I think we all need at least one really nice positive thing about the entertainment business every single day of the year, including weekends. Sometimes it may be something simple, like a video that showcases something fun and sometimes it may be a movie poster that embraces the aesthetic we all want Hollywood to aspire to. Sometimes it may be a long-winded diatribe. Sometimes it’ll be from the staff and extended family of CHUD.com. Maybe even you readers can get in on it. So, take this to the bank. Every day, you will get a little bit of positivity from one column a day here. Take it with you. Maybe it’ll help you through a bad day or give folks some fun things to hunt down in their busy celluloid digesting day.

By Joshua Miller  (Author Page, Facebook Page)

What I’m Thankful For:

Video Store Memories

Video Hut, my local video rental store, is shutting down. Video Hut is a small, family owned chain here in Los Angeles, and while mine wasn’t mind-blowingly fantastic, they had a very nice and smart selection for a small store, including an entire section where films were organized by director. We had some good times, Video Hut and I.

Having spotted their going-out-of-business sign yesterday morning, I decided to step into the store for the first time in a long time. Met with piles of now for sale DVDs and VHS, I felt a twinge of guilt realizing that I had been part of its demise. When I first moved to Hollywood I got Video Hut’s C membership (A, B, and C being different rental plans), which allowed me to rent movies for $1 for a day. Then Netflix happened and I never looked back. Now here I was, standing in the sad husk of my former friend, suddenly wishing I could rent a couple movies for old time’s sake. It would’ve been a ripe moment for the Lorax of video stores to appear.

Now all that was left ‘neath the bad-smelling sky
was my big empty video store…
the Lorax…
and I.

But unlike The Lorax, there is no “UNLESS” here. It is clear to all those but the most optimistic – or delusional, depending on how you look at it – that we’re at the end of an era. Niche video stores catering to outmoded formats or hipster aesthetics will survive, but they will be retro anomalies, like drive-in movie theaters or vinyl. Video store culture is taking its last gasps now. Progress is marching on. It is sad, but I think we can count ourselves lucky to have been a part of it.

We have our video store memories. The youngest generation (and those yet to come) will likely never be able to understand just what they missed. They will see video stores in old movies and think “that’s SO weird!” Let me tell you children of the future, you missed something wholly unique, weird and wonderful.

The obscene wealth of material now available at the click of a button is undeniably amazing, and I’d never for a moment suggest we need to move backwards. It’s similar to digital photography. I would never trade in the freedom and power of my digital camera for the $$$ I needed to drop on rolls of film and print development back in high school. Yet, with all this effortless excess, I’m fully aware of what I have given up: specialness. When I only had 24 chances on a roll, I selected my pictures quite carefully. I of course also had no way of knowing which of my pictures turned out well (or turned out at all) until I got them developed. For every 40 pictures I took, I probably only got one really great one. But that made that one picture something special. That was the one that would make the photo album. Spiritually, I’ve made the same sort of trade with at-home movie watching.

I have thousands of movie options in my home at this very moment. I could start and stop 50 movies if I wanted to before actually settling on one. For free. I am a movie god. It’s phenomenal. But limitless power is emotionally numbing after a while. It is the limitations in life that bring about unexpected, and often the most rewarding, things.

While it was annoying to be limited by what your video store had in stock, that was simply part of the adventure. When the video store didn’t have what you wanted, you were forced to think outside the box. Being denied your immediate desire could encourage an expansion into films you’d never have rented otherwise. And maybe I’m alone in this, but I loved driving all over town, hopping from video store to video store, looking for that one specific movie… and then finally finding it! (Gas was cheaper back then, of course.) Yes, the element of fun discovery still happens on-line or in-demand, but we’ve lost that basic caveman
tactile relationship of holding and turning over video boxes in our
hands while trying to make our selection. We’ve cut out one of our senses. It is a subconscious shift.

Those fuzzy, little kid video store memories are many of my favorites. Some of my earliest memories (of anything) go back to before VHS had officially won the format wars. I remember having friends or babysitters who had Beta or, my personal favorite, the glorious Video Disc, and we’d need to drive to the other end of the Earth (or so it seemed to me at the time) to find that one video store that had unwisely staked its claim on a doomed format. And god, I loved wandering into the horror section of the stores to spy all the box covers for films I wasn’t old enough to rent. Many of these covers are still fried into my memory. *closes eyes and thinks of Chopping Mall *

The first job I ever had was at Panorama Video in Bloomington, Minnesota (home of the Mall of America). I was 13 and my older sister worked there. She talked the manager into letting me show up and do the thankless task of returning videos to the shelves after people returned them. As I was too young to be legally working there, I was paid in free rentals. Every Saturday, after my friends and I had done our duty as annoying junior high kids at Eden Prairie Center (where they shot Mallrats; Minnesota is cold, we have a lot of malls), we’d rent four movies – selected for optimal boobs and gore – and watch them all back-to-back that very night while binging on enough candy and Mountain Dew to threaten diabetic shock in all of us. It was awful. And beautiful.

Now that it’s all in the past, I almost miss the annoying aspects of video stores the most.

Never again will I say or hear someone say, “Let’s just pick something and go already.” Never again will I play rock-paper-scissors to determine who has to run from the car to the video drop box in the rain. Never again will I try and talk my way out of late fees. Never again will I be forced to dig through the drop box bin looking for a title that wasn’t on the shelves. Never again will I get mad that the tape I rented wasn’t rewound. Never again will I realize I forgot to return a movie on time. Never again will I get into an argument with that creepy video clerk who thought that The Two Jakes was superior to Chinatown.

With movies patiently waiting at our finger tips, gone is the need for scheduled movie nights. Gone are those Friday night trips to the video store so your family can stock up for the weekend. Gone is laughing at what movie your sister or little brother or mother or father chose as their pick. Gone is carrying your ever-growing stack of “maybes” around the store, just to make sure no one else nabs one. Gone are kids sneaking a glimpse into the mysterious porno section.

*cue Streisand* Misty water-colored memories… of the way… we were…

I am thankful for my memories of Panorama Video. Of Video Update. Of Mr. Movies. Of Adventures in Video. Of Movieland. Of ‪Intercontinental Video. ‬Of my dorm’s crappy video hovel. Of Video Hut. They were all great/awful in there own ways.

Thanks, guys.

Oh, and… fuck you, Blockbluster.