Sunday, December 15, 2013

On My Mind: The Good Ol' Days

Occasionally, I have thoughts about movies that are not connected to a specific one. I wanted to find a space for these among all the reviews that fill these pages. These are just things that are on my mind...

Once upon a time, part of the fun of watching a movie at home was actually going out somewhere to get one. I am a collector/pack-rat by nature. Therefore, the process of driving to the video store, slowly perusing the aisles and walls full of movies, and anguishing over what to choose was exciting to me. First, you have to look at all the latest releases at least once before grabbing anything. Of course, that rule goes out the window if you notice there is only one copy of the hottest thing out. Otherwise, you’re just getting a feel for what’s available. Your second pass is when you start to pick things up. Before you do that, you have to decide what kind of movie you’re in the mood for. After you have a couple in your hand, you may change your mind a dozen times, grabbing different flicks and putting back what you had already chosen. And since you’re a good patron, you don’t just randomly plop them on the nearest shelf. You make sure you place them back where they belong.

After coming to a final decision, it may cross your mind to pick up an older movie as well. Now you have to restart the process. But this is not tedious work. This is you at the beginning of this evening’s movie watching experience. In place of the trailers you would see in a theater, you read any number of blurbs on the back covers of DVDs, or VHS tapes if you go back as far as I. To help you along, you confer with that one clerk who has been working here for as long as you can remember and is as big a movie geek as you are. He or she has often steered you right in the past because they've learned a bit about your taste. Every once in a while they even recommend something that wasn't on your radar that turns out to be really good. By now you glance at the clock and notice the minute hand has made a complete circle and is hard at work on its second turn. Or, maybe your stomach starts growling since you neglected to feed yourself before embarking on this adventure. It is now time to check out and grab some grub on the way home. It must be something fast because the night is slipping away and you have movies to watch.

Granted, things could get testy when someone else is involved in that decision. For a cinephile, even an amateur one like me, compromise was usually easy. I was pretty much down for whatever since I was trying to watch as many films as possible, anyway. Get a couple people just looking to have a crowd pleasing “movie night” in on the decision and someone getting slammed into the “New Release” wall was always a possibility. Multiply that possibility infinitely if more than one child has to decide on a singular movie. Still, you take the good with the bad.

Since Blockbuster has almost completely vanished from the landscape and it truly is impossible to find any other video store, the joys of browsing for movies away from our desktops is already a thing of the past. I know, crawling along a wall full of movies and making sharp turns around end caps designed to get you to buy candy, soda, and posters you don’t need is an archaic ritual performed by people who just don’t do that "internet thang" as well as others who enjoy some sort of physical contact with their entertainment. You've seen us. We’re the same people who still buy CDs, searching for them in much the same manner. During our first listen after we buy them, we study the track listing, liner notes, artwork, and if we’re lucky, the printed lyrics as the songs whiz by. No, standing in front of a 'Red Box' outside the supermarket and scrolling through options while some jerk impatiently taps his feet behind you is not the same thing.

I am still adapting. I do watch movies online and download music. Still, clicking and scrolling through a never-ending list of titles does not fill the void left by being able to put my hands on a thing and get a real feel as to whether I should choose it or not. At my computer, I am also not afforded the opportunity to actually talk to someone who enjoys conversations about movies (or music). Sure, I could chat, join a podcast, start a thread on a forum, tweet about them, or any number of the ways in which we currently communicate, but it’s still not the same.

Believe it or not, I am still able hang on to that pre-movie preparation part of my film viewing life, largely thanks to my local library. Several branches are near enough to my home and have a decent enough selection that I actually get a good sized chunk of the movies I watch from them. They are not nearly as extensive a collection, as well stocked, or organized as those old video stores, but they do the trick. I have a grand time just reading the titles on the DVDs, spine by spine.

Occasionally, a conversation will strike up between myself and a fellow dinosaur. Just the other day, while I was surveying the library’s cinematic landscape, a random fellow about my age was lamenting, out loud, that the movie he was looking for was not there. He then shared that he loves westerns. I quickly asked if he saw the True Grit remake since it was right in front of me. He had. I noticed him pick up a copy of Drive, glance at the cover and put it back. I want to order him to pick it back up and check it out because I think it is a phenomenal movie. I don’t because it’s not the type of film you can recommend to everyone. All the members of my own family who have seen it, hate it and think I’m crazy for liking it. 

We talk a few more minutes while looking at DVDs. By this time, I ask if he’s seen the remake to Red Dawn. He got a puzzled look in his eye because he didn't even know there was a remake. He did know the original and actually said to me “You mean like WOLVERINES!!!!” in his best Patrick Swayze voice. I assured him that’s the one and recommend he check out this new version. If you have read my review of it, or you have seen it, you are probably wondering why I would do such a thing. I don’t think too highly of it. You see, I was once that video store clerk. During the short time we interacted, I gathered it would be right up his alley. My opinion of it matters not. What was important was that I thought he would enjoy it. 

He added the new Red Dawn to his stack of movies and declared he will definitely watch it as soon as he got home. Again, it wasn't my cup of tea, but he’ll probably love it. I may never find out if I am right, but even if he hates it we’ll have something to talk about should I run into him again. I’ll apologize and try to get a better read on him so I can try and make it up to him with another recommendation. He may suggest something for me to watch. Don’t get me wrong, clicking and scrolling while sitting at the computer in my pajamas is a convenient and great way to get a hold of more films than we ever could before. Except we can't actually get a hold of them. Because of that, this easy and speedy method of doing things lacks the beauty of two strangers trying to help each other find a good movie.


  1. As a long-time movie collector (VHS tapes, then DVDs, and now Blu-rays) I've always had a sizeable collection at home but always went out to the local video store on the weekends to peruse the new release section and talk to others looking for something to watch. Unfortunately I noticed the staff at my local stores over the years weren't the movie buffs you'd expect, it was just a job for them.

    Sometimes the convenience of a Red-Box kiosk at the supermarket isn't a great idea, the inventory is limited (looking for an older movie? Forget it, they won't have it) and returning before 9pm can be a pain in the arse if there's a line formed of people renting movies. My library has a growing selection and they can even get stuff they don't have from other libraries, which is a good resource. I live rural so streaming is out of the equation

    Great post, subscribed.

    1. Thank you very much! I'm thankful for libraries, but I still miss full-fledged video stores.

  2. As you know from reading my recent post, your feelings on this topic are right up my alley. I've been amazed at the variety at my local library, especially with Criterion titles that might even be out of print. I also still don't like how streaming is so dependent on the Internet working and also miss the extra features. Beyond all that, it's just nice to have something physical in hand. I'm 38, so I grew up during the VHS era along with DVDs.

    1. I echo everything you just said. I've even got a few years on you so I remember when the VCR was cutting edge technology.