Monday, March 25, 2013

The day before Tuesday, and other nearly forgotten video store pleasures

So many experiences that went along with the age of the video store are obsolete, extinct, forgotten - or are soon to be.

While those of us who remain diehards can continue to rent and return movies, pay late charges, and the like, the experience of "walking the wall" at your local megastore is pretty much gone. The new arrivals section at Little Shop of Movies, Maple Ridge's little indy video store, sprung from the ashes of Rogers and Blockbuster, is not really big enough to be walked: you can stand in front of it and scan it, but its all in the neck, now: the lengthy up-and-down pace from A to Z is simply not doable, unless you want to look at their entire stock. Ditto the new arrivals, salewise, at Videomatica; I'd have to do ten laps of their surviving store, tucked in a corner of Zulu, to get in the equivalent of one good up-and-down pace of the wall at Rogers (RIP).

The experience of assembling cardboard promotional standees for movies, or going through the tube of promotional posters, known best to video store employees, is also utterly gone. There's almost no promotional material available for videos any longer; there's not enough of an industry left to support it. We used to get thirty or so rolled-up posters on a weekly basis at Rogers, which I'd eagerly go through, deciding what merited putting on display. Some stores used to put the chaff in cardboard boxes and give it away or sell it to customers (though we never did, that I recall). I still have posters on my walls and in my closet from the early 1990's -  not many, but I've hung on to a few definite keepers. 
There aren't many PV bins out there anymore, either. That's a part of the video store experience that I definitely miss. Used to be you'd get exposure to a hundred-odd B-tier movies in those bins, and going through them was a mixed bag of discovery and gambling. I might never have seen cool films like Jennifer Lynch's Surveillance, say, if I hadn't found'em for $3.99 at Rogers; there's all sorts of films like that now that will be that much harder to discover. Little Shop of Movies has a few PVs, and the experience of going through them definitely has a quality of deja vu and nostalgia all at once; I stumbled across The Mind Snatchers, an obscure early Christopher Walken film, the other week, which I saw on VHS back in the 1980's, and didn't even realize had gotten distributed as a DVD.

Videomatica also brings in cool used movies, of course, but they lack the ignorant, dismissive, blow-this-shit-outa-here attitude of the chain stores: the best stuff at Rogers and Blockbuster was almost always the cheapest, because it had the smallest niche of consumers looking for it. This led to a shark-among-fishes "there's gold in them thar bins" experience that is pretty much extinguished now; for instance, my copy of David Lynch's Eraserhead was bought PV'd for three dollars and something at a Rogers, and rung in by someone who had never seen or heard of it. No concomitant experience at Videomatica is possible. I didn't realize that I'd ever feel nostalgic for the sheer ignorance of the prevailing attitudes towards cinema on display at megastores, but there it is.

Anyhow, I'm writing all this to note a single feeling: I have anticipation over the prospect of renting movies tomorrow, because Tuesday is the day the new arrivals come out. The sort of attentiveness to time, to the rhythms of commerce, to the anticipation of a real world event, that are part-and-parcel of this "wait for Tuesday" feeling will surely get rarer and rarer, moviewise, as people turn more and more to online consumption, which is more nebulous; there's less of a mark-your-calendars, communal-participation-in-a-public-event quality to waiting for something to pop up on a torrent site. With the internet, something shows up when it shows up, is now a private event marked by when YOU go looking for it and/ or find it, and you can't know the date in advance. Further, there's something less tangible, less exciting about waiting for a file to finish downloading than there is in waiting eagerly with everyone else for the day a certain movie is going to come out on video (an imaginary community that is surely getting smaller and smaller).

Tomorrow, Killing Them Softly hits the shelves, based on a novel by George V. Higgins,  of The Friends of Eddie Coyle fame. Come 1pm - when they open - I'll be phoning Little Shop of Movies and requesting they hold a copy - because who knows, maybe there are one or two other people in this town who are experiencing the same feeling as I am? When I'm there, if they're "in," I'll also snag The Master and Zero Dark Thirty, two films I'm curious about, but am skeptical enough about that I've held back on seeing them until now. All three are perfect rental movies - risky to torrent, since, even if you find them, someone is likely watching what happens with those titles; expensive to purchase, since they'll all cost more than $20 at sale stores, and not-a-one inspires the confidence that it's a keeper (because Higgins adaptation or not, I don't trust that Killing Them Softly will actually be that great; because PT Anderson's last film, There Will Be Blood, was a bit of a bloated, over-hyped non-starter, by me; and because - well, 'nuff said on Zero Dark Thirty).

Trivially, they'll all also make great movies to watch with Mom.

While I'm at the shop, too, I'll get to peruse what other DVDs the dude got in, because there are still odd little movies that got no buzz that are turning up on rental shelves that I've never heard of. My last time there, it was The Factory - a mediocre crime thriller with John Cusack and Jennifer Carpenter. I kind of think Jennifer Carpenter is hot shit, mostly due to her terrific work as Debra Morgan on Dexter, so I'll basically rent anything that she's in, especially if it's a horror or crime film. That sort of gambling on a movie you don't know does sometimes pay off, too; the rental shelf at Little Shop of Movies is also how I found out about The Samaritan, a great little Samuel L. Jackson neo-noir that I likely would have missed entirely, otherwise.

Soon I guess I'll be writing an "RIP DVD" article - it seems a format that's on its way out. The stores that still stock videos for sale are increasingly filled with Blu-Rays, which is, I guess, what People With Money actually buy. For the rest of us, I can't blame anyone for snubbing both formats, now: the format shift from DVD to Blu-Ray suggests that no stable platform for physical media may ever arise, so that investing in a collection of hard copies of ANYTHING doesn't make sense anymore, knowing it will eventually die out. Who can blame people for not feeling very trusting, having gone through it all with VHS and DVD already? Fuckit, why NOT use services like Netflix, if you're just going to be asked to buy everything all over again in a different format every decade or so?

Still, I think DVD is a great format, and it's kind of nice to be looking forward to the day a couple of movies I want to see will pop up that-a-way. In this case, tomorrow. I wonder how many Tuesdays like this the future will hold?  

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