What scares you more about a bomb being under a dinner table? Not knowing it’s there and having it blow? Or knowing about it and waiting anxiously for it to detonate?
Existential quandaries like these aren’t typical for a pre-teen. They’re also not politically wise for a Middle Easterner. But growing up, I was surrounded by films that served as some bizarre window into the “real world” — or at least my vague perceptions of it. Because of this, I’ve adjusted to view these questions as being just as, if not more, important than what to eat for dinner, or when my deadline is for a column.
These questions came from the movies, but these movies came from the video store. And the video store is slowly going the way of the dodo — but that’s the price you pay for convenience.
From battle wounds to Communist take-overs, red has always been a color of cultural dread. Now, the Redbox and the red Netflix envelope bring about a new threat. This past September, Blockbuster Video filed for bankruptcy, and the company has closed a reported 1,061 stores since 2008. Hollywood Video finds itself in a worse situation. Mom-and-pop video stores — even deeper down the hole.
So then is the only way to preserve these places to remember them? Are these stores really even worth remembering? The video store can be a cold place. Vast, often harshly lit and constantly air-conditioned, but they offered us something that few places could: escapism and enlightenment in unison.
And while film can often bask in elitism, a video store was an equalizer, a place to peruse the latest and greatest the film world had to offer, or the cream of the crap that the industry tried its best to forget. The video store was the fun of film made tangible.
I’ve written many times about this vague concept of “connection.” Of how we relate to one another through vessels we never really pay attention to. So allow me to double-dip this chip and declare that the video store is, perhaps, one of the foremost examples of locations as the catalyst for connection. Record stores can be exercises in pretension. Book stores only operate in hushed tones. But video stores provide release.
This is personal, of course. My mother, who raised me as a single mom for a good nine or so years, used to take me with her to the café she once owned. But, as is the case for most young ones, a carbonated beverage or two could only hold my interest for so long. And it wasn’t long until I found myself spending inordinate amounts of time at the video store next door, which became a daycare of sorts. There, I was sheltered. I made friends with the regular customers. Chad, the man most often behind the counter, would talk to me not as a kid, but as a fellow fan. We would talk about movies. We would watch movies. He took me seriously because he saw what I see now: that regardless of our age gap, we were both products of the video store. It held the same wonder for him as it did for me. We were the same: We were fans. He would restock shelves — I would wander the endless aisles of cardboard slipcases, each adorned with a larger and larger floating head, always culminating in Sandra Bullock’s hilariously bloated face on the cover for “The Net.”
Those covers were art pieces in a museum. Of course, that is an exaggeration. This, however, is not an exaggeration: Video stores are museums. Both preserve relics, and both offer us shelter when it’s raining. Honestly, what else is a museum good for?
So should we keep the video store because every time I walk in, I feel like a kid again? Because I remember Chad? No, that would be foolish — but it’d be very kind of the general public.
What video stores do — did — is bridge the gap between art and consumer. This is its gift. We have the chance to experience any film at any time. Consider some of our generation’s most well-established filmmakers — the Scorseses and the Tarantinos. They are the by-product of the video store, the prime examples of its notable alumni. The people who rented movies also started making them.
There are also, of course, the practicalities. What to do when you want to spontaneously rent a movie without the hindsight of having added it to your queue two days prior? True, instant streaming has taken the world by storm, but partaking in escapism by using the very tool that you should be escaping from negates the experience. It’s like if your parents started listening to rap music.
But, since the overwhelming desire for convenience killed the video store, I refuse to let inconvenience be the reason for its demise. We should love the video store in spite of its insistence on late fees. In spite of its requirement that we be physically present in order to interact. In spite of its tendency to judge us for a bizarre urge to rematch that Katherine Heigl movie that we’ve already seen.
We should love it because it loves us.
Because a recommendation from a stranger can lead to something else. Because we are what we watch, and a film watched separately or together affects us, and when we want a break from film, we require flesh, and the other way around as well.
There could be a moment at zero hour, right before the final store doors shut, that we change our minds. That the owner of the store turns around after locking up one last time to find the entire town standing there, ready to rent, save his business and reconnect with each other. This is possible. Unlikely, but possible. I’ve seen it happen.
I saw it at the movies.