The answer to the inevitable question, “where have all the video stores gone?” is: crushed by Netflix, everyone.
Okay, fine. Maybe we shouldn’t create a second Remembrance Day. But it’s difficult to explain to those who grew up in the post-90s digital age just what the classic video store meant to Generations X, Y and a bit of Z. I hate to use the phrase “you won’t understand, you weren’t there, ” but that may just be the case. It’s easy to forget that before Torrents, before Limewire, before Kazaa, Bearshare, Morpheus and Napster (remember when those sites were new? God, I feel old), there was a legitimate way to satisfy your movie fix, at a hangout that pulled double-duty as a haven for young people seeking shelter from the harsher pressures of real life. Going on the record as a social reject, it may surprise many of you to learn that once upon a time, going to Jumbo Video to check out the new releases used to qualify as solid night out – even on a Friday . Seriously. You could tell your friends at school on Monday about the nine dollars you spent renting 1995’s Mortal Kombat for the umpteenth time and no one would bat an eyelash. Sigh… Those were the days.
But times are different now. On paper, the decline of the video store was something that we all should have seen coming. Pay-per-view services, which allowed consumers to order entertainment without having to leave the comfort of their own home, slowly paved the way for on-demand video services, capitalizing on people’s general dislike of encountering other humans in social settings. From a cost standpoint, there was just no way the video store could compete, especially considering that in the minds of most, “customer service” at a rental store amounts to little more than “recommend me something.” And even then, the service angle only applies when a consumer is willing to pay for the product at all. Illegal downloading has plagued the industry for years, accelerating its decline and bringing on increasingly desperate attempts by companies trying to remain competitive (remember Blockbuster Video’s No Late Fees promotion?). The combination of torrenting plus increasingly efficient ways of getting the product to the consumer has put much stress on the business, and now Netflix seems well on its way to riddng the world of our pesky, beloved, neighborhood video stores forever…
An old hope
Look, before I end up writing an obituary for the video rental industry, it’s probably worth noting that Toronto has several stores still surviving and thriving in their cozy niches. How do I know? Because we at Toronto Film Scene have been keeping tabs on the plucky stalwarts hidden throughout Toronto in our Toronto for Rent column, so in case you were worried for a moment this may be indeed the end of an era, let us remind ourselves that video rentals are not dead (at least not here). No, it would probably be more accurate to say that physical DVDs and the stores that sell them are becoming more and more the cinematic equivalent to vinyl records; sure, they’re rarer and take up more space, but there will always be the niche audience that appreciates the value of a physical object in your hands, and the nostalgia of an earlier, more carefree time when your film collection was something to be displayed proudly in your living room as opposed to on your computer screen. As long as those film fans exist, there will alway be video stores to serve them, as well as clerks ready and willing to debate which among White Zombie or I Walked with a Zombie truly popularized the genre. And for what it’s worth, I’ve yet to find Mortal Kombat anywhere on Netflix, so there’s that too. Best. Movie. Ever.
Toronto Film Scene is turning up the heat for the month of July and looking at Pornography as a Legitimate Art Form. Don’t miss our scintillating coverage on everything from soft to hard core films, including a look at the Feminist Porn awards, what makes a truly classic porno, erotica translated from book to screen and the golden age of geek porn.
MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE
- Porn and horror: exploring our relationship to sex and violence on the big screen
- Toronto For Rent: The Little Video Shop
- Toronto For Rent: The Film Buff