Mar 042012


Many a film geek often laments the demise of their local video rental store. I myself cannot drive past the location of my childhood VHS rental haven, Take One Video, now a British Heart Foundation charity shop, without getting that pang of nostalgia. For this is the place where I first rented such classics as Rob Lowe’s Youngblood, and introduced myself to many of the films I still treasure today. I wrote about my affection for this period of my film education in a post almost a year ago entitled Wasted Youth which I urge you to read.

The humble video store is all but dead now, with only really the Blockbuster chain still clinging to the idea that there may be a resurgence in the rental market. Sorry guys but companies like LoveFilm, and now Netflix, have put the nail in the coffin of a movement that should have been buried a long time ago. What made video rental stores special to film geeks was not the guarantee of them having enough copies of Forrest Gump for everybody, it was the idea that you could go in and choose a film based solely on how cool the artwork might be.

Now Netflix and LoveFilm are both great companies, and great ideas, they between them cover almost all the bases you could generally want, if it’s not available to stream directly to my home then with LoveFilm I can always add it to my priority list and with any luck I’ll get it within a few days. But what if I don’t want to wait a few days? What if, in this 24hour news, Twitter, Facebook, and information in a second in the palm of your hand iPhone android generation, I want to watch a specific film, that isn’t a relatively new release, tonight?!

Well the answer to that is easy. I just go to OurPrice, Virgin Megastore, Zavvi, my local entertainment store, or HMV. That’s right, on a large nationwide level all we have left is HMV, and ten years ago that wouldn’t have been an issue, but HMV has changed man.

When I was in my infancy of being a film collector, back in the VHS days, I had a part time job at a pet food store, and at the end of my Saturday shift I would take my weekly wages and instruct my mother to take me straight to HMV, which was open until late, so I could spend my gains wisely on a staggering 3 for £15 VHS deal. This became just part of my weekly routine. I was 14 years old and lived in the sticks, what else was I going to spend my hard earned money on. I even remember to this day that the films I bought with my first ever paycheck were East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause and Giant. Yes all three of James Dean‘s films, I was going through my collecting the classics phase.

This cathartic release continued for years, and when I became a father I decided to give up smoking. On advice from my doctor I thought I’d use my excess cash and treat myself with it. Now for all film geeks a treat means, splurge a load of cash on filmic goodness. So what I used to do was every Friday take my cash that would have been spent on poisoning my lungs with cigarettes, and spend it on DVD’s (this was before the advent of Blu-ray).

Armed with anything from £20 to £50 depending on how stressful a week it had been I had two stores to visit. The first stop would be Virgin Megastore (later becoming Zavvi) this would be to raid their 5 for £30, and then from there it would be down the road to HMV for their 3 for £20. This would help me cover all the bases from fairly new to older catalogue titles. A good Friday would get me 5 or 6, a great Friday would get me 10.

This wasn’t just ‘means to an end’ shopping. Part of being a collector is the joy you get from the actual collecting. I could quite happily spend hours searching through racks of DVD’s to help formulate the perfect 5 or 3 to purchase, combining a mixture of the urge to watch, with the need to own, and often the opportunity to complete a trilogy or series of some sort.

This small but joy-filled experience however is no more. The growing reliance of companies on internet sales has caused HMV to be the only retailer where you should be able to browse and spend time choosing your purchase, when you going in to buy “a” DVD or Blu-ray, not a “specific” DVD or Blu-ray. Unfortunately HMV’s selection is, on the most part, poor nowadays. A case in point, late on last year my wife was looking to buy me Dario Argento‘s cult giallo favourite Suspiria. After checking both HMV’s in our city, and being unable to locate a copy at either, she decided to ask a member of staff, she was greeted with a response of “what?, I’m not really sure that’s a film”. I had the same experience when trying to buy the newly released Four Flies on Grey Velvet recently. Staff at these stores used to be knowledgeable geeks (I should know I used to be one), and some still are, but now far too many are scencesters who merely look the part but often know little or nothing outside of the most obvious of cult references.

HMV’s now only good for new releases or your run of the mill catalogue titles. If you want anything even slightly askew of the norm your looking at having to log on and wait a few days to watch that film you wanted to watch tonight. Even if you do manage to find it, you might have to stomach paying excessively more than you would online, even at HMV’s very own site, which has differing prices due to them being run as two separate companies.

I may well be own my own on this one but scrolling through pages upon pages of DVD’s or Blu-rays on varying internet sites is simply not the same as flicking through rack upon rack of of them, knowing that if you find what your looking for you could, shock horror, buy it, and get this, watch it that same night!

I don’t even bother going into HMV anymore, unless I have to, I can no longer cope with the disappointment of never being able to find anything, and if on the rare occasion I do, I find myself checking its online price, just to check how much cheaper I could get it online. This is usually followed by the action of putting it back on the shelf and ordering it online, meaning I have that short but crucial wait, and by then my will to watch may have waned.

All the spontaneity of film buying has gone, that surge of excitement I used to feel going into HMV seemingly lost forever. The films I don’t get online now more often than not are from supermarkets. Again it might just be me, but I miss going into an entertainment store with money to burn and not knowing what I’m coming out with. This used to be the difference between a consumer and a collector, now the only difference is a collector cares what he/she buys.

Anyway peace out suckers!