My wife and I have been Netflix subscribers for a little over a decade now. First, it was the “one disc at a time” plan; then about three years in, we splurged and added the streaming service. I can’t quite recall how many years it has been now, but at some point, we switched to streaming only.
I refer to what we get from Netflix as the “endless browsing plan” simply because of how we use—or rather, opt not to get the most out of—what we are paying for. Sure there is the occasional movie we watch, or a series we binge on, but more often than not what my wife uses Netflix for is endlessly scrolling through what content is available, reading a description or two, laughing at some of the more ridiculous options that present themselves, not making any kind of concrete decisions on if she’s going to watch something, and then continuing to browse.
This will usually last around as long as it’d take to watch a feature length motion picture, or at least two episodes of a 44-minute television drama.
I understand the appeal of Netflix. It’s the same reason why the iTunes store is so popular—you think of a song, you get on your computer, you download it for $1.29. With the earlier business models of Netflix, the movies were shipped right to you; all you had to do was trudge to your mailbox to collect the envelope. With the streaming service—you don’t even have to vacate the safety of the blanket you may find yourself under, leaving only a small portion propped up for the remote to stick out as to fire up the next episode of Once Upon A Time.
The draw back of Netflix’s streaming service is that not every movie or television show ever made throughout the history of time is available. This mostly has to do with licensing rights and costs, but it can present issues when it seems imperative that you watch something specific right then and there.
When Prince died unexpectedly last year, I realized I had never actually seen Purple Rain. There had been a point, years earlier, when I am confident that it was available to stream—but in late April 2016, it was not there when I needed it most.
It is situations like this that make me miss the video store.
Our town has been without a video store for about eight years now, and I understand that in our modern society, it’s an artifact of the past. But there was a time when we had access to two video stores—a Mr. Movies and a Movie Gallery.
The Mr. Movies went under at the end of 2008, at the start of the economic recession; Movie Gallery some how survived for around another year until it unceremoniously shuttered.
And, like, outside of streaming services, I get that there are alternatives: take a Redbox kiosk for example, because I certainly want to stand in a line with other unhappy people, outside of a Walgreens or a gas station, as one tries to decide between the five or six titles it is currently offering that week.
There is the curious case of the public library, too. Much to my surprise, the Northfield Library has a rather robust selection of DVDs to check out (don’t say ‘rent.’) But this also means you have to watch the copy of Taxi Driver that someone liked so much that they vigorously rubbed a Chore Boy scouring pad over the disc surface before returning it.
The video store represents something much bigger than itself. It can represent a specific part of your life.
A trip to the video store on a Friday or Saturday night was not the same as endlessly browsing “quirky comedies with a strong female lead” on Netflix; it was an endurance test or a race against time.
If you went there without a specific movie in mind, what is it you wanted to watch—something old or something new? What genre are you going for? If it’s a new movie you are after, can you make it there in time to snag a copy before someone else does? Do you live dangerously and rent a movie you’d never heard of because it has that “one guy” in it and he was good in “that other thing” you watched? Do you rent a classic, or something you’ve already seen with the hopes that it is still as good as you remembered it being?
Both my wife and I spent a large portion of our respective childhoods in video stores—she would frequent with her best friend, where they would reap the benefits of the “five movies, for five days, for $5” program, loading up on Pauly Shore comedies or dramas that didn’t leave a lasting impression.
“What’s that movie where Steve Martin plays a preacher of some kind?” she asked me as I was doing “research” for this column.
“You mean Leap of Faith?,” I responded.
“Yeah. I saw that. But I don’t remember anything about it.”
I too watched Leap of Faith at a young age, but save for the sparkling blazer Steve Martin wears on the cover of the video box, I cannot recall any details about it either.
This seems like a good point to mention that the concept of going to the video store and loading up on five movies took place in the dark ages—either well before, or just as DVDs were becoming more and more commonplace. Halcyon days, really, the more I think about. I’m talking about Video Home System cassettes. And even at the very thought of them—I can still hear the clunky sound the hard cases made as the clerk at the video store opened them up to ensure you, in fact, were renting the right movie.
As a kid, and well into my formative teenage years, I too would enjoy five movies for $5, but would barely make them last beyond day two or three—renting classics like Casablanca and Citizen Kane following their inclusion on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Movies list from1998.
And just so there is no confusion, my tastes were not always so highbrow—I have also seen my fair share of Pauly Shore comedies or direct-to-video action movies starring Dolph Lungren.
Then, later, in a post-Tarantino world, it meant dabbling into the hyper-violent “bro intellectual” canon.
The idea of the video store as an institution, or whatever, is a slightly less dangerous form of nostalgia; however, tapping back into the memories of the seemingly endless aisles of movie boxes from the video store of your youth—that’s another form of nostalgia all together.
Movies, as a whole, serve as a form of escapism. That’s why comic book adaptations are so lucrative: for three hours, you can temporarily forget about your woes as you watch Robert Downey Jr say some pithy shit in front of a green screen while things explode behind him.
During the 1990s, a trip to the video store served as its own form of escapism. For my wife and her childhood best friend, renting a stack of movies was a temporary reprieve from the banality of a small town Wisconsin upbringing and tumultuous situations at home.
For me, it served as a chance to expand my mind—you see an actor in one movie, you like their performance, what else have they been in? That’s when I’d reference my tattered copy of the VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever guide to learn more (this is obviously in a time before I had even heard of the Internet Movie Database.)
And for me—overweight and totally square—it too served as a form of escapism and a form of solitary comfort. While my schoolmates were playing football, discovering pot, and experimenting with alcohol every weekend, I was combing the aisles of the video store, trying to make it a blockbuster night.
Kevin Krein had his own rental card at both Hollywood Video and Blockbuster Video when he was growing up, which is pretty impressive. It's been downhill from there. A humorist of some sort, he is also an 'award-winning' music writer and a cool rabbit dad. Follow his impressive, yet downhill tweets: @KevEFly.