I don't consider myself "old school", though if given the opportunity to play Donkey Kong Country on Super NES, I'd be more excited to do that than play just about whatever on XBOX 360. I miss the MTV from the early 90's that played The State and Beavis & Butthead, though I'm excited the latter's making a return. I miss the prevalence of PEZ at convenience stores and supermarkets, and I've been coming to grips with the undeniable fact that video stores are on their collective death bed.
I miss driving (or walking) to local video stores. I miss seeing which new releases are up on the shelves, inspecting the various cases, and reading the descriptions on the back. I miss talking to the employees who seem cool and seeing what they recommend, as well as other people browsing the store. I miss waiting in (usually short) lines and seeing what other people are renting or returning at the time. I miss the mediocre, overpriced popcorn, candy, and sodas lining the shelves near the registers. I miss the display advertising. I even miss the race to return movies before being penalized with a late fee.
When I was younger, it was a weekend tradition to go to West Coast Video and rent movies. I'd always go with my Dad, often with my sister, Mom, and usually one of our friends would tag along, too. It was a great escape from the monotony of the school week, and I loved the selection and excitement of knowing I'd be seeing something new. When on my own, I'd usually rent whichever new release comedies looked best. If I was with friends, I could easily be swayed to action, horror, or just about anything that wasn't an old musical. As I grew older, my palette expanded, and nothing was off limits, though I'd usually gravitate towards comedies, dramas, and documentaries. (Still the case.)
I love watching movies, and doing so has contributed to a large part of who I am today -- a pop culture obsessed copywriter/filmmaker. I've tried NetFlix and Blockbuster Online, though when I want to watch something, I want to watch it right away -- not wait several days for the DVD to arrive. NetFlix Watch Instantly seems to be the model for the future, but it's not fully evolved yet. Same goes for the still-limited selection of cable and satellite TV's on-demand services.
We're not living in a fully on-demand culture until I can turn on my TV or portable device, type in Big, and after wading through Big Love and Big Fish, I see a young Tom Hanks singing "Shimmy, shimmy, cocoa pop." I truly miss the immediate access and selection offered at video stores. As far as the social interaction element goes, you really can talk to people about movies just about anywhere -- both in person and online. And for finding out what's what about any movie, Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb are amazing resources that weren't readily available to us when video stores were in their heyday.
Feeling I wasn't the only one waxing nostalgic about video stores, (and that I could use some help to round out this article), I threw the question out to some friends on Facebook and Twitter - "What do you miss most about video stores?":
"I miss the experience of browsing the aisles and rediscovering old movies that I haven't seen in years." - Sara K.
"It's different when you are physically there surrounded by all the DVDs/films and when you browse virtually over Netflix or something. It's like seeing your friend personally vs. chatting with him/her over Facebook chat." - Jimmy S.
"The 'be kind, please rewind' stickers. People really made an effort to rewind for the next person. I don't think I ever got a tape that wasn't rewound." - Chris B.
"I miss preparing for a snow storm or bad weather by going to the video store and stocking up. It was another essential, like bottled water and milk." - Sophie S.
"The unspoken relationship forged between yourself and the unseen staff member with great taste. If you couldn't find anything, there was always that one guy's top picks that pulled out a winner." - Stephen L.
"The excitement of walking into blockbuster (no joke). That feeling of unlimited possibility, that you were going to find a gem on the shelves. The smell of the VHS tape...I think I'm getting ahead of myself. I guess what I'm saying is THE RITUAL. Part of their slogan was really true, that you're guaranteed to "go home happy." - Aviva K.
"Theaters were much harder to get into movies that we weren't allowed to see. However, at the local Blockbuster, I could walk down there at 13 and rent Chasing Amy, Boogie Nights and Flesh Gordon Meets The Cosmic Cheerleaders without question." - Spencer S.
"I miss the extremely knowledgeable film-buff staff at independent video stores, like TLA Video in Bryn Mawr, PA. You go in and describe a dimly remembered scene you saw ten years ago, like people trying to talk over a jet engine, and immediately they know it's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, have it in 3 formats, and recommend Kusturica if you also like Buñuel." - Evan D.
"I miss browsing... and hearing great recommendations from clerks who were even bigger film geeks than I. That was a little different than the computerized 'You will like' at Netflix." - Tom P.
"I miss the social aspect of video stores when picking out a title. The banter, negotiation, and ultimately the compromise." - Nathan E.
"I miss VHS tapes. You didnt have to hold them like precious diamonds. Vintage is always better." - Anquisha H.
"The shady adult section." - Chris C.
How about you? What do you miss? Or have you moved on entirely to a digital movie browsing experience? Feel free to leave comments.
Follow Abe Schwartz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AbeSchwartz