The Last Video Store: A Short Documentary on How the World’s Oldest Video Store Still Survives Today

When was the last time you went to a video store? Per­haps your habit died with the major rental out­lets like Block­buster Video, all of whose loca­tions closed by ear­ly 2014. Or rather, almost all of them: as fans of retro video cul­ture know, the sole Block­buster store on this Earth rents on in Bend, Ore­gon. But for all the nos­tal­gic appeal of its blue-and-yel­low brand liv­ery, the “last Block­buster” is at its heart the local oper­a­tion it had been before the once-mighty inter­na­tion­al chain assim­i­lat­ed it in 2000. Back then, recall, we cinephiles saw Block­buster and its like as remorse­less cor­po­rate preda­tors ready to swal­low every inde­pen­dent video store, hard­ly spar­ing the ones at which we’d received our own film edu­ca­tion.

My own teenage induc­tion into cinephil­ia hap­pened at Scare­crow Video, which con­tin­ues to serve Seat­tle’s film obses­sives today. Indeed, of all video stores that have ever exist­ed, only the eccen­tric inde­pen­dents still stand. This holds true on both sides of the pond: though Lon­don now has no video stores at all, Bris­tol boasts the old­est video store in the world, one with the expe­ri­en­tial­ly apt name of 20th Cen­tu­ry Flicks. You can have a look at this tena­cious oper­a­tion in Arthur Cau­ty’s doc­u­men­tary short “The Last Video Store,” which in the words of the shop’s own­ers and staff explains just how Flicks (as they refer to it) has man­aged to carve out an eco­nom­ic and cul­tur­al space in the 21st cen­tu­ry.

“Flicks, because it’s got this very strange, idio­syn­crat­ic col­lec­tion of trash to extreme high-brow movies, we just had this niche that we man­aged to sur­vive in,” says co-own­er David Tay­lor. Since its found­ing in 1982 (and through a few moves in that time), the store has amassed “the biggest col­lec­tion in the U.K. by quite a long way. It’s over 20,000 movies,” which by Tay­lor’s reck­on­ing is “about five times more than Net­flix.” This gets at an unex­pect­ed but now com­mon com­plaint about the stream­ing-media future in which we now live: despite their tech­ni­cal capac­i­ty to offer film libraries of Bor­ge­sian vast­ness, lib­er­at­ed as they are from the increas­ing­ly con­strained spaces of tra­di­tion­al video stores, even the most suc­cess­ful stream­ing plat­forms main­tain dis­ap­point­ing­ly lim­it­ed selec­tions.

“There’s some good stuff as well, admit­ted­ly, but it’s hid­den behind all of the trash,” Flicks clerk Daisy Stein­hardt says of Net­flix, refer­ring to a very dif­fer­ent kind of “trash” than that proud­ly stocked by her store. “If you come here, then you can talk to some­one who knows about or at least likes film, and then actu­al­ly have a con­ver­sa­tion rather than just trust­ing an algo­rithm.” It is this sense of com­mu­ni­ty — which Block­buster-style chains failed to offer, and which inter­net-based ser­vices can hard­ly hope to repli­cate — on which sur­viv­ing video stores have cap­i­tal­ized. 20th Cen­tu­ry Video have even built a pair of small the­aters in the store, which cus­tomers can book to view any­thing in its far-reach­ing col­lec­tion. Should a bold investor come along, co-own­er David White envi­sions “a bar, a lit­tle restau­rant, a retro arcade,” even an entire “empo­ri­um for an old-school type of expe­ri­ence.” And who among us would­n’t enjoy the occa­sion­al night out in the 20th cen­tu­ry?

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Inter­net Archive Hosts 20,000 VHS Record­ings of Pop Cul­ture from the 1980s & 1990s: Enter the VHS Vault

The Beau­ty of Degrad­ed Art: Why We Like Scratchy Vinyl, Grainy Film, Wob­bly VHS & Oth­er Ana­log-Media Imper­fec­tion

A Beau­ti­ful Short Doc­u­men­tary Takes You Inside New York City’s Last Great Chess Store

The Last Book­store: A Short Doc­u­men­tary on Per­se­ver­ance & the Love of Books

An Inter­ac­tive Map of Every Record Shop in the World

Feel Strange­ly Nos­tal­gic as You Hear Clas­sic Songs Reworked to Sound as If They’re Play­ing in an Emp­ty Shop­ping Mall: David Bowie, Toto, Ah-ha & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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