Thomas Giblin revisits the brick-and-mortar video stores, those that stood tall before they were carpet bombed by streaming services the world over.
The world is ripe with nostalgia as we look back fondly on times where we could live with hope and without fear. I felt a tinge of nostalgia as I looked back at life when it was ‘normal’ and free from the anxieties of our new world. Nostalgia is derived from Greek, meaning ‘homecoming’ and ‘pain’ or ache’ which is why when I feel nostalgic, I feel a deep ache in my chest. This sentimentality for the past found me looking back at a place that once served as a pillar of my childhood; the DVD store. Most of these stores now don’t exist; many of them turned into gyms, restaurants and liquor stores. Their storefronts once filled with the latest posters and colourful signs advertising specials are now empty shells, a victim to a world that forgot their importance. I think to call them just a ‘store’ is an injustice; they were institutions where people came together to celebrate all things, film and television. What were once pillars of communities are now lost to a bygone era that may never return.
I used to work at one of these institutions in its final few years, and in my time there it made me realize what was special about them. It was often less about the films and television shows themselves but the connections formed. Many of our customers were elderly because they didn’t know how to stream or download, but for many of them, we were a social calling. I’d see them at the mall after or before work, give them a hug and ask them how they were doing. These connections were a valuable lifeline for many, as we simply gave them a reason to get up in the morning. Now what? Yes, times change, but what about those who can’t change or don’t want to. Yes, streaming is more convenient and often cheaper but don’t forget about our experiences at these institutions. Don’t forget about picking out your favourite DVD(s) (mine was The Adventures Of Tintin) on ‘Cheap Tuesdays’ and don’t forget the conversations had and the recommendations made.
The recommendations made were what made these institutions truly wonderful as a burgeoning cinephile. Staff members introduced me to films and directors I’d never heard of before, and that may have made me into a “a bit of a snob”, but that’s okay as I know I’m deserving of that label. They knew me better than any algorithm could because they as film and television fans knew you as a human and not as a series of ones and zeros. I did get to work behind the counter, and I did make my fair share of recommendations, some well-received and others not. Mandy and Funny Games – both favourite films of mine were always poorly received – but it didn’t stop me from recommending them but as they had to be seen.
Many of the titles we recommended had to be seen because they were only accessible as physical media. These institutions were as much an archive of physical media as they were businesses. For a small fee, you could rent a film for a week, play it as many times as you like without having to worry about whether or not the title would be removed, you could watch it without fear of your internet ruining the experience and have access to all the special features. Physical media is unparalleled in this regard as you had true ownership. You had lifetime access to the stories and worlds your favourite films and television shows provided. I don’t want to get half-way through a film or television show and realize the next day it has disappeared. Imagine that, you’re watching a film with your significant other, and you fall asleep together and wake up to realize that someone yeeted your DVD/Blu-Ray of Clueless out the window. I’d be livid. Yes, this is a gross oversimplification of the issue, but I want to make the point that we should buy physical media and support stores that sell the format while we can. We must do this to resist our corporate overlords who otherwise will stop producing physical media, thus forcing us onto their streaming platforms.
I know that some of you may disagree with me, and that’s okay. I’m a purist, and a sentimentalist in that these institutions mean a tremendous deal to me, and maybe that’s clouding my vision. But I think we all have those things we hold onto, whether that’s a moment or a place spent alone or with others. These intuitions may mean something entirely different to you, or you may not even have been a part of your lives as they were mine. To me, they remind me of where I found my love for film and to see them die out is heartbreaking, so please support the things and the places you love before they become a distant memory.