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From Hammer to Nail: What We Lose When We Lose Video Stores

By Alex Ross Perry | Indiewire March 31, 2012 at 12:48PM

Perry's interview with Joe Martin, the longtime proprietor of East Village rental store Reel Life--which closes its doors for good at the end of this month--is an unexpectedly heartfelt tribute to the deterioration of the physical video store.
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[At this point where we are talking about the value of walking into a store and experiencing the environment of it, Martin’s wife and baby stop by, during which I learn that they met the day the store opened. She was the second customer to open an account. She was across the street, noticed the store opening and excitedly hurried over, and was cut off from being customer number one by some guy.]

ARP: Would you still rather go to any of the video stores we still have rather than rent online?

JM: Absolutely. I want to start a blog called The Last Video Store. Interview filmmakers about the influence of video stores on them. I know from my own experience, when Todd Haynes was making Velvet Goldmine, he went through anything glam rock at the store in Williamsburg, in-depth. He rented the T-Rex tape that we had half a dozen times. So to do that, to talk to filmmakers about what the video store meant to you, and to highlight video stores that are still going. And maybe bring some attention to them.

"Going in some place and talking to someone about movies is what it’s all about. These places should exist, and there’s an investment in that."


ARP: So you still believe in the video store?

JM: Absolutely. I think it’s an experience that is valuable and worthwhile. Going in some place and talking to someone about movies is what it’s all about. These places should exist, and there’s an investment in that.

ARP: I want to talk about the era of Netflix, which brought a seismic shift to the world of home video. So starting around 2008, which I called the end of the golden age of DVD, what is your take on what Netflix means? Talk about the changes to your business or the business in general since it started, specifically now that coming to a store is a choice for movies, instead of the choice.

JM: The first wave that decimated things was Blockbuster. The store I grew up loving as a child, a Blockbuster opened up a block away and bought them out and closed them down very quickly. Netflix was the second big thing, which ironically spelled the end of Blockbuster. It definitely changed everything. I’d have to say that 75% of the customers that still come in have Netflix, either the mail service or streaming. The same way people have cable and other things, they have Netflix. A lot of times people will come in with a movie, red envelope in the other hand on the way to the mailbox. There’s been a lot of bad interactions over the whole Netflix thing. The second you bring up a late charge to somebody, they immediately throw Netflix in your face, like a threat. They’d say, ‘I guess I’m getting Netflix now.’ You know, what can I say? I can’t keep the store open without late charges. I understand to some people it’s an outdated notion, it just so happens for a rental store that you need to do that. I remember one time, we didn’t have the movie "Start The Revolution Without Me." This woman was so incensed that we didn’t have it that she said, ‘Well, I guess it’s time for me to start my Netflix account, now isn’t it?’ I thought that was a rather extreme thing, considering "Start The Revolution Without Me" isn’t exactly the most common thing. This was totally antagonistic.

ARP: Part of my problem with it is this ridiculous claim people have that Netflix has ‘everything.’ In my opinion, and the opinion of thousands of other people, Kim’s had everything with a capital E. But it actually only had 50,000 titles. Netflix says it has 120,000. But you have 10,000 titles, and I feel like I could come here three times a week for 10 years and not see everything that I want to. I don’t understand what people mean when they say ‘everything.’ I was here recently and couldn’t find what I wanted, so I got something else. People are so impressed by the claim of everything even though they can’t possibly process that.

JM: A week ago, I could have walked around the store in 10 minutes and pulled 200 things that Netflix doesn’t have and won’t ever have.

ARP: Way more than 200. Obviously anything on tape that is not on DVD.

JM: And out of print stuff. New Yorker Video, all of those titles, Netflix won’t have.

ARP: Right, they’ll stop circulating stuff that is out of print, and for me that is the bread and butter of why you come to a video store. It’s ‘everything’ vs. a curated selection. This is your stuff, and there’s nothing here that you didn’t choose. It’s not all 50 new releases this week. It’s what you know will rent here. We never sold any children’s movies at Kim’s. A Disney DVD that will be the top seller of the week with a million copies, we got four.

JM: At Walmart they’d have a thousand of them.

ARP: Yeah, and people are so put off by not having everything. Like Amazon has everything, so: no need to go to the bookstore. Netflix started at the end of the golden age of DVD, and I believe it is largely responsible for studios saying that the bonus disc, with the three one-hour long making of featurettes, that’s not necessary because everybody who will rent or even see this DVD are getting it on Netflix, and they don’t get that second disc.

JM: Yup, they just get that one disc.

ARP: So now that Netflix is the thing, you have to get the bonus features separately. And nobody is doing that, so why would we bother to make them? So a small percent of the people can buy them? DVD came in and the idea was, you don’t just need the movie, you need everything about the movie. And Netflix says, ‘No, you just need the movie. And you don’t need the artwork anymore, no packaging, no booklets with essays. Just distilling it to this thing. The thing you go to the store and put your hands on, that’s worthless. We throw it away and just keep the disc.’

JM: I don’t know the inner workings of it, but I wonder if it ever had the artwork, or if they just ship the discs to them, ready-made Netflix versions.

ARP: I’m sure the bigger companies anyway.

JM: My fundamental problem with Netflix is the fact that it’s purely a moneymaking endeavor. There is no care for cinema, the enduring tradition of cinema. The second they started the business, they were thinking of their exit strategy. It’s only there to corner the market, create this enterprise and then move on to greener pastures, like producing, streaming, and god knows what else. The second they started shipping those red envelopes, they were looking to get away from it. To take people in, as I think Reed Hastings even said, to put every brick and mortar video store out of business, then get out of it and move on to other things. Whereas video stores by and large, this video store and virtually every video store that is still in business, is not there to be about money. It’s about the environment, and about community. It’s something you do because you love it, not because you want to get out of it.

This article is related to: Alex Ross Perry







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