Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Video Store Graveyard!

Remember your first video store? Mine was in a gas station that rented video discs, where you'd have to rent the player as well. There I discovered American Werewolf in London and National Lampoon's Vacation, which we'd rent once every visit. Shortly after that a furniture store started carrying a few VHS tapes that they had off to the side of the floor. There I remember getting Vigilante, A Clockwork Orange and The Exterminator. Usually renting a tape meant renting a VCR to go with it. One of my favourite Christmases ever was when we got a VCR of our very own, though it was still good to rent one occasionally to do the old taping a cassette via the stereo cords to another VCR (a practice I had continued for a long while, even with DVD to VCR in later years).

Throughout my life I've always had a go-to video store. Some were amazing, but even the ones run out of a variety store hold a warm spot in my heart. When I was moving around as a student and in between school, the first thing I'd do once I got all settled into a new place is check out the nearest video stores. The excitement I'd feel as I cruised up and down the video aisles, finding treasures and trash, hasn't really been duplicated in any other form of cinema viewing. I grew up in the age of the video store, and I'd have it no other way.

Most of the quality video stores I'd frequent, usually have knowledgeable staff who I could discuss films I love or hate, and would help me discover many films that would become my favourites. There is a real sense of community in some of these shops, especially those that cater to the niche market of the "film buff", whether it be cult films (my poison), classics or others. Another customer could easily get involved in a conversation you may be having with your "DVD Dealer", and next thing you know there's a group of people talking film and even introducing you to films you might have never seen (this happened to me less than a week ago). I can't tell you the number of times I've asked a counter person, "Seen anything good lately?" and have come home with films that knocked my socks off.

I too was a "counterperson" for years, mostly at video stores that are the Corporate monsters everyone hates. Yet, I remember when Blockbuster first opened in Canada, and I was living in Welland, Ontario (not much of a variety of video stores) and I was thrilled with many of the films they carried that I could never see earlier, since they were either censored in Canada or just unavailable. They had Day of the Dead Unrated! I had only seen the chopped up Canadian version, so when I rented the uncut one this film skyrocketed from being a two and a half star film to a five star film that night. There were all those scenes I'd seen in my Romero book and Fangoria. That tape got rented by all my friends afterwards too, along with Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Man Bites Dog, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Eyes Without a Face and many more. Blockbuster may be a heartless, faceless corporation, but I definitely have very fond memories of going through their selection.

Sadly, the video store is dying a slow and cruel death. Where there once was the joy of discovery and the magic of being in a place that was devoted to film, there is now a fairly desolate place with the odd folk coming through to browse the aisles to get a good idea of what to download that night. With video stores closing all over the place, not surprisingly it's the big chains that are pulling the plug first and getting out after pillaging all the smaller video store's customers (isn't it odd how Blockbuster always opened up near another video store? That wasn't a coincidence), it's only a matter of time until they are all gone. Films are disposable now, they hold no importance to a lot of people. It makes sense, when there is so much available (at the click of a button) it's only natural to think of something as common and not at all special. Even film buffs plow through films so fast they don't appreciate them the way they would if there was even a little bit more difficulty in seeing them. With the loss of the video store, we are one step closer to losing film as art.

I'm sure lots of people out there still support the video store, but I'm terrified that most are waiting for 5 years after the final one closes it's doors before they get nostalgic about something they killed.


  1. Hey GB, thanks for becoming a follower at Funky Frolic. I thought I'd drop by and check you out. I like your little cartoons, the one about Funny Games made me smile. I hated that movie so much...

    I hear what you're saying about video stores. Some of the gems I came into contact with at my local were "Eraserhead", "Dazed And Confused", "Reservoir Dogs", "Kids", "Clerks" and "The Crying Game" along with many, many more. Good times.

    All the best, Craig.

  2. No problem about becoming a member, you're blog is pretty fantastic.
    Thanks for the compliments. It'll be a shame when the video store is all but a memory. It's always seemed like such a nice concept of a building just filled with all sorts of movies that you can visit. Someone should really do a book on them while there are still quite a few remaining.

  3. You could say the same about independent record stores, book stores, grocers and butchers I think. It has become a rather bland world in some ways...

  4. Very true indeed. Since I'm a movie fan I tend to harp about video stores, but I know big readers who bemoan the fate of the book store. I'm also not saying that I absolutely hate the way things are going (your website is an unbelievable treasure trove of cool music and I've seen more movies recently that I thought I'd never get the chance to see) but you are right, it just seems so bland sometimes.

  5. This was an excellent article about video stores. There actually are a few Blockbusters on my island, but I've never been in one. When I was a kid, we never rented movies, just because money was tight. Years later we got a satellite dish - which was a godsend, considering CTV, CBC, and Global had been the only channels we got on TV. But the dish kept us satisfied, as far as movies were concerned. But nowadays, the satellite rarely has any good movies on - I used to enjoy the Showcase Revue, but now that Showcase has been bought by Global, it just shows mainstream crap. Now that I'm older, I really miss the Showcase Revue, because I'd be able to appreciate the films a lot more. Nowadays, I download almost every movie I ever watch, and I buy some on DVD every so often.

    As for video rental stores, they were never really a part of my life. Downloading movies is something I never did, until early 2010, when I got high-speed internet. And you are right, I download so many movies, that I quickly forget the details of most of these movies a few days after I watch them. That's one reason I write long movie reviews - so I can keep track of what I've seen.

    While it seems unlikely they'll ever find a way to stop illegal downloading, I do expect future technology and future laws will make it A LOT harder to do it. But by then, will it be too late to revive the video rental store? I think by then the only thing video rental stores will have, will be the latest crappy film from Hollywood.