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Tarantino, Aronofsky, Others on Netflix and the Loss of the Video Store; One Clerk’s Reaction


September 29, 2015 by Ryan Miller

The Video Store. Save for a few strong holdouts in larger metropolitan areas that survive on a loyal fan base, the Midwest region that still is able to support chains like Family Video, and the all-too-rare Mom and Pop joint, these harbors of physical-format-stored movies are now all but extinct. Where 15-odd years ago you would still find cinemaphiles, bored teenagers and parents desperate to entertain their kids bumping shoulders ambling down the store aisle on any given night, these same shoulders now sit miles apart on couches and hunched over keyboards selecting what to watch. The video store is quickly become a myth. A legend. Something all too commonly showing up on meme lists like “Only 90s kids will remember this.”

blockbusterFrom September 1996 to May 1999, I was a video slinger at Blockbuster, renting one VHS tape after another to all those shoulders. Leaving the politics of what Blockbuster was aside, it was an amazing opportunity to essentially get paid to go to film school. At 5 free rentals a week (double and triple that once I got some friends jobs with me) we quickly burned through the known titles and revisited favorites, and started venturing into the unknown. The “Independent” sections The “Foreign” section. Movies with names like Slacker, Spanking the Monkey, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Aguirre: The Wrath of God, and Tetsuo: The Iron Man. It was an amazing opportunity to discover movies.

Even prior to my stint at Blockbuster, I was enthralled with the video store. As a kid, strolling up one aisle after another looking at the artwork (I was magnetically drawn to the luridness of the horror section) and renting a few “approved” movies, and when I could finally drive spending a day or two a week at the store renting movies. In my post-BB life, I still ventured to the store for my movie fix briefly, before coming across a small startup company in 1999/2000 called Netflix.

At the time, Netflix was an online DVD rental service operating out a single warehouse in northern California, and with its seemingly endless library quickly became my new video store. Aside from the odd rental here and there from the local town store, I must admit I abandoned the local hunt for a more convenient way to access the films I wanted to see, but the spirit of looking and finding new gems and taking a chance on the unknown still remained. I, for a lack of any better humble word, evolved.

Many moviemakers have had the same experience and relationship I did growing up, essentially learning the art of cinema through countless days at the video store, either as obsessive clientele or as even more obsessed employees, most notable and famously Quentin Tarantino. In a new book that has recently come out, I Lost It at the Video Store, the author conducts an oral history of the video store and the ever evolving video streaming through the eyes of these moviemakers. Tarantino, Kevin Smith, David O. Russell, Darren Aronofsky and many others make comment in the book.

Most voices in the book, or at least in the excerpts that have been released, have an air of melancholy for the days gone by of the video store while expressing some optimism for the future of movie access and the devices one uses to view these movies. tarantinoOne voice stands aghast though at the movement toward video streaming in lieu of physical media, that one being Quentin Tarantino.

I am not excited about streaming at all. I like something hard and tangible in my hand. And I can’t watch a movie on a laptop. I don’t use Netflix at all. I don’t have any sort of delivery system… I have a bunch of DVDs and a bunch of videos, and I still tape movies off of television on video so I can keep my collection going.

Tarantino also colloquially commented on making movies (aspect ratio, sound mix) specifically so it can be watched on a small screen like an iPhone:

That’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard in my life.

I’m definitely no stranger to collecting movies on physical media (1,200+ movies and TV shows at least at last estimate) but I think that Tarantino here is akin to the generation deriding the loss of print newspaper for online publishing; it is not the delivery “system” that makes the content, but the content itself. I’m not going to like a film any less because I streamed it versus renting or buying the Blu-ray. Plus, movie watching (in the theater or blindly buying movies) can get quite expensive!

Streaming movies (legally, of course) can open up new fans to movies at a much cheaper price point than even renting movies ever could! Granted there is a lot of dreck to sift through (just like the video days of old) but there are fantastic gems to be found. For instance, I recently watched via Netflix this great new-ish German movie called Barbara. Without Netflix (or renting a streaming version), I would basically have no choice but to drop $20-25 on a disc just to see it.

What I would love to see would be for Tarantino to partner with Netflix or similar service with a decent library and personally curate an entire sub-section. It would be akin to the old video store sections with the employees’ personal picks (which was one of my favorite perks of being at Blockbuster). I have no doubt that it would become one of Netflix’ most popular sections and introduce fans that trust Tarantino to a whole new world of cinema.

(That recommendation is free to anyone who may read this. Also, please tell Quentin that you don’t need to watch on your laptop. Many Blu-ray players and TVs now have Netflix apps built right in!)

Other filmmakers had a much more positive outlook on the dominating streaming media options. One of the more optimistic voices is that of Darren Aronofsky:

I’m a newcomer to Netflix. I can’t wait for a seminal, “Kim’s Streaming” type of experience where you can get any title you want. There seems like someone should get on it. There are so many good films. And there are too many that are hard to get. Netflix is limited that way … I did hear about a Gael García Bernal film, Even the Rain (2010). It’s a film he made in Bolivia. It’s fantastic — and you can watch it on Netflix. The experience was very similar to how I would stumble on a film on videotape. It’s a small, beautiful foreign film. And I streamed it.

While David O. Russell, somewhat expectedly, brings the current Netflix environment into the harsh light of reality:

There’s a lot of stuff going on with the licensing and the deals where they no longer have certain movies. It used to be that Amazon had everything, but Amazon changed their deal. And I’ll say it to the guy I know who owns Netflix: it’s a bunch of dreck.

There’s no arguing the point that there is quite a lot of dreck on Netflix, just like you used to see for rent in the video store, and sometimes unfortunately bring home as your movie selection. And yes, there are some ever increasing licensing issues right now as distribution rights are figured out and companies do the math on just how much services like this are willing to pay to get to their movies.

But I am on the same optimistic path that Aronofsky is on with the “Kim’s Streaming” (an homage to the legendary Kim’s Video of NYC) vision of a world where you can find any title you want to stream. I would even be open to a “premium” level on Netflix where you might have to rent a title on its own for a few bucks extra. We still have a ways to go in that regard, and older films will always have an extra layer of red tape to deal with so they can be legally accessible via streaming service. Take a look at a movie like Rad (the classic BMX flick from 1986). There hasn’t even been a legit DVD release of it, and true ownership / distribution rights of this movie are murky at best. Will we ever see this available for legal streaming?

(It is criminal that, aside from finding a VHS tape, one has to basically break the law to see this movie)

Kevin Smith has some great insight on how streaming movie access has opened our world movie accessibility, even beyond the world of the video store:

My kid’s grown up watching Blu-ray and DVDs, and now she’s deep in the stream and in the clouds. Try to communicate to someone like that, “There was a time when you couldn’t watch anything whenever you wanted.” Of course, you can’t watch “Guardians of the Galaxy” until they let you, but I’m talking back then it was anything. You couldn’t watch “Star Wars.” People look at you like you’re crazy.

I like living in a world where many films that at one time would have cost upwards of $30 dollars to buy just watch one time (and believe me, many films on my shelf were acquired due to this) are now available to watch immediately as part of the Netflix package (or to lesser extent currently Amazon Prime). We as a collective of cinemaphiles and casual viewers are better for having this enhanced accessibility. The filmmakers of today and tomorrow are better off for having this accessibility to influence their knowledge. The self-administered film school of yesteryear is now online.

While for many of us the world of the video rental store is no more, that nostalgic experience has morphed into an new and expanded digital world. The all-knowing video clerk ready to plead their case for their favorite movies and point you to something new and exciting still exists in endless blogs and forum threads. The excitement of picking a movie based on the cover and a blurb is alive and well on Netflix and their counterparts at Amazon and Hulu. I would relish these sites offering original poster artwork, the backs of VHS / Blu-ray covers when available, and a few choice frames from the movie to enhance the selecting experience though! The ability to expand your physical collection is still one “check out now” click away. Best of all, with streaming, the movie will always be in stock and there will never be a late fee!

[Quote Sources: IndieWire]


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