The adventure of cinema is the element of surprise. You never know what you will find. Never has that been more true than when I walked into Eyesore Cinema. For the first time in a long time I felt like a rank amateur when it came to cinema. Never before had I stepped into a place with so much unique and wondrous offerings for my viewing pleasure. I knew at once that Eyesore Cinema was going to be a Pandora’s Box of cinematic delights.
I will spare you the Phoenix reference but suffice it to say that Eyesore Cinema was born from the ashes of the six alarm blaze that engulfed Suspect Video on Queen West. Daniel Hanna was the manager of the ill fated store and when he saw his job and passion go up in flames simultaneously he was left with the question, “Now what do I do?” The answer was a no-brainer: open a video store. “What the hell else was I going to do?” Hanna remembers. After 20 years of video store expertise he didn’t have much choice. He decided to open his own store instead of staying at Suspect and causing someone else to loose their job for no reason.
The store is a labour of love for Hanna who can usually be found behind the counter at the store located at 801 Queen Street West on the 2nd floor just above Rotate This record store, and that is a good thing for renters who can take advantage of Hanna’s endless cinematic knowledge and enthusiasm for film. Why the name Eyesore? “Why not? It’s cool isn’t it?” replies Hanna, though he admits that the name might be influenced somewhat by the decor, or lack thereof. “We’re here for the movies, people. As long as the floor doesn’t give out we’re fine.” He also made it a point to avoid using the word ‘video’ in the name, “Why does every store have video in the name? It is cinema, and to me it insinuates a level of quality.” A level of quality that truly does exist in the catalogue at Eyesore.
To be a part of the Eyesore experience you need to become a member which requires a $5 membership fee and personal identification. A credit card is preferred, but not required because Hanna feels that you should not be in debt to a bank just to enjoy the films he offers. There is also a premium membership of $40 dollars which gets you lots of perks like cheaper rentals, discounted late fees, phone in renewals and more. Rental costs are $4.50 for two-night new arrivals. Catalogue rentals are $3.50 and box sets are $10, both renting for one week. Any given week Hanna will come up with specials. “I will just think of some bizairre alliteration like Tentacle Tuesday,” Hanna explains, where you can rent all tentacle movies for two dollars.
What are the films that fly down the stairs and out the door more often than others? The Red Riding Trilogy , about a serial murder in Northern England, The Horseman , Valhalla Rising , Dogtooth and Black Death . Year after year some films keep renting, like Miami Connection which Hanna calls, “delightfully awful.” Hanna admits that he has a healthy appreciation for one genre that gets little attention, wait for it, Bollywood. He believes that Bollywood does not get it’s due. “There’s so many stand out films. People just refuse to deal with them because they are Bollywood and someone will sing and dance. How many millions of people sit down and watch Glee every week and you are telling me Bollywood isn’t cool? Come on!” Particular Indian favorites include Zinda , the Bollywood remake of Chan-wook Park’s South Korean hit Old Boy ; Cantee , “a version of The Usual Suspects , Heat and Reservoir Dogs all smashed together,”; and finally, Shootout at Lokhandwala which Hanna claims is, “a better film than Heat !”
The Inside Scoop
What sets Eyesore apart from the other stores? “People come here because people know what we do,” says Hanna, like specializing in indie and hard to find gems, like Voyage of the Rock Aliens , Rockula and Skatetown USA , musicals that have been lost to obscurity. When I ask Hanna why people should even see these movies, he responds, “Pia Zadora? Do you need more than that?” I guess not.
Eyesore Cinema also has its own blog which acts as the internet face of the store at http://eyesorecinema.blogspot.com. It is chock-full of information including reviews, links and the low-down about sponsored film nights at the local rep cinemas. There is also a podcast that two of Hanna’s employees have created in which they talk about film and have their say.
Eyesore Cinema specializes in the hard to find. Hanna admits, “Some titles are hard to find, but no one is looking for them, and some are hard to find but everybody is looking for them,” like out-of-print Criterion Collection titles. If you can’t find it, just ask Hanna. Eyesore Cinema is not just a rental shop they also sell films and 50% of their business is locating films for people. Hanna is proud of his ability to track down those treasures for his customers and proclaims that his special order fill rate is 97.8%.
Why Choose to Get Off the Couch
Why should people rent from Eyesore as opposed to downloading off of the internet? “Because it is wrong,” Hanna says adamantly. He marvels at the mentality that has arisen, that downloading is perfectly legal because it is there on the web. But even Hanna has a hard time blaming people for downloading. “I’m not mad at people for downloading, I am mad at people for uploading.” Hanna sees the effect of the internet constantly, he even tells of one occasion on which he watched two customers using their smart phones to check Eyesore’s titles on torrent sites. “It is an unfathomably huge insult. He was using my collection as a resource. The guy didn’t even have a membership!” Hanna exclaims.
Regardless, most customers who do download movies come in and rent because they can’t find online what Eyesore has in store.
“I have customers that just come up to the counter and say ‘Daniel what an I renting tonight?'” When customers return a film that they would not have normally rented and they are affected by it. “Nine times out of ten they say something when they drop it off like, ‘thank you’ or ‘WOW’.” Hanna explains that it is an experience like this that you can’t get from Netflix and downloads, “This is a tactile environment.”
Eyesore Cinema has several films picked out for the indecisive or adventurous renters, like their Pay Attention Wall of films that should not be ignored. There is also a Top Five Renters wall whose titles are decided by the customers themselves. The selections are always changing and are a good place to start for independent video store novices and experts alike.
The big question still remains, what are Hanna’s favorite films? “You are standing in them, all 9,734 of them,” Hanna laughs, “The funny thing about that question for somebody like me is like asking which of my children is my favorite?” So, which of Hanna’s “children” does he prefer? The Lost Empire , Intacto , One False Move and Lemora .
These days Hanna laments, “There aren’t as many good movies… A good movie, where at the end you go, ‘WOW! What did I just see? What a powerful story, I’m not even understanding the emotions I’m feeling.'” It is that desire to view such powerful cinema that fuels Hanna’s passion, and Eyesore reflects that passion. Finally, just to prove how much I enjoyed Eyesore Cinema, when I left, I did so with my very own membership and a serious intention to use it as often as I can.
The Place: Eyesore Cinema
Hours: Mon -Wed: 3:00 pm-10:00 pm; Thurs – Sat: 12:00 pm-11:00 pm; Sun: 1:00 pm -10:00 pm
Find It At: 801 Queen St W – 2nd Floor (above Rotate This)
Call “˜Em: (416) 955-1599
On the Web: http://eyesorecinema.blogspot.com/
Size of Selection: 10,000 and always in flux.
Needed to Rent: $5 membership fee and photo ID
Cost to Rent: $4.50 for two night rental. $3.50 for one week catalogue rentals. Box sets $10. (Even cheaper with a Premium Membership.)