Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Changing Times and the Death of a Community

Need to interrupt our 150 Days of Halloween with a lament of the changing times, and to draw attention to a good cause. If one thing is clear to anyone that knows me, or even just reads this here blog, I love movies. More then love really, they have been my crutch through every tough phase of my life, not that I don't watch them constantly during the good parts of life as well. After sickness, injury, heartbreak, death, and during periods of loneliness I have turned to movies to ease transitions and dull pain. Often when someone says something like this they then slide into a talk about why that makes their taste in movies superior, or why they know more about movies then other people.

Those people are stupid. From the highest concept art-house film down to the worst b-movie ever strung together with pocket change and lies, they are all worthy in my eyes. I have been, and will be, critical of movies I review on this blog, but I never regret watching even the worst ones and will often defend them against unfair critical attack.

The average movie critic.
Growing up, I had a local rental store not far from my house or my aunts house, so we would often stop and rent a movie from one home to another. Soon enough I was in that little store once a week or more picking out VHS's to watch in the following days. After awhile I became a regular fixture in the horror section, this little 11 year old kid who was working his way through the shelf because he decided he needed to see them all. Also because the game section included a total of five SNES games, and the only one that was ever in was Mario's Missing, so their weren't many other interesting sections.

The owner was a nice old guy who was also passionate about movies the same way I was at that age, the good ones were good, and the bad ones were still plenty of fun. Soon my trips included talking about what I had watched that week with the owner, and not long after that, other patrons. Even though I was just a stupid kid, the regular adults could still chat with me about movies and for kid me, this was awesome. It was my first taste of being a part of a real community, where my age didn't matter, but my opinion on Trilogy of Terror's Zuni warrior Tiki Doll did. That little rental store was my favorite place in the whole world growing up, for the movies as well as the community.

Yes, this was my child-hood. Never met anyone else who has seen this one.
When that store closed during the early years of high school it was more then losing a store, I was losing a community of friends that just couldn't be sustained outside of those walls. I watched a part of my life get boarded up and reopened as a Blockbuster. A year later when I finally decided to give that Blockbuster a try, my rental DVD was snapped in two right in the case. To this day I still don't know how the employee managed to open and stare at the DVD for 15 seconds without noticing half the DVD was upside down. I understand that the store died and was replaced because the switch to DVD happened as fast as it did, and I know it was too expensive for the owner to replace all of his collection with DVDs. He tried, a small DVD section appeared around when The Matrix came out, but Blockbuster had the weight of a corporation behind it.

I hated Blockbuster for years after that, and would often feel a dirty little glow of happiness whenever a location shuttered its doors. Eventually though I realized that, while I hate the corporate and controlled nature of the store, its still a place for people to get the movies they need, and perhaps for communities to form around. Indie rental stores were dead for miles around me back home, so all I had were the Blockbusters. Then I moved away for college, and that changed everything.

We all saw it coming.
I arrived at my new college as part of an orientation group dedicated to geekery. We gamed, we talked comics, and we watched movies. We also drove around in a dinky van to visit every comic shop and game store in the area. I was excited to see these communities, and to be a part of them, but they didn't satisfy the itch for a movie community. Until we casually happened to walk past a place called Pleasant Street Video. It changed everything.

It was everything I could have ever wanted, it was an independent rental store with two floors of every movie I could ever want, built next door to an independent movie theater. Instead of one owner and five regulars, it had eight awesome employees who were all passionate about movies and it always had people browsing the aisles. Once again I had a movie store to visit once a week, and slowly I had a community again.

If I wasn't on campus, I was here.
After my first college breakup I haunted the cult movie section. In my second year I stepped up to run my favorite student group, and once a week I would rent the movie to be projected from among those rows. After my aunt died I celebrated her memory by revisiting those years from my childhood, picking out horror movies based on whatever had the silliest cover, as if I was a kid again and she was there with me. I could count on Pleasant Street to entertain me and my friends, to distract me from the hard times, to inspire my art, to give me research material during my thesis. It was a part of my education those four years just as much as the college was.

I remember the second semester of my third year. It was already a pretty rough year, I was in the hospital the semester before due to severe dehydration and a caffeine overdose, after a week of intense anxiety and forgetting to eat, drink, or sleep for days. Rather then be smart and take a lighter schedule, I had opted to be stupid and had a schedule that included a full course load and three screenings a week. This essentially meant that if I wasn't in class I was at a screening for class or running a screening for one of the two clubs I ran. Two of the screening were at another college, Smith, and so twice a week I would bus down to North Hampton after dinner for screenings. I loved it. Five screenings a week with discussions about the content was the perfect thing for me.

After screening I would chat with this guy and others about the terrible horror movies I was renting.
It being college, a complicated situation with a girl got more complicated and I was in a funk again. The same week that happened, Pleasant Street adopted a new rental policy on the days I was in town for a screening, and I had an hour to kill before and after due to the bus schedule. Rent one movie, get one rental free. It was as if they knew. Soon I would arrive in town, browse the aisles, leave for my screening, return and rent two movies for the clubs I ran and the two free movies were for me. My days were classes and friends, and when the world went to sleep and my sleep disorder kept me up, I watched movies. Pleasant Street Video was always there for me.

Through college, and in the years since graduating, I have grimly watched the tides change. Once Blockbuster had swept the land clean of independent stores thanks to a bigger DVD selection, leaving only a few that were able to either make the switch or had a large enough customer base. The stores around these five colleges had students like me, eager to keep the community going, and so Pleasant Street lived on. Now I watch as Blockbusters close shop across the country, unable to compete with Netflix, Redbox, and the convenience of instant streaming and torrenting. The age of convenience is great for most consumers, order it online for cheap and never leave the home. Its poison for a place like Pleasant Street.

I'm everywhere, Dave.
Sure enough, here we are, with another community I loved closing up shop thanks to a technology shift. I understand why, I barely like to leave the house as it is, and I often hate interacting with people, but that's what makes it hurt as much as it does. This was my exception, it was a place where I belonged. Now it will close up and vanish forever, and unless people help, so too will its library and cultural legacy.

In an attempt to preserve 25 years worth of building the ultimate cinema library, a donation has been started to fund the costs of moving the DVDs from Pleasant Street Video to the Forbes Library in town. The idea is to keep the collection in the area, and if possible, keep the community alive and hopefully expand upon it. If successful the library would have the largest DVD collection of any library, it would preserve a legacy, and it would make a statement on the importance of cinemas impact on our lives. As revealed in past posts, I love to read just as much as I love to watch movies, and would love to see a library with a focus on both.
The Forbes Library, the future of physical movie rentals.
I know not many of you who follow this are anywhere near North Hampton, MA, but if this sounds like a cause you can get behind, then I urge you to consider donating. The donation system is movie specific if you want it to be, you can be the person responsible for The Human Centipede being publicly available in a library for instance. Or you could donate a directors whole works, or an entire genre, its up to you what becomes available in the library. Imagine a little plaque with your name on it telling the world that you knew Takashi Miike's works were of cultural significance.

For more information, and how to donate, check out the Forbes Library link here.


  1. I've heard of stories like this, but never one so personal. Thanks for sharing, I hope the Forbes library has a vast movie selection in the years to come!

  2. LOL at the ironic "I♥P2P"!

    Nice post!

  3. I get all my movies from the library. Cool you had a little video store, everything around me was too expensive (blockbuster)

  4. Wow great write up. I'm about an hour from North Hampton. I'm going to look into this.

  5. Thanks for sharing this, it was a great post.

  6. Thats a deep look into your life man. I hope you'll be able to save most of the DVDs.