And the good thing is...
Video Visions, a "Mom and Pop" video store and my video Mecca. It has a very thorough choice of films and prides itself on having all (but one, The Jazz Singer) of AFI's Top 100 Films. For a Mom and Pop, well, I guess that's good. The place is always packed - people bring their kids, their dates, their dogs, and they pick a movie or two or three. I have been going there for four years, ever since I moved to Baker's Historical District in southern downtown Denver.
Video Visions is one of those crazy independently owned video stores. I can never find the movie I'm looking for, some movies are categorized in bizarre ways and I'll have to ask such questions as, "Where is North by Northwest? Suspense? Action? Perhaps Drama?" A clerk replies, "That's in the Hitchcock section." Intrigued, I'd ask "Who else has their own section?" thinking Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese, even actors such as Taylor, Gable, Stewart, Davis, Newman. "No one, just Hitchcock," the clerk surprises me by answering. Regardless of how frustrating it is, the fact that it's often so weird makes it wonderful.
The staff is always knowledgeable about films and has a comment about whatever movie you'd rent. Their quick reviews include good and bad, mostly good but the customer always has a sense that the clerks aren't pulling one over on you. They genuinely love movies and see as many of them as possible. Each clerk has their own shelf, for example, "Butch's picks". Usually, Butch, et. al., can be trusted to recommend some pretty dang good films. And not everyone has Schindler's List or The Godfather on their shelf - I am often introduced to such gems as Bagdad Cafe, Sid and Nancy, Army of Darkness, and sundry delicious little picks.
Last weekend, I rented a couple of flicks (Bulworth and Clockwatchers) and noted with surprise that it wasn't as crowded in Video Visions. I also noted that there was a "Help Wanted" sign in the front and I didn't recognize any of the people behind the counter. The usual girls with raccoon eyes and seven hundred baby clips in their hair and the guys in washed-until-they-are-downy t-shirts that have the fire of film in the backs of their eyes were no longer there. In their place was an odd selection of overweight, conservatively attired, my-father's-hair-do clerks that would better serve the video counter in Brownsburg, Indiana. I also noted that the candy counter was woefully understocked. I put it down to summer and people not wanting to be inside and the crew going home from college for summer.
It was a harbinger of things to come.
This weekend, I stopped by to rent George of the Jungle. There were no customers in the video store and the candy counter was bare. The man behind the counter was jovial so even though I didn't recognize him, I felt I could ask him a few questions.
"Where's the candy?" I inquired.
"We are getting rid of the old stock as Blockbuster has a different supplier," he replied. [Invisible hand clenches my throat and begins to squeeze.]
"Bl, bl, bl, BLOCKBUSTER?"
"Yes, BLOCKBUSTER. Video Visions was bought out by BLOCKBUSTER."
[Arrow straight through heart.]
"What are you saying?" I squeaked.
"I'm saying that BLOCKBUSTER bought out Video Visions. Everything. All the stores. Lock stock and barrel."
[Color draining from my face, other clerk notices me and as my mouth opens and closes soundlessly like a fish in an attempt to spew forth my desperate anger. She correctly guesses what is behind my reaction and does not offer Heimlich, instead she says in snippy tones...]
"We've been called Nazi's, the Christian Right, the Gestapo, fundamentalists,..."
[The male clerk interrupts as the female clerk is obviously on a roll - I myself am still opening and closing my mouth incapacitated by the fear that this is not all a big joke or a nightmare from which I will soon awaken.]
"...people are upset because this was a Mom and Pop shop and it isn't anymore."
[He is trying to sooth me, he knows that I know that it isn't just the loss of the Mom and Pop shop. He knows it is soooooo muuuuuuuch mooooore.]
"I guess the owners didn't tell the staff and when they found out it was a done deal they all walked out. Right on the spot. I guess they were upset the owners sold."
"Everyone walked out?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, "Everyone walked out, every single employee and manager walked out on the spot."
[I know and he knows it isn't due to anger at Mom and Pop for selling that they walked out.]
"I cannot rent videos here anymore." I said shakily, quietly - distress, disbelief and disappointment coating every word.
[He ignores me, instead talking to my friend who is just as shocked as I am, and she is a devout Christian.]
"You like to own videos?" he asked my friend.
"Sure," she replied.
"Own videos?" I asked, dazed.
"Yeah, look for 'The Sale,'" he said.
"What 'sale'?" I asked.
"The big sale,", he responded, "they'll be going through the inventory, selling all the adult movies, most of the foreign films, any unrated film and any film with inappropriate content."
"Ack, ack, ickity, ackity, ack, ack, ack," I said.
"What?" he said.
"Ack," I replied.
"You'll need to have this video back by Monday," he said.
"Ack," I said.
"Monday," he said with a nod of his head.
"I cannot rent videos here anymore, ack," I whispered.
He ignored me or didn't hear me. I repeated four times before I got to my car, "I cannot rent videos here any more."
My friend said the same thing.
"What am I gonna do?" I said.
There were two other video stores around, one was another Blockbuster and the other was a very small Mom and Pop shop with no parking and no selection (Dolph Lundgren movie posters in the windows ALL THE TIME!). Then there is Hollywood Video by work but that is another chain. God only knows what their rules and regulations are. Mom and Pop shops, they are the only way to go. Why buy Taco Bell when you can get burritos chicharrones at Las Delicias for less money and with more flair and charisma than any Meximelt would even want to have? Now, to my utter despair, I've only got Taco Bell to choose from and I'm drowning in a sea of black, horrible sludge - a cinema queen, a movie diva, a flick lover - and I'M STUCK WITH TACO BELL.
The clouds have covered the sun - it is grey and dark in Denver and I am charged with a mission, where to rent videos? Sure, laugh, snigger, and think I am going to give in to BLOCKBUSTER - but I shan't because they are going to sell off inventory that has "inappropriate content."
Through this predicament, the good thing is...
..although I would rather not have had it happen, my money must go where my mouth is. I was lucky, I could blithely badmouth Blockbuster because I had an alternative. I had the ability to rent Diva, This is Spinal Tap, Backsides to the Future, Hoop Dreams, Kathy Smith's Ultimate Yoga and Mulan all at the same store.
Now, I can be lazy, feed my three dollars to an insidious kind of censorship or I can begin my quest.
I will find a video store that rents all videos, where my selection is fine, where I can rent Bulworth and Clockwatchers one weekend and George of the freaking Jungle the next. I will find it or I will open my own video store and I will provide that opportunity to others.
Mark my words.
Lovell Mahan-Moutaw CineScene June, 1999