From the harsh fluorescent lighting to the yellowed-plastic VHS slipcases with ribbed squeeze pads, renting movies from the video store is for a certain generation a wholly tactile experience: a motley Proustian patchwork of faded box art, messy shelves, and (of course) an endless blur of movie titles representing an entire world of entertainment possibilities. There you’d be: maniacally pacing up and down the aisles, scanning the shelves and building a tidy little “maybe” pile to submit for further vetting by your parents, friends or put-upon love interest. And often, you’d be there for hours.
For nearly a generation, renting videos from the video store was an integral part of the entire experience of watching movies—an inescapable part of your regular routine whether you were a diehard cinephile or not. And if you were a cinephile (and particularly if you had your formative years in the 1990s or early 2000s), going to the video store was, in Buzzfeed terms, literally everything.
Going to the video store was also a uniquely physical experience, borne out of physical media and birthing its own indelible micro-culture of communal film discussion, circulation and rediscovery. (How many movies that fail upon initial release eventually became modern classics via VHS and DVD/Blu-ray?)
But forget the Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. Forget the dinky kiosk at the front of Albertson’s, next to the Plexiglass case where they keep the cigarettes. And definitely forget Redbox. Because today we’re celebrating one specific paragon of the independent video store ideal: Santa Monica’s Vidiots.
Founded in 1985 by childhood friends Cathy Tauber and Patty Polinger, Vidiots has long been a Mecca for SoCal movie nerds, boasting a library of over 50,000 titles, making it one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive film libraries. It’s also an active community screening room and event space (as we were filming the above video, staffers were hurriedly setting up for Q&A with legendary LA punk rock icons John Doe and Exene Cervenka from the band X).
But as consumer behavior has shifted away from physical media to online streaming, so too has Vidiots shifted its mission, reinventing itself in 2012 as the nonprofit Vidiots Foundation with a focus on film archiving, preservation and education. But like all great arts nonprofits (ahem, *cough*) Vidiots is in need of support. Which is why the Foundation is currently in the middle of a 30-day crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo. Learn more and lend your support here.
Vidiots is also drumming up support by hosting a one-night-only tribute to legendary Hollywood character actor Harry Dean Stanton, October 23 at the Theater at the ACE Hotel in downtown LA. The evening will feature an in-person Q&A with Stanton in addition to film clips, live music and conversation. Special guests are set to include Father John Misty (!), Ed Begley, Jr. (!!) and Kris Kristofferson (!!!). Learn more here.
But the simple fact remains: any time home video makes the leap to a new platform or delivery system, there are huge swaths of film history that are left behind. Luckily, there are still places like Vidiots, which hang onto these films and continue to put them into circulation long after their vintage Betamax, VHS or DVD formats have been deemed technologically irrelevant.
Vidiots’ VHS vaults are Raiders of the Lost Ark-esque, featuring a wealth of hard-to-find titles all available fore immediate rental, often on the recommendation of Vidiots’ outrageously knowledgeable film geek staff—a uniquely personal exchange made possible only by the existence of film as a physical artifact.
As Vidiots Foundation Executive Director Maggie Mackay (a former Film Independent staffer and LA Film Festival programmer) says: “It’s not about being nostalgic. It’s about preservation, and having a conversation with another human being about something you’re interested in,” adding, “it’s not just about investing in the audiences of the past—but in audiences of the future.”