11 Things We Miss About Video Stores
When I was a young person a new video store came into my town. It was small and filled with movies I had never heard of. The owners told me that buying big name movies was too expensive. They felt it was better to have a store full of titles, than a store half full with copies of The Empire Strikes Back. This was 1985 mind you.
Back then I took for granted how awesome video stores were. Independent stores were the best. Generally, the owners were very happy people. Why? Well, it was literally their job to sit around and watch movies all day. Then, when a customer came in, they got to talk about movies and make recommendations on titles they should rent. And think about it... you didn't even need to waste your money on film school and it was like you were in the industry.
Things changed a lot when Blockbuster came along. In its day, Blockbuster was the Wal-Mart of the video industry. Sadly, it crushed the little guys and made it very hard on a lot of low budget filmmakers.
How? Well, the Blockbuster stores became so ubiquitous that they made it hard for all but the most award-winning indie titles to find shelf space. On top of this, Blockbuster had very strict guidelines for the titles they carried. When you control the marketplace it's very easy to do such a thing. So, if you wanted to see a very daring independent film, if you were able to get it from Blockbuster (remember, they were often the only game in town) the version you got was probably one specific to Blockbuster. Yes, filmmakers edited their films (or had their films edited) to meet Blockbuster's criteria.
Still, Blockbuster was awesome. Yes, their selection was limited but they did have a selection. And it wasn't like you couldn't go to an independent store, they just weren't on every street corner like big blue. Blockbuster had people to make recommendations, over time they sold popcorn, VCRS, videotapes, toys, etc. It was like living in two parallel universes. Did you visit Blockbuster or the mom and pop shops? Today, for better or worse, Netflix has done away with all of this. And while I love what they and the other streaming sites give me, I still felt the need to recount '11 Things I Miss About Video Stores'.
Entering the Unknown
Remember the size of some of those video stores? Some were no bigger than a bread box. Others, were monolithic in scope. One would walk in and literally see a mountain of boxed content in front of them. Oftentimes, you would be confronted with kids films first. This was how the store sucked in families. Then as you moved through it you started seeing new titles. The words "Just In" were like music to a videophiles ears. What was just in? Where did it come from? How did it get here? After that were the older titles. The stock titles. The titles that had been on the shelves forever. The classic films that were finding a wholly new (read: younger) audience for the first time. One never knew what they would find as they rounded the corners of these cavernous video stores. I remember having my mind blown by movies like Suburbia and Repo Man. I can recall turning off The Children nearly minutes in because it was just too scary. Sid and Nancy practically lived in my VCR. This is one of the things I love about Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. Blockbuster's strict policies essentially crushed the unknown factor. The streaming companies and their endless libraries brought it back.
Video stores looked really cool. If you were someone that spent a lot of time looking (and I did), the posters that were dangling around the stores offered a degree of comfort. Whether it was the Pretty Woman poster featuring a gorgeous Julia Roberts, or the poster for Phantasm which made that low budget horror film seem every bit as epic as it was, or the poster for Buford's Beach Bunnies featuring Tom Hanks' brother Jim. These posters spoke to us. In some cases they sparked curiosity. Maybe we had missed the film in the theater? In other cases the poster seemed so outrageous we had to see the film. Whatever the reason was the posters grabbed us. They were a perfect gateway into these stores that would become like a second home. I don't know about you but I came to depend on video stores. Just imagine how soulless, how lifeless a video store would be without posters vying for our attention just as much as the tapes did.
Exploring the Shelves
Exploring a video store was part of the experience. Remember how it felt to find a movie when it had just come out? To able to hold years worth of other people's work in the palm of your hand. Or, combing your way through the store and finding a movie you'd never heard of but it looked it good? Maybe you recognized an actor. Maybe you recognized nobody but the cover looked so good you had to give it a try. Also, in those days the ratings didn't seem to matter that much. Okay, my parents weren't going to let me rent Flesh Gordon but they didn't seem to mind if the titles I picked out fell somewhere between PG and R. As a teenager this was HUGE! For weeks on end it seemed like my parents would went 5 movies for each day of the week. I would come home, get my homework done, and then immerse myself in a movie. Unlike today where families sit in the same room, but are disconnected by their electronic devices, I actually found myself giving my parents recommendations based on all the movies I was seeing. There was no internet! The video store was the only way into this wonderful world. You HAD to explore!