Video may have Killed the Radio Star, but the internet certainly killed the video shop!
My love of movies wasn’t born in the cinema, I have mentioned more than one occasion on this site that I didn’t visit the cinema very often as a kid. I grew up in the 80’s, so like so many of my generation I grew up with video, and I watched a hell of a lot of them. Back in the 80’s video’s were very expensive to buy and weren’t available for purchase until years after cinema release. When you could eventually buy a movie it would cost at least £9.99, that’s about £38 in today’s money when adjusted for inflation. So the only option was to rent a video for £1 (nearly £4 adjusted for inflation). The first film I remember watching was Superman (1978). After that my parents would bring films home from a mythical place called a video shop. I am sure I must have had some input towards some of the films we watched but there was one time I remember picking a film myself. Possibly my first experience of choosing films myself, it came when our local newsagent stated having a small selection of films available to rent. As a huge Star Wars fan the first film I remember choosing myself was Dune (1984). Very different to Star Wars and my first experience of David Lynch, at the age of nine. My entire family hated it. I loved it, and still do to this day.
A few years later, we had moved house and had a video shop walking distance from home. By the age of around the age of around twelve or thirteen, the owner of said establishment informed me I could have my own account and rent videos myself, I didn’t need my parents to do it for me. He insisted I only took age appropriate films, but never thought to ask my age. I went straight for the 15 certificate films. I still needed my mom to rent 18 certificate films, things like Mad Max, The Terminator, and the better horror films for me.
My obsession with video continued until I went to university and started visiting the cinema at least once a week. I continued to rent videos from time to time after this. By then the smaller independent shops had disappeared and been replaced by chains like Choices, Titles and Blockbuster, they too have also since vanished. I still rent DVD’s from a well known mail order company, and also use their streaming service. It isn’t the same as browsing the through the a video shop, looking at the covers, reading the blurb and picking a movie. Sometimes picking a new release that I had heard Barry Norman talk about six months earlier at the time of the cinema release; other times going for an unseen classic or an older genre film that caught my eye.
Had I not been struck by the cover photo of Nikita I would never have seen the film (not the cover seen below that is an American one). A film that proved my gateway into European and then world cinema. I remember walking to the counter clutching the empty box hoping they didn’t ask me for ID, it was an 18 certificate film and I was two or three years too young to be renting it. I got to the counter, the woman took the case from me and went to look for the tape. She came back tape in hand and was about to put it in the case, and paused. I was waiting for her to point out the 18 certificate. Instead of asking for ID, she asked if I realised the film was subtitled. I had no idea that the film was in French and that I would have to read subtitles, but still liked the look of it and replied, yes. I think I said something about Luc Besson the director of The Big Blue and Subway, films I had never heard of but had read about in the blurb on the back of the box. I walked out with the video and went home and watched it immediately. I think I saw it another twice before returning the tape.
That was twenty-five years ago and things have changed. I watch two or more movies a week at the cinema (30 in the first three months of this year) and am convinced that it is and will remain the best way to see a film. However, miss video shops. You could argue that a video shop offered more choice than the cinema, but that argument falls flat with the various streaming services and readily available illegal streaming/downloads. The quality argument goes out the window, with Smart HD TV’s and superfast broadband, picture quality is much better than VHS ever was. But that isn’t the point. Video shops are from a place in time that offered so much more than was available to us in a time of three TV channels.
Then we have the people who work in video shops. By the time the big chains had taken over, they were staffed by spotty teens or middle aged women, all working part time and none having no knowledge or interest in the films. But the independent shops were owned often and run by people with a knowledge and love of film, they could often recommend films and were always willing to reserve titles for regular customers. If you happened to be a customer of a certain video store in Manhattan Beach, California you may have been served by Quentin Tarantino! Like with so many people, it was a video shop owner that recommended The Thing and Blade Runner to me years before they gained their cult status, it was these people that made cult hits out of movies.
I probably have an overly romanticised memory of what video shops were, but they served me well in my formative years and I will always have fond memories of them.
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