It was announced this week that Blockbuster Video is officially closing its remaining locations and calling it quits. And this makes me sad. It actually does! Not “tearing up in the car after Perfect Day came on the radio the day following Lou Reed’s death” sad, but a bit sad nonetheless. I have kind of a weird history with video stores. I love them.
1) My mom used to own a shop next to a video store called VideoMasters (can’t you just hear the lasers?), and with some after-school time to kill (time I should have spent playing sports, making friends, etc. etc.), I enjoyed going to that video store and reading every single video cover on display. I couldn’t rent anything, but I could certainly browse the hell out of that place. It’s how I developed an uneasy fascination with A Clockwork Orange before I even knew what the film was about. I also attribute my semi-encyclopedic knowledge of crappy mid- to late- 80’s movies to this period in my childhood. At this point, I’d like to apologize to the clerk who must have wondered why a creepy little girl silently perused the entire collection without renting anything. Every day.
2) Growing up in a suburban New Jersey wonderland did not exactly expose me to cutting-edge cinema. Certainly, I could have hopped on a train to New York and spent some time at the Angelika, but conductors don’t really look kindly on 11-year-olds riding the train alone. Knowledge was also withheld from me based on the primitive technology of the time: I could count on one hand how many friends had access to hideously slow dial-up Internet connections at their houses, and school computers were devoted to endless rounds of Logo, Oregon Trail, and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?. My only real experience with non-mainstream films came from Hollywood Video, specifically the Cult Classics section. This is where I was able to rent Cemetery Man, Meet the Feebles, and Through a Glass Darkly. Granted, it’s not Jodorowsky’s El Topo, but hey, at least it wasn’t Forrest Gump.
3) While in the middle of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English Literature at New York University, I thought, “What would be the most satisfying work experience for me at this point?” Working at Kim’s Video on Avenue A for $5.15 an hour, of course. Sike! I just really needed a job. The place was dirty, the porn room leaked (from the ceiling!), other employees smelled bad, the pay was abysmal; I once had to trek from Astoria to the East Village during a pretty severe snowstorm so the store could open. You know, so that one jerk could rent Magnolia for the 30th time. I stayed there for two years; it remains one of my longest-held jobs. Why for God’s sake, you ask? First, not only could you be mean to the customers, it was encouraged. Second, any film you could ever think to ask for could be had there, legitimate or bootleg. Even that animated Nelvana film starring Debbie Harry and Robin Zander as an anthropomorphic animal singing duo in a post-apocalyptic world (Rock & Rule!). Third, not all of the customers and employees were idiots; some of them were actual filmmakers and film students and you could talk to them. About film. Fourth, you could drink in the back.
Even though I haven’t patronized a video store in several years (Netflix all the way, friend), I definitely think that my exposure to films has waned considerably because of it. It’s kind of like how I feel when everyone goes on and on about how eBooks replace regular books in libraries. Yeah, eBooks are great (as a librarian, I’m legally obligated to say that), but you can’t browse them physically, you can’t notice someone else reading one, you can’t really start out looking for one and end up with something completely different. It completely changes the experience of reading, which in turn could possibly completely change your tastes and opinions, and subsequently the person you become.
Would A Clockwork Orange have made less of an impression on me if instead of staring at that lurid, mysterious video cover in a rundown video store, I came across it on a random website, pulled up the Wiki entry, and then watched the whole thing in pieces on YouTube? Would I have become the upstanding citizen I am today without my string of scuzzy, endearing video stores?