two films, apart from an assemblage oddball superheroes and witty one-liners, Guardians of the Galaxy has been set apart by its retro styling and a soundtrack of hits from the 1970s and ’80s.
So devoted has the production been to cassette tapes, whose sales peaked in the ’80s and fizzled out by the mid-’90s, and the iconic Sony Walkman player that he movie’s production designers recreated six replica models of the analogue devices from scratch after a warehouse fire destroyed the ones used in the first film. Chris Pratt, who plays Star-Lord in the films, even appeared in a promo explaining a Walkman to unsuspecting millennials.
“Old school again. No chance for the interwebs to make everything worse, like it does,” says Hannah Baker from beyond the grave in Netflix’s recent series 13 Reasons Why. In between offering reasons of why she killed herself, Baker lectures listeners on the internet “ruining everything” and “turning us all into stalkers”. That’s why she chooses to leave behind her suicide note in the form of an audio diary comprising 13 tapes.
The teen series might be explicitly designed to cater to older viewers. The cast consists mostly of teenagers, but modern technology seldom makes its presence felt. Like Riverdale, the young millennial cast is stuck in a time warp.
Not only does analogue help create a sense of nostalgia, but it also lends itself perfectly to cinematic moments. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 opens during an intergalatic monster battle, which takes place in the background. In the foreground, Baby Groot dances to 1972’s Brandi (You’re a Fine Girl) by one-hit wonder Looking Glass.
The May 12 release Meri Pyaari Bindu, starring Ayushman Khurana and Parineeti Chopra, is set in the ’80s in a world populated by cassette tapes and typewriters. Khurana also starred in the romantic comedy Dum Laga Ke Haisha in 2015, in which he managed an audio store. The movie featured a delightful spin on the lover’s squabble. Prem (Khurana) and Sandhya (Bhumi Pednekar) argue by changing the tapes inside a boombox. Sandhya’s playing of Woh Meri Neend Mera Chain from Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke (1993) gets Barsaat Ke Mausam Main from Najayaz (1995) in response.
The mix tape is a frequently occurring gimmick in Hollywood films. In High Fidelity (2000), Rob (John Cusack), a music store owner with an archivist’s knowledge of LPs, explains the methods of creating a mixtape in minute detail. In Boyhood (2014), Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke) presents his son Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane) with a tape of The Beatles solo hits on his birthday.
In both the Guardians of the Galaxy films, the soundtrack is the “Awesome Mix” tape left behind by the Star-Lord’s departed mother.
Propelled by an upsurge of interest, the cassette tape industry is seeing a slow revival. A “breakout year for cassette tapes” was 2016. Justin Bieber and The Weeknd released their hit albums in the retro format. In the United States of America, 129,000 tapes were sold, up from 74,000 in the previous year.
It’s late into the 21st century and metascreens completely pervade our lives. But if recent films and television screens are anything to go by, the cassette tape have gotten a second rewind.