TO LAUGH, TO CRY, TO SAY GOODBYE.

Last week the film series I program was graced by a visit from Eric Stough, the animation director for South Park. He was kind enough to let me select a recent episode for him to both screen and then provide us with a behind-the-scenes look at how it got made, along with a Q&A session. I picked the show they aired last October, A Nightmare on Face Time, because its riff on The Shining dovetailed nicely with the recent theatrical release of Room 237, and because it deals with a subject of interest to any movie lover: the demise of the video store.


Personally, I always shunned Blockbuster, the franchise that gets lampooned in the South Park Halloween special, in order to support The Video Station (our local video store). But that did not diminish my empathy toward the plight of seeing Stan’s father slowly go insane as the caretaker of a brick-and-mortar store so eerily absent any living customers that only ghosts haunt its movie-lined corridors. I cringed and laughed in equal measure, sometimes laughing due to it being “funny ‘cuz it’s true.” Sometimes because “better to laugh, than cry.” After all: video stores aren’t the only places seeing seeing an adverse effect from online streaming. Record stores are going out of business by the droves, (Bleecker Bob’s, pictured above, is one of New York City’s most loved record stores and it was announced yesterday that they were closing), and single-screen arthouses are getting shuttered by the hundreds and across the U.S., thanks in no small part to the simultaneous squeeze of declining attendance numbers and expensive digital upgrades imposed on them by the studio cartels.

For those uninitiated with the 12th episode from the 16th season of South Park, it starts with Randy Marsh (Stan’s father) announcing that he has bought a Blockbuster, and he insists on his family to help work the video store through the Halloween weekend. Stuck inside the Blockbuster, Stan uses his iPad in order to tele-commute with his trick-or-treating friends, and things spiral off to include a subplot with The Redbox Killers. We all know South Park is hilarious, but it was interesting to share this episode with 200 people. Laughter is contagious, and it was even funnier with a crowd. So many people came to see Eric’s talk that we came up with a plan to simulcast his presentation to a secondary venue to accommodate any overflow using, ironically, an iPad.

I recently attended a sneak preview for Disconnect by Herny Alex Rubin. It’s a film about how disconnected people are despite, and because of, all the newfangled ways people disseminate information (and misinformation) with each other via smartphones, computers, etc. It’s a movie that wants us to stop relying on our machines, and yet “tickets” for this sneak were only procurable via cell phone text messages, and afterwards all viewers were encouraged to tweet their reactions or stick around for a video taping that would be broadcast online. Never mind the content of the film’s message, speed and convenience trump all. Case in point, the Onion (see below), which has been cutting back on print editions in various markets in favor on an online presence. I suppose it’s more convenient to be able to pull it up on my smart phone, or tablet, or computer, but something is definitely lost in translation. The difference in presentation speaks for itself:

I used to read the printed editions of the Onion that found their way every week around town for free at distribution racks in various stores, eateries, and campus locations – but no more. Although you can still get printed issues elsewhere, here in the Boulder/Denver area hard copies were discontinued and it now only exists online when, and if, I remember to check. But even then I don’t find the online layout as inviting; it’s a bunch of click-able headlines separated from the bodies of their text, lacking heft, feeling wispy, light, and somehow lost amidst the distraction of animated online ads screaming for attention or imposed with count-down tickers letting me know how many seconds are left to endure before the desired content is accessible. The last Onion I truly enjoyed reading was the last one printed, and I think I even picked that issue up at The Video Station. Now watch carefully as I use the concepts of that which is wispy and light to segue to Ryan Gosling:

Derek Cianfrance (pronounced “see-in-France”), came out a couple weeks ago for an advance screening of his latest film, The Place Beyond the Pines. I told him how thrilled we were that he both shot his film on 35mm and that prints were available for us to screen as we are still in the process of raising money for a DCP system. “I don’t know about digital,” he said to me, adding that “it looks… thin.” His words came to my mind later when I watched Fede Alvarez’ reboot of Evil Dead. Here’s a movie with a lot of night shots, rain, shadows, and scenes that are shot in the dark woods, so I ventured to a multiplex with 4K digital projection thinking that upgrade would help me get over my bias for film. Nope. To use Derek’s word, all the nocturnal and shadowy stuff somehow didn’t ring true to me and felt “thin.” I also missed Bruce Campbell, but that’s a longer post for another time. Let me here embrace the memory of time spent behind the counter renting film titles at a local institution that is to video rentals what Bleecker Bob’s was to music in NYC.

Derek and I used to work at The Video Station. The Video Station got its start in a small store on the east side of town. Within a few years its treasure trove of titles became so large that everything was moved to a two-story building that was centrally located and  where it proudly blew all corporate competition out of the water. They didn’t have the biggest video collection in Boulder, they had the biggest collection of film titles in all of Colorado. For people like me and Derek, and many others of our age, our time inside such brick-and-mortar stores constituted an invaluable part of our film education. We could watch as many VHS tapes (or laser disks, or later DVDs) as desired, for free. This was no small thing, especially when The Video Station owners took great pride in stocking their shelves with every title they could find, no matter how obscure, and even if they had no chance of recouping their purchase cost. In A Nightmare on Face Time the ghost from the ’80s looks like a Flashdance reject with leg warmers as she looks for a copy of Turner & Hooch. While The Video Station most certainly carried that forgettable Tom Hanks vehicle, the ’80s were also well represented with copies of Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock and Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik, to name but a few of many oddities that you would never, ever, (ever), find at Blockbuster.

As much as I laughed while watching A Nightmare on Face Time, it made me sad to think of all the local film establishments that I’ve had to say goodbye to over the years as technologies and trends change the way we watch movies. Of course, I am keenly aware that my own fate as a film exhibitor for a locally programmed calendar arthouse program is skimming perilously close to the edge of oblivion, but I’m not quite ready to say goodbye. Thankfully, I don’t have to say goodbye to The Video Station yet either. They’re still around, albeit shutting the doors to their downtown building as they prepare for a move back to a smaller location close to where they first set up shop. And so there we are, despite Netflix, Hulu, VOD, and a blizzard of other online streaming options – still stumbling around the maze. Maybe we’re both insane, but anyone who loves cinema is already communing with ghosts of the past. Whether it be on a frame of film, or the frame of your TV monitor, or iPad, or laptop, there they are: frozen in time and filling our heads with the dreams of yesterday.

12 Responses TO LAUGH, TO CRY, TO SAY GOODBYE.
Posted By Doug : April 15, 2013 1:00 am

keelsetter, in my small town the only video store closed up shop about a month ago-which was a shame. I will never Redbox, but instead will rely on Amazon for DVDs and Blu.
Streaming and VOD don’t appeal to me, as I like to have discs.
What is the future for movies? I have no idea, but I appreciate older titles making their way to disc. I daresay that my DVDs will keep working for as long as I need them.

Posted By Doug : April 15, 2013 1:00 am

keelsetter, in my small town the only video store closed up shop about a month ago-which was a shame. I will never Redbox, but instead will rely on Amazon for DVDs and Blu.
Streaming and VOD don’t appeal to me, as I like to have discs.
What is the future for movies? I have no idea, but I appreciate older titles making their way to disc. I daresay that my DVDs will keep working for as long as I need them.

Posted By keelsetter : April 15, 2013 3:46 pm

The future for movies? Phew, that’s a big question. Or,rather, perhaps the answer is actually shrinking and already apparent on the small screens of our iPads and laptops. On my FB page I have the following quote that might be relevant here:

“Projection will disappear. And the possibility that was given by motion pictures will be missed. The possibility of there being a real audience– a group of people who have nothing in common, but, at a certain time of the day or the week, are able to look with other unknown neighbors at something bigger than they are. To look at their problems in big. Not in small. Because if it’s small, you can’t…It was big, so it was evident. And in the beginning there was not even talking. There was no need for that. Because it was more evident if there was no talking. Only in sports does there remain this fervor, which can even become violent. There’s this desire to see something big… but in the movies it is different. You can be with other people, which is ideal, or you can be alone. But to be alone with other people, and not to forget yourself within yourself. And when there’s 100 people around you can’t really forget yourself. Now, this will disappear, obviously… now at my age I understand how sad it must have been for some directors or actors at the time the talkies began. Because, really, a whole continent disappeared.”
- Jean Luc Godard

Posted By keelsetter : April 15, 2013 3:46 pm

The future for movies? Phew, that’s a big question. Or,rather, perhaps the answer is actually shrinking and already apparent on the small screens of our iPads and laptops. On my FB page I have the following quote that might be relevant here:

“Projection will disappear. And the possibility that was given by motion pictures will be missed. The possibility of there being a real audience– a group of people who have nothing in common, but, at a certain time of the day or the week, are able to look with other unknown neighbors at something bigger than they are. To look at their problems in big. Not in small. Because if it’s small, you can’t…It was big, so it was evident. And in the beginning there was not even talking. There was no need for that. Because it was more evident if there was no talking. Only in sports does there remain this fervor, which can even become violent. There’s this desire to see something big… but in the movies it is different. You can be with other people, which is ideal, or you can be alone. But to be alone with other people, and not to forget yourself within yourself. And when there’s 100 people around you can’t really forget yourself. Now, this will disappear, obviously… now at my age I understand how sad it must have been for some directors or actors at the time the talkies began. Because, really, a whole continent disappeared.”
- Jean Luc Godard

Posted By robbushblog : April 17, 2013 11:07 am

I used to frequent a local mom and pop video store in the early 90′s called Network Video. I spent a good deal of time there getting to know the owners and employees. I always wanted to get a job there, but they never seemed to be hiring. I eventually got a job at Blockbuster and Network closed shortly thereafter. I miss those guys and that old store with their selection of almost every classic and western you could ever think of.

Blockbuster, though having large collections of many other genres, did not have nearly the size or scope of the classics and western collections that Network did. For that reason alone it was a tragedy. Blockbuster stores tried to cater to their neighborhood markets, so my store had a lot of horror and kung fu movies. A lot of obscure crap that I wouldn’t watch. Now I can get basically anything from Netflix. I prefer the DVD option, but I don’t mind streaming old TV shows, but it’s still too bad that the video store as a concept is all but extinct now. I always liked the option of going to the stores to see what was on the shelves.

Posted By robbushblog : April 17, 2013 11:07 am

I used to frequent a local mom and pop video store in the early 90′s called Network Video. I spent a good deal of time there getting to know the owners and employees. I always wanted to get a job there, but they never seemed to be hiring. I eventually got a job at Blockbuster and Network closed shortly thereafter. I miss those guys and that old store with their selection of almost every classic and western you could ever think of.

Blockbuster, though having large collections of many other genres, did not have nearly the size or scope of the classics and western collections that Network did. For that reason alone it was a tragedy. Blockbuster stores tried to cater to their neighborhood markets, so my store had a lot of horror and kung fu movies. A lot of obscure crap that I wouldn’t watch. Now I can get basically anything from Netflix. I prefer the DVD option, but I don’t mind streaming old TV shows, but it’s still too bad that the video store as a concept is all but extinct now. I always liked the option of going to the stores to see what was on the shelves.

Posted By keelsetter : April 17, 2013 1:39 pm

The local Blockbusters in our area were not allowed to carry unrated films, or maybe it was NC-17 (or both?)… I’m not sure if that was a national policy or left to individual franchises.

Posted By keelsetter : April 17, 2013 1:39 pm

The local Blockbusters in our area were not allowed to carry unrated films, or maybe it was NC-17 (or both?)… I’m not sure if that was a national policy or left to individual franchises.

Posted By robbushblog : April 17, 2013 5:23 pm

That policy was nationwide. No NC-17 films were allowed. I always hated that too.

Posted By robbushblog : April 17, 2013 5:23 pm

That policy was nationwide. No NC-17 films were allowed. I always hated that too.

Posted By swac44 : April 18, 2013 6:23 am

Thankfully, our three-floor independent store Video Difference is still going strong, with a healthy selection of Criterion Collection titles, foreign films, documentaries and classics. Then again, Netflix in Canada doesn’t quite have the selection of its US counterpart (and their earlier model of renting via mail never really took off here), so I imagine that’s an advantage, but hey, I’ll take it.

As for Bleeker Bob’s, gawd bless ‘em, but part of me wonders how they survived this long given the way the grievously overpriced everything. $40 for a copy of the Shaft soundtrack I see at flea markets every weekend for $1? We have a similar store here in Halifax, Taz Records, and when it came under new ownership due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, they realized the store had been doing poorly because nobody could afford to buy its “collectible” stock, which had a lot of money tied up in it. Prices got slashed, the cash flow went up, and now the store thrives on stocking new vinyl titles, important catalogue items (don’t you hate looking in a store for, say, Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell records, and just finding greatest hits compilations?) and in-demand indie titles not available at the chain stores.

Still, I’ll be in NYC in a few weeks, maybe I’ll have one last poke through the racks at Bleeker Bob’s, just in case.

Posted By swac44 : April 18, 2013 6:23 am

Thankfully, our three-floor independent store Video Difference is still going strong, with a healthy selection of Criterion Collection titles, foreign films, documentaries and classics. Then again, Netflix in Canada doesn’t quite have the selection of its US counterpart (and their earlier model of renting via mail never really took off here), so I imagine that’s an advantage, but hey, I’ll take it.

As for Bleeker Bob’s, gawd bless ‘em, but part of me wonders how they survived this long given the way the grievously overpriced everything. $40 for a copy of the Shaft soundtrack I see at flea markets every weekend for $1? We have a similar store here in Halifax, Taz Records, and when it came under new ownership due to an unfortunate set of circumstances, they realized the store had been doing poorly because nobody could afford to buy its “collectible” stock, which had a lot of money tied up in it. Prices got slashed, the cash flow went up, and now the store thrives on stocking new vinyl titles, important catalogue items (don’t you hate looking in a store for, say, Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell records, and just finding greatest hits compilations?) and in-demand indie titles not available at the chain stores.

Still, I’ll be in NYC in a few weeks, maybe I’ll have one last poke through the racks at Bleeker Bob’s, just in case.

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