Just west of Trinity Bellwoods Park is a place where you can indulge your coffee craving, your sweet tooth and most importantly your hunger for cinematic treasures: Black Dog Video. It has been the place to go for area locals for years and it’s not surprising once you start looking around this haven for film lovers.
Black Dog Video’s history isn’t rooted in Toronto but rather the West coast. The original Black Dog Video was opened in Vancouver and when the owner’s brother Brian Gay moved to Toronto he decided to open a store of his own and what there was only one name that would do. Gay opened the store with Jeff Elliot a couple of blocks from the store’s current location at 986 Queen Street West which they opened in December of 2007. The move was necessitated by the expanding catalogue which now adorns the shelves of the bright and welcoming shop. I got to talk shop with Chris McCarroll, and Sheena Shand, two of the clerks at Black Dog and dig a little deeper into their world.
Black Dog is no slouch in the selection department with nearly 14,000 titles in their catalogue. Rental prices are $5 for new release, two day rentals and $4 for seven day rentals of regular catalogue films. Box sets are rented by the disk which are $3 each. Black Dog also has a wide selection of Blu-Ray films available. To get a membership at Black Dog you need to have a Credit card and identification. If you do not have identification a $25 refundable down payment will get you one rental at a time and $50 will allow you to rent 3 at a time. Black Dog gives you a one dollar credit when you return a two day new release rental after the first night.
The hot renters right now at Black Dog are Blue Valentine , Last Call at the Gladstone , Get Low and Somewhere . The Criterion Collection is popular at Black Dog and very abundant. Television shows like The Wire and Breaking Bad are favorites but the all time most popular rental is the fabulous documentary Grey Gardens . There are always those films that go overlooked and shouldn’t, Shand and MacCarroll think films like Annie Hall , The Thin Red Line and Fat City should go home with renters more often.
The Inside Scoop
There is not much better on a hot day than a walk in the park and a scoop of your favorite ice cream. Black Dog has you covered with your favorite ice cream and your favorite films. Besides delicious frozen treats they also offer coffee and baked goods and snacks. In an example of Toronto loyalty Black Dog sells copies of Eva Michon’s Bad Day magazine.
Black Dog started its collection with a strong cult focus. They now boast a formidable Kung-Fu selection. They are proud of their international underground film offering also not to mention their very large Criterion Collection. “Black Dog’s mandate has always been to have a strong selection in all genres,” McConnell says, but the two areas that stand out are the Documentary section and the Director’s section. “It is nice to discover a movie, discover who directed it and then go back to the section and discover their whole library.” Shand reveals. That kind of surprise is what exploring independent video stores is all about.
Why Choose to Get Off the Couch
Why should someone come into Black Dog as opposed to downloading from the internet? “You can’t get the kind of quality from downloading that you can from blu-ray.” Shand says, adding, “It is nice to take home a DVD and watch all of the extra features.” What can’t be found online is the personal experience of dealing with the staff. “It can be an educational experience to come here.” McCarroll adds. The folks at Black Dog have even seen people come onto the store who freely admit that they have looked for something online and couldn’t find it so are turning to the place where they know they can get it.
For more recommendations on films that you might not have heard of and are worth a look Black Dog offers up their selections on their Staff Picks wall. Since I had two of the staff right there I asked them what their favorite films are. Shand suggests the Japanese film House ( Hausu in Japanese) as well as Fellini’s Nights of Cabria . McCarroll’s favorite film is Mouchette and encourages viewers to look into the films of Taiwanese film maker Tsai Ming-liang director of Vive L’Amour , The Hole and What Time is it There?
Black Dog Video is another excellent example of what the independent video store scene in Toronto is all about. A dedication, not only to film but to the people of the neighborhood who enjoy it. Drop by and get yourself a latte to sip or a cone to lick and take the time to wander around, absorbing the lovingly assembled collection. Your inner film aficionado will thank you for it.
The Place: Black Dog Video
Hours: Mon – Thurs: 1 pm – 10 pm; Fri: 1pm – 11pm; Sat – Sun 12 pm – 11pm
Find It At: 986 Queen Street West
Call “˜Em: 416-530-0006
Size of Selection: 14,000
Needed to Rent: Credit Card, I.D., or deposit
Cost to Rent: $5 new arrivals, $4 catalogue rentals, $3 box sets (per disk)