Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My Answer to the Latest Criticwire Survey Question: Videostore That Changed Your Life

Q: With Blockbuster Video closing its remaining stores in January, the video-store era is drawing to a close, but for most critics they were an essential part of learning to love movies. What was the video store that changed your life?

There are many video stores I could choose from that helped me learn to love movies. The chain store Videoscene had a location near my house – and I can still recall precisely what the store looked like, and what the VHS cases looked like, with their brightly colored stickers indicating what genre they were. It was here that my family rented new releases – including such formidable titles to me such as Pulp Fiction and Natural Born Killers. There was the Just New Releases near my high school, which I stopped at often during my five years there (no, I didn’t fail – Ontario at that time had 5 years of high school) – the staff there knew me well, and I could hang out there for an hour talking movies with them. There was Steve’s TV – which I didn’t start going to until I could drive, because it was the next town over. They had a wonderful deal on their older titles - $1 for 1 night – on a sliding scale, meaning you could get up to 10 titles for 10 nights for $10. I made my way through the AFI top 100 lists on those deals, especially during the summer months, where often I would only need 3 days to get through 10 titles. They had a great selection of older American movies – but not so much of foreign films, although I do know I got my first taste of foreign masters like Bergman, Fellini, Kurosawa and Bunuel from them – even if all they carried was Persona, 8 ½ , Seven Samurai and Belle de Jour.

The store I will go with though is Generation X in Waterloo, Ontario. Like Videoscene and Just New Releases above, it’s closed now (Steve’s TV is still going – but I haven’t been there in a while, and don’t know what their selection is like now). It was started by a student at one of the two Waterloo universities (I forget which now) after he graduated. He came up with the idea simply – when he needed to write a paper for class about Martin Scorsese, and discovered that there were a few titles that no store in the area had, he drove to Toronto to get them – and then decided that he would eventually open a store in Waterloo so other students didn’t have to do the same. Unlike Steve’s or the other stores, there was no package deal on older titles – it was $3.50 a night for older movies, $4.50 for new releases. But they had EVERYTHING. I fell in love with Kurosawa and Bergman, and they had everything that was available by both on VHS. This is also where I got everything by Woody Allen. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The store was staffed by young people – they were obviously partly inspired by Kevin Smith’s Clerks – they had printed sign in the window that told you the store opened at 11am daily – “When We’re Awake, No Guarantees” I knew if I wanted a specific title, and Generation X did not have it, than no one else would. I could also just go in and browse – and did so all the time, sometimes wandering around for an hour or more (I still have the same habit in video stores – I love getting lost in the aisles, and sometimes making impulsive decisions on what to rent that night). Throughout my last two years of high school, four years of college and one year post college when I lived in Waterloo, I’m not sure a full week every went by without me renting something for Generation X. Although it had been a few years since I’d been back, when I heard it was closing, it hit me hard.

I don’t go to Video stores much anymore – they don’t have a decent one in my town of Brantford since Blockbuster and Rogers both decided to close a few years ago, despite the odd fact they were both making money (Blockbuster Canada closed because Blockbuster America was trying to keep itself afloat). Neither store were great, but now we have nothing. To add insult to injury, while Americans have any number of great streaming services, Canada is woefully lacking in that area. Check out what you can get on Netflix America compared to Netflix Canada. It’s pathetic. And the number of movies Americans can get Day-And-Date is way greater than in Canada – I will finally get to see Blue Caprice this week, as it showed up on iTunes Canada – still waiting for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Short Term 12. The best video store I still go to is Bay Street Video in Toronto – which has an even larger selection than Generation X had back in the day. I still like to get lost there – although I don’t do it anywhere near as often as I used to.
Video stores are dying – most are dead already. It’s probable my two year daughter will never know what one is. But without them, I wouldn’t be the movie lover I am today.

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