Sunday, April 22, 2012
Rogers and Me
I worked for two years, back in the early 1990's, at a Rogers Video in Maple Ridge, which is where - in those glory days when video stores had gigantic back catalogues of all sorts of unpredictable gems on VHS - I rented for the first time many videos of films that would prove important to me: Alex Cox's Straight to Hell, Bertrand Tavernier's Death Watch, Ingmar Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly... there were all sorts of movies that I discovered by diligence as a renter there long before I even took the job. Once I DID start working there, I prided myself in directing the customers - many of whom weren't content to just graze the overhyped New Arrivals wall - to these gems, or others that I thought would suit their tastes. I even manipulated my position to get a copy of Cassavetes' Love Streams (the old Canon VHS release) transferred between stores from Vancouver so I could see it any time I wanted, and recommend it to a select few, as well. I have all sorts of other memories, not many of which bear repeating - from an indignant female customer complaining about the shit-smearing scene at the start of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover to sprinting after a teenaged shoplifter through the parking lot around back to the regular experience of going through each shipment of new promotional posters so I could plunder it for gems that they would never have let me put up anyhow (I still have Straight to Hell, Day of the Dead, Down by Law, and Woman Under the Influence posters from that time). I can even remember the pain and dismay from the months when management, under orders from head office, forced us to keep in heavy rotation a promotional video for the Kevin Costner Robin Hood (even today that fucking Bryan Adams song makes me nauseous - it was the "My Heart Will Go On" of the 1990's). I made a few friends, now mostly estranged; I gossiped with the other staff about the porno renters behind their backs; I rented a few of those tapes myself; and I took a certain pleasure in keeping the store clean and the shelves in order. I even had a couple of celebrity run-ins there. I created a rental account for Colin Firth, when he was pretty much unknown in North America - especially here in the suburbs! - and lived on the outskirts of Maple Ridge with Meg Tilly. I had seen and admired one of his very early films - 1987's A Month in the Country - and commented as he left with his video that "there's a British actor named Colin Firth," staring at him quizzically (he responded with a quick "Oh really?" and left the store hastily, never to return - which I know, because I checked his account now and then after that. I guess he preferred the relative anonymity of one of the other megastores, where doubtlessly no one else recognized him in the slightest). Even cooler for me (sorry, Mr. Firth), I met Art Bergmann for the first time at a Rogers Video when he came in with some friends; he was gracious enough to indulge me in signing our copy of Bruce McDonald's Highway 61 for me, inscribing it, "Dear Allan - Rent this sucker! Art Bergmann." (I wonder where that videotape is now...). When Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs came out and the story circulated that he'd learned about cinema as a video store geek, for me, it was my own experience at Rogers that it brought to mind. Sure, the store he worked at was cooler, but for awhile there, I really liked my job at Rogers, and learned a fair bit from it. It wasn't that bad a place for me at all.
The fondness has persisted. Even though the job got a little ugly towards the end - we had a shoplifting problem and each and every one of us was being treated with suspicion, sometimes quite offensively - since moving back to this town, before it shut down, I spent many an hour walking the walls at that same Rogers location, bullshitting with a local metal musician who worked the counter, and searching the "previously viewed" bin for DVD gems that would have been snatched up in a minute in the city. Things had changed; since the format shift from VHS, they no longer had a rental library worth shit, with most of their shelves filled with multiple copies of the same lame Hollywood fare, like the concept of the long tail effect was completely foreign to them. But still, it was sad and inconvenient when that location - very near where I live - closed down: for a few months after that, another location across town picked up the business, but by the time I eventually broke down and started busing 20 minutes for the privilege of renting the odd title, it was only weeks away from closing, too. For a brief while, a small Mom and Pop holdout in Pitt Meadows aside, Maple Ridge was completely without a video store, and for awhile, I took to doing business with Limelight, on the way to and from UBC, who actually have a great catalogue (tho' they seem a bit overzealous with their disc buffing machine, which means that a lot of their more popular DVDs skip and stutter). I *like* the experience, like the social aspects, of renting videos off someone; I would still prefer to pick up a DVD box and read the back than read about films online; and I really rather would watch a good quality DVD over a dubious AVI off a torrent site. Plus there are still DVDs coming out, like Lars von Trier's Melancholia, that I'd rather buy PV'd for $9.99 than pay $24.99 or more for at some retail location. I mean, if I actually had to pay full price for DVDs... there aren't many I'd buy. A good price for a DVD these days is $5 - maybe as high as $15 for a boutique label or Criterion or something really, really rare or special. But any more than that, I balk. Who has feckin' $25 to spend on a DVD, when you CAN always just download whatever you want for free? The prices the industry persists in asking in no way reflect the ways the world has changed, which will sadly likely mean a hastening of the demise of the format. I see people getting more excited about buying VHS tapes from thrift stores for a quarter apiece than shopping for new videos in any of the few locations where you can still buy them - in Maple Ridge, that being London Drugs and Zellers, neither of which exactly count as bastions of culture.
Sadly, with what I believe are the last two Rogers Video locations in Vancouver now closing, the days of the Previously Viewed movie are nearly at an end. Anyone out there wanting one last shot at the experience should take time in the next day or two to go to 15th and Oak and Arbutus and Broadway, where all videos are "buy one get one free," with most stock priced at $9.99. When I made the trek on Friday, there were still copies of all sorts of recent films, from Tyrannosaur to Drive to Melancholia to Carnage to A Dangerous Method. And there were several gems to be had in the back catalogue, like (at Oak and 15th) the Dardennes' L'Enfant, The Silence of Lorna, and The Son, for example. You don't have many chances to buy films like that for $5 each these days, no matter where you shop. Videophiles might want to seize the opportunity, and soon, because I imagine the shelves will be more or less bare by Wednesday, based on what I saw (I was NOT the only one shopping - the Arbutus location was particularly picked over, even on Friday).
Goodbye, Rogers Video. You were never that good at what you did, but I was fond of you regardless. I'm sorry (but not particularly surprised) that you've been rendered obsolete. All the same, given how crappy your DVD selection was, you held out for a pretty long time, and you deserve credit for that. Thanks for the memories, and the cheap DVDs, and your occasional efforts to put the odd real movie on the shelf. Good luck in the Video Afterworld. Bye-bye.