Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Where Art Thou, Indie Rentals?

It's a scattered world these days for the hapless movie renter. Now that I'm in Houston, I realize I've been spoiled these last nine years since I left New York: all the cities I've lived in since then have had good-to-excellent video stores within a short walk from wherever I was living.

Providence had two possibilities: Esta's Too on Thayer Street (is it still holding out?) and the superior Acme Video near Wickenden.

Philadelphia had the motherlode: Beaux Arts Video on Spruce Street, where trundled-away plastic bins on the floor were crammed with dusty, disorganized boxes for movies nobody ever rented (I would often pick something at random out of these bins. "Okay, we're watching 'I Love You, Alice B. Toklas' *cough sneeze gag*); TLA, just like the ones in New York; and Video City on 20th. All great.

Cambridge has just one such video store, Hollywood Express (not to be confused with the "Hollywood Video" chain), but it is truly outstanding.  

But here? I'm still looking, but it's grim here in Houston, a wasteland. No sign of so much as a mildewy basement with a passable "employee's picks" rack.

Oh sure, there's Blockbuster, but that place has changed: 100 copies of some new release, and an odd handful of token "Classics," a rather patronizing way to refer to, I guess, "Good Movies."

What else is there out there? Redbox is like a slot machine. You could hit it big- I rented Terri out of one of those boxes, after all- but it is the most strangely curated little menu of movies you'll find anywhere, and I never have interest in 90% of them. 

You've got the Netflix streaming options, but those remind me of searching through tv guide in the 80's to see what was on HBO (Let's see… InnerspaceOverboardTransylvania 6-5000OverboardTransylvania 6-5000InnerspaceInnerspace…) The mailing service is great, actually, but it's a dance of scheduling, delayed gratification,  and the conflict of what I think I'm going to want to watch three days from now vs. what I'm actually going to want to watch three days from now.

There will be a day when it's easy to see anything you want at home, as soon as you want it, cheaply. And legally. I realize there's this "bit torrent" thing, but the one time I tried to figure out how that works, it just made me feel old, and a little pathetic.

What I'm getting at is, the independent brick-and-mortar video store- a species declared extinct not less than 4 years ago, with much pageantry, in the magnificent Be Kind Rewind- is sorely needed as a bridge to that future date of total instant access. In today's landscape, it is the one legitimate option for someone who takes movies seriously and wants a decent selection at their fingertips- not to mention the opportunity to chat with a clerk who probably has a graduate degree and who also takes movies seriously, very, very seriously, in fact.

So my search for a good place to rent in Houston is a real mission, a personal mission. Cactus Music, a local vinyl institution, once rented movies, but when I visited and asked their staff they said that ended some time ago. They also said that the independent places- all of them- have folded, as far as they knew. Although there was one place- what was it called? A murmur ran through the space behind the counter. Oh yes, it's called… Audio Video Plus. Of course! They're still around, right? Don't they still rent movies?

This is an ad I found for Audio Video Plus. As you watch it, imagine me getting really, really psyched.

Houston comes through after all! A wonderland of half-inch nostalgia!

But I called, and as of just a couple of months ago, they stopped renting videos.

Can you not feel my agony, people?!?



  1. 1. Beaux Arts Video is now a junk shop as my from-the-shuttlebus-window snap dated three weeks ago shows. I won't forget the mean guy behind the counter there. And what about that place around the corner from 18th and Pine? I think that's the dusty one you're remembering. Another gem.

    2. I was just thinking about this problem as Roger Ebert alerted me to the Criterion sale at Barnes and Noble. I think we have to start collecting and I've already starting filling my "shopping cart." As much as I'd like to keep material things minimal, I know all the available movies in Houston (exclusively at the library!) and it's not much. However, we could create an interesting programming series out this situation..."Found: Films at the Library."

    3. I hate that last picture of a random guy. Why don't you just use an emoticon? The amazing Audio Visual Plus ad deserves better company.

    4. Excellent, overall.

    1. The place around the corner from 18th and Pine was Video City. Beaux Arts really was dusty, I swear.

      The library! I forgot to mention that- but it's mostly stuff like "Berlin Alexanderplatz." Wanna try watching that?