In those who grew up cruising record stores, I've noticed a certain reverence for vinyl. When you talk about the state of music in the presence of these people, they get a far away look in their eye and declare that music has never been the same since, not just file sharing, but cassette tapes. They will be eager to tell you that nothing compares to walking into a record store, physically searching for an album in a series of long bins, taking it home and listening to it start to finish. They will also be quick to point out, that imperfection of sound is a grand part of the experience. That every pop and hiss creates a level of personality to the music that you can't get with iTunes. That this format for music, is perfect in its imperfection.
I was a child when records were still mildly in fashion, my mother had a grand collection of vinyl. We listened to 8-Tracks in our family pickup. I hit puberty and made my share of mixed tapes for would-be girlfriends and Napster hit big when I was a freshman in college. Being a young witness to the changing of technology, I find that I hold true to no particular dogma when it comes to music. I like music, but I don't care about the format.
However, while contemplating this I realized that while I never grew up going to record stores, I did grow up going to video stores. I realized I hold the same reverence for the video store. Though I studied theatre while I was at university, most of my previous experience in entertainment had been movie related. My hometown was (and is) very small so we hadn't a community theatre and high school theatre was really only good for one (maybe two) plays a year. Pic-A-Flick was just up the street from my house and we would often go there as family on weekends to rent a video for each of us. It was independently owned by a woman named Linda who, if memory serves, looked something like this:
Since the nearest movie theater was a town away, this was how I began developing my diet for cinema.
Looking back in my tiny child's brain, I thought that their selection was immense and I often wondered how long it would take me to watch every single film they had in stock. They had a large collection of classic films, westerns and horror. This was the place where I first rented Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. I remember going and looking at the box art, taking an inordinate amount of time to soak up the synopses and making my choices carefully. They usually had only one copy of each film in stock, so patience was a virtue.
Like those record fiends who view every scratch and pop on their favorite album as an essential part of the experience, I too find that watching a nubile young woman face off against Freddy Krueger without warped sound and some amount of video degradation seems a little...off. To me, this imperfection added new layers to film, unintended by it's makers. I also miss the physical experience of searching for something I could hold in my hand, something real, not just ones and zeroes. I think back fondly of the smell of those cardboard cases and remember what it was like to put work into something I wanted to see.
I definitely miss my hometown video store, but I don't bemoan it's closing. It was inevitable. For a time, corporate stores provided more selection and a change in format, DVDs. But even Blockbuster and Hollywood Video had to make way for services like Netflix and Xfinity. What I do bemoan and find myself slightly ashamed of is the fact that, with so many choices and ways to watch movies, I find my tolerance for watching films in this way a little weak.
Like many of you, my Netflix Queue is running over with movies that simply sit their, unwatched. Placed their because it was always something I wanted to see or should have seen, or a film that looked vaguely interesting. And because I didn't have to walk to a physical location, browse and choose carefully. Because my payment for this service is automated and I needn't hand over physical money, I take for granted this catalogue of entertainment and occasionally (and I hate to admit this) make it through only five minutes of a film before moving onto the next one.
Not having to put in any work to search for movies I might like, has made me lazy in my movie habits. The recommendations function on services like this can be helpful, but can also prevent a viewer from branching out and trying new things. And, since it's so easy to give up on a movie, we may find ourselves shutting off classics like 2001 a Space Odyssey for something like Ice Road Truckers.
This article isn't meant to be a eulogy for a dead venue. Instead, it is more of an exploration of where we may be headed as an art-literate culture. Is everything disposable now? I'm not sure I believe that, but what I do believe is that I have to work harder than I used to put effort into my own movie watching experience. On an not entirely unrelated note, how long has it been since you purchased an entire album and listened to it start to finish?