Who Mourns for Wayne Huizenga?


It was just a matter of time before all those lamentations for the end of the independent bookstore produced an offspring: In the Boston Globe's Ideas section, John Swansburg regrets the passing of the video store:

The demise of the independent bookstore has been augured for nearly a generation now, the inevitable casualty of behemoths like Borders and Barnes & Noble, online booksellers like Amazon, and ultimately, so we're told, of the universal, digital library imagined by Google and various techno-visionaries. The more imminent demise of the video store, meanwhile, has merited only occasional notice, mostly in the business pages. Yet something important is being lost here, something that isn't going to be replaced by rent-by-mail outfits like Netflix, video-on-demand services, or newfangled delivery systems like the Disney-backed MovieBeam. Though it may never have acquired the cache of the independent bookstore, for people who care about movies, the video store is just as vital an institution.

Video stores aren't just a place to grab a movie. The halfway decent ones—in other words, not Blockbuster, which is almost entirely given over to new releases, the so-called back wall—are places where the enthusiasms of the cinephile find a home. The theater is a place to see movies; the video store is a place to be among them—and to be among other people who love movies.

If this seems like the kind of thing you complain about when you've got nothing to complain about, it is, to a degree. For my money, obsolete media and institutions can be pretty clearly sorted into those that had some charm (vinyl records, manual typewriters, dial phones, 35-mm cameras) and those that had no charm (video and audio cassettes, 110 cameras, non-cordless bush-button phones, any personal computer more than three years old). After giving it a full five seconds' thought, I'd have to sort video stores into the latter category. I've never met the hypothetical wise clerk who's seen everything—not even at the legendary Kim's, where the clerks have the shitty attitude without the expertise to back it up. (The real model of the working-class cineaste was the projectionist: Why isn't anybody lamenting the decline of the full-time projectionist?) I suppose there's a question of where the next Tarantino will come from, but since even Tarantino has proven unequal to the task of being the next Tarantino, I'm not losing any sleep over that.

There may be something to be said for the communal space of the video store, but even there I'm not sure. When you browse at a bookstore, you can actually look through the text of the book you're considering. At the video store you're going on nothing but the back-cover blurbage, which, while it can occasionally be entertaining (my favorite being the pitch for Raid On Rommel: "Fans of tanks will appreciate the large number of tanks used in this film"), is notoriously unreliable, and even at its best is outdone a thousandfold by the information available all over the web. As for the argument from serendipity—you'd never have thought to rent Leprechaun In the Hood until the cover grabbed you—well, maybe: I still say with all the you-may-also-enjoy recommendations, user comments, DIY screenings, etc, your odds of stumbling across a winner (or memorable loser) are better than ever before.

Courtesy of Arts Journal.