Monday, January 19, 2009

VHS, DVD, Netflix, mom, pop, brick, mortar and movie rentals

There's an underlying problem, for me, in the assumptions made by A Republic of Indie in a Netflix Nation by Marc Savlov.

I agree completely with the thoughts of Lars Nilsen and Zack Carlson in Never Forget, regarding the continued importance of VHS and locations at which viewers can find and rent. I confess I haven't done well getting to I Luv Video or Vulcan Video... I guess getting to the Airport I Luv Video location is the issue. I did make a rote check of the two northern locations and was disappointed to find that their entire Western sections were significantly skimpier than just the Spaghetti Western section at Scarecrow Video. But certainly I do intend to make the trek and pile up on weird-ass VHS movies one of these days and hopefully making a habit of it after that.

And I'll allow for the notion that other people find some level of kinship and conversation at video stores. I certainly like the idea. Although I'll say I only had two that I felt that way about. Years ago at Stadium Video in Tacoma and not too long ago at the Hollywood Video on Broadway in Seattle. That's all, in my decades and dozens of locations of regular video renting.

So, I'm not prepared to entirely discount that as a factor for people. Certainly at the times that I was renting from those locations there would have been no way for something like Netflix to completely take over my video renting needs from those locations, although in the latter case and time, I certainly used it to augment my renting needs.

I am prepared to be skeptical of it as a major factor in defense of brick and mortar video locations the world over. I suspect that the average renter has had the same average experience that I have. In my case, I like the feeling of sorting through physical boxes and checking cases and such, so that in itself keeps the brick and mortar store as a viable means of finding and renting movies. I'm not sure enough other people have that kind of fetishistic love of movie boxes to make that an argument that will gather traction with most people either.

But the biggest problem I have is with what Joe Shivers, Vulcan general manager and spokesman says, "I remember when I was a kid, I had to search all over Birmingham, Alabama, all the Blockbusters and so forth, to find a single copy of, like, Evil Dead. And when I finally did find it, it ... was ... awesome. That sense of going on a quest to find something that difficult to find – that's almost, like, mythic – is no longer around, because now you can find whatever you want, whenever you want, on the Internet."

I remember that, too. When I lived in Tacoma, I had three or four regular video stores that I would bounce between... not to mention however many other places I'd check irregularly... just to find all of the different movies I wanted to find and even those I had no idea that I wanted until I saw their glorious box. I also remember comic book back issue boxes and digging through them and going across time. Both of these quests were a lot of fun and had a terribly satisfying quality and make you feel really, really cool, in-the-know and special for having found this glorious item.

But then I wouldn't trade either big racks of trade paperbacks or Netflix for those days. For one thing, isn't that ultimately exclusionary. Do I really think only people who are willing to dig through back issue boxes for months at a time and spend ridiculous sums should be allowed to read the complete run of Kamandi?

Now, as someone who hasn't been in a single video store that didn't have a copy of The Evil Dead since some time in the mid-1980s, I should be less qualified than Shivers to make this point, but isn't there something exclusionary about this. Isn't there a quality in all of this where the idea that people in Buttfuck, Montana should have to work harder to find out-of-the-ordinary movies than those of us in Seattle or Austin or New York or wherever?

I certainly remember a time pre-Netflix when I would go to Usenet groups, discussion boards and chat rooms where I'd find people who were outrageously thrilled to have Amazon, from which they could purchase the Dario Argento movies and such that they'd been reading about in fan magazines and websites. The access people like that have to those movies is what makes a casual references to Argento and Goblin in this article and in movies like Juno. The influence of mom and pop video stores, even decades later, doesn't even dream of touching those numbers.

I really do wish that was different, too. The Magical World where Candy Land happy video store clerks across the land have befriended the masses and spread the word about all of these quirky movies and moviemakers that have slowly slipped into the larger consciousness.

But I know that's not true. I know it was the Internet, Netflix and all.

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