Last year, one of my three favorite places in my home town closed down. It was not a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Nor was it an old baseball diamond that was being bulldozed to make room for a new park or parking lot. No, it was Blockbuster Video. It broke my heart to see a video store that I had not only spent a great deal of time in as a customer, but also as a former employee, closing.
I started working in the mom-and-pop-owned franchise store when I had come to hate the art form I loved so much. I had dedicated so much of my energy and adult life to loving and studying film that I was able to rekindle that love by sharing it with others.
When I came home to see the yellow banner sprawled across the store front, my jaw dropped. The video store had managed to hang in there after losing customers to both Redbox and Netflix. In the defense of the owners, they acquitted themselves honorably when their new opponents practically invaded our community (This is no exaggeration. I live in a rural community that is about 12 miles long and is home to five Redbox kiosks). They dropped prices, focused on used DVD and video game promotions, and even offered free rentals with purchase of a new release. In the end, it just wasn’t enough.
When I think back on how many teenagers I was able to turn away from the plethora of horror, rom-coms, and terrible franchise films, I realize that the importance of a video store lies not in the titles they have for selection or the prices of said titles. It lies in the fact that in every video store’s staff, there exists a hidden gem; the cinephile.
I feel I should elaborate on this statement. In my experience, both as consumer and employee, most video store employees are townies, burnouts, or high school/college students who are just killing time until they graduate. However, there has always been that one person; the one who clearly loves movies and wants to help other people come to love movies as much as they do.
In 2008, after moving back to my little town, I was that person. More importantly, I was able to teach everything I knew about film (which some have said is almost everything there is to know) to the younger staff members with whom I worked.
I remember putting Seven Samurai on the DVD player so it could play on every TV in the store, the audio filling the stores ample surround-sound system with the sounds of flowing Japanese. There was just a teenaged clerk and myself manning the store that slow mid-week night. I can recall the shocked look on his face when Kyuzo was shot, and cast his sword aside. It was priceless! He looked at me and simply asked, “What? Why?!” I explained that while Kyuzo’s death wasn’t predictable like character death might be in more recent films, it was an appropriate symbol of the sad futility of tradition struggling against modern advancement.
When Seven Samurai was over, I suggested he watch The Magnificent Seven. He told me that he was a huge fan of Westerns and owned it. Again I told him to watch it. When we both worked together later that week he explained he had never realized they were so similar. He thanked me for showing him my favorite Kurosawa movie (other than Yojimbo).
This is a key example of how a video store can be a place where stories can be made. I find that a fitting idea, since I have seen young couples laugh, argue, and even break up in the middle of video stores. Once, I even saw a lovely brunette women looking through a table of DVD’s for sale and asked if she was looking for anything in particular.
“Something amazing.” She responded.
I was done for as soon as the words left her mouth.
“Well… What do you think is amazing?” I asked her, my heart skipping a beat.
“Well, I have La Cage aux Folles (1978) at home. Have you seen it?” She asked me in response.
I told her I had and suggested a few films from our inventory. Among them were The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) and Smart People (2008). She pleaded with her boyfriend to buy them for her. He made a face, but gave in.
The girl continued to come back…
The boyfriend didn’t.
I married that lovely brunette, and recognize if I had not had that first conversation with her, the numerous conversations, dates, and movie rentals thereafter would have never happened. I would be in a very different place today.
These are just a couple of the numerous encounters that allowed me to share my love of cinema with others.
So yes, video stores do something that Netflix, Redbox, and all the other new services out there can never do. They allow for a genuine human experience, if only for a few minutes. The video store is a place where people can contribute to their local economy while also sharing a love of movies, or discovering that they love movies if they didn’t already know that. These little brick and mortar sanctuaries of moving pictures are a place where cinephiles like us can truly share our love of movies, and don’t need no stinkin’ degree to do so.
What saddens me the most is that so many potential stories are not going to be written now. All the romances, friendships, and potential film makers might not exist now. Of course, you likely think I am being melodramatic. However, let us not forget that Quentin Tarantino received his film education at the store Video Archives, located in Manhattan Beach. The now world renown director didn’t even go to film school.
I also want to say I don’t think any less of a person who is on a budget and loves movies or the person who loves movies but is very busy. I can sympathize! Thanks to these services we now have more convenience and lower prices. I will concede that point. In the end, the automated services that exist today fill a need many people have. With a lack of a video store in my community, even I have been forced to use these services.
However, what do we get for our convenience and savings? Not much more than that; since the human element has been all but removed.
What we lose, on the other hand, is much more valuable.