Most of us have probably assumed that the days of video stores are over. Those friendly clerks at the counter who had your dream job (watching movies all day and offering film recommendations) had to move on to blogs and art house ticket counters. All those DVDs were donated to libraries or sold on EBay. So, now you settle down to browse Netflix. It may surprise you, however, that in Brooklyn’s rapidly-booming Greenpoint neighborhood, there’s an independent video store that is beating the odds.
Whenever its doors are open, Photoplay Film and Video on Greenpoint’s Manhattan Avenue is never empty and never quiet. There’s always some locals perusing the collection. There is always a film playing, and someone is always asking for a recommendation. And best of all, the catalogue is organized by country, decade, and director, and no matter how obscure your movie choice is, you can pretty sure they’ll have it. For those for whom cinema is a lifestyle rather than a hobby, Photoplay is a cathedral. (It even stocks a VHS copy of Robert Altman’s “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean”)
Photoplay is managed by rabid cinephile Michael Sayers, who previously worked in programming at Film Forum. “Eventually, the time came for me to do something else, and I was living out here and I wanted to do something local. We opened ten years ago, and it was originally across the street in a smaller space. When I started in this neighborhood, it was not a particularly desireable neighborhood, so I was able to get in on the cheap side.”
Michael thinks the extensive, immaculately organized library is what sets it apart from other long-gone video stores. “I buy so many DVDs, and there’s a lot of stuff that, paradoxically, I know won’t make the store any money. Of course, nobody is going to rent ‘Applause’ fifty times. I think people love that there’s stuff like that here anyway. It’s just the New York shopping spirit. They like to hear a movie playing and hear people talking. That’s kind of the New York I love. It’s what city people want out of life. Plus, of course, my prices are still cheap. You can get a bunch of people in a room for a double feature for $6.50.”
The Photoplay staff is also known around Greenpoint for their film recommendations. Sayers says he tries to get a read on every client. “The person coming in looking for “The Philadelphia Story” obviously isn’t looking for “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.” And something I try to be mindful of is that I don’t think anyone’s ever just watching a movie. Or maybe it’s very rare. I feel like everybody’s turning to something for a reason. When somebody comes in and wants to rent “Interiors,” there’s a reason and maybe that’s the only film that will satisfy that feeling.”
“Films can inadvertently answer a lot of questions about life. Certain films at certain times can be crucial in doing so. They can come into your life at a certain point at which time you had to see that particular film. There’s a perfection in the timing sometimes. For me, growing up as a kid, the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s were important for me, because they indicated a world view I hadn’t yet encountered in small-town New England. They had a certain anarchy and zanyness. I don’t think I realized at the time what these films were saying, but they proposed an alternative viewpoint for looking at the world and behaving in the world. Later on, directors like Fassbinder came along during my troubled 20s and I realized that life is complicated and difficult and seeing someone express those stories was just as crucial.”
Most memorable movie-going experiences:
“There was a great two-day screening of “Berlin Alexanderplatz” at Walter Reade, and they showed it over two days, from 11 to 7 on a Saturday and Sunday. The immersion into that world was wonderful. And just last year, I was fortunate enough to see this beautiful, beautiful print of “The Devils” at Lincoln Center. I’ve seen it on bootleg prints and video over the years, but I’ve never seen it look like that. Ken Russell and Vanessa Redgrave were there, and they spoke so well about making it, and working with Oliver Reed and so on. It was one of those great moments where that information made the movie even better.”
This is the fifth in a new column, Movie Lovers We Love, that looks at the best in entrepreneurial, impassioned and otherwise cool cinephiles and what they create — the websites, theaters, film programs and ideas we hadn’t even begun to consider. If this sounds like you or someone you know, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.