They moved over a hundred people and maybe twice as many videos up the line and out the door in the hour I was there.
As I’ve remarked several times, the most common answer I get to the question “What do you do on Friday nights?” is “I rent videos.” So bars, coffee shops, bowling, etc., is all fine and good and not uncommon, but the local video-rental store seems to (according to my unscientific surveys) demand addressing in a column called “Thank God It’s Friday.”
When I was 12, 13, 14, around there, I dreamed of one day owning my own private theater (in a wing of my castle, I suppose), with a collection of films on reels and a projector. I pictured red velvet drapes over the screen that would part at my remote-control thumbing (a science-fiction concept in the early ’60s) and five or six rows of seats, maybe two dozen, for my closest friends. I would have Lawrence of Arabia, Casablanca, a few Peter Sellers films, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and every English-dubbed sword-and-sandal epic ever filmed, with actors like Gordon “Tarzan” Scott, Steve “Hercules” Reeves, and long-forgotten B-player musclemen. I loved movies almost as much as books and baseball.
Rock and roll took over eventually, and I didn’t read, play ball, or go the movies for years.
When Sony came out with the Betamax, I remember thinking, As soon as I’m a rock star and filthy rich, I'm going to buy one of those things.
Twenty-five years or so later, I have a modest collection of movies — millions of people do, but still rent them. Video chains are big business, huge corporations (I’m not suggesting this is news), and the mom-and-pop independent stores seem to muddle along pretty well, probably with more longevity than the average restaurant.
At one of the independent stores, Video Land at Ninth and Orange in Coronado, long lines down the entire length of the action/adventure aisle are a common sight on Friday and Saturday nights. Scanning bar codes and credit cards, taking cash, and talking movies all the while, this past Friday night, were Marianne (“Everybody knows me in Coronado, ‘Hey, there’s the video girl!’ ”) and Ed. They moved over a hundred people and maybe twice as many videos up the line and out the door in the hour I was there. Tapes and DVDs were stripped from the shelves rapidly, everything from Ernest: Scared Stupid to The Madness of King George.
Ed Dauphinee, 22, works three days a week at Video Land and is an aspiring screenwriter with two projects in the works. “I work here for the fun of it, basically,” he says. “I just got here after a full day at the movies. I saw Valentine and Head Over Heels. That one was cute. Valentine was a little disappointing. I’d previously read the book and the movie was a chop-up job. It was a horror film and the book was more of a murder mystery.”
His top five favorite movies are, Braveheart, Meet Joe Black, Cruel Intentions, The Talented Mister Ripley, and, of course. The Goonies. Notice no Battleship Potempkin, Citizen Kane, Birth of a Nation, or Lawrence of Arabia.
“What’s the most popular movie being rented right now?” I ask, and Marianne answers, What Lies Beneath (Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer.)
“Other than that,” Ed tells me, “it would have to be Gladiator.” I loved that too, though in many ways it’s a bad film. It is a direct, high-budget descendant of the movies I loved as a kid with Steve Reeves (Hercules Unchained, Goliath and the Barbarians, The Slave, etc.)
A discussion of The Perfect Storm, the book versus the movie, is going on with customers in line. Both Marianne and Ed join in with detailed comparisons. The line is lengthening and I ask a few people what they are renting. Some are reluctant to share the titles like Wet Housewives and Backdoor Slam Fest. They have gotten the key to the “adult room,” full of the kind of movies that to me are titillating for 10 minutes, and after 11 minutes you never want to have sex again.
“I’m renting porno,” says A., a sculptor. “All the porno I can get. That’s what me and my friends like to do. Just on Friday nights, though. On Saturday nights we go to church.” A. is kidding — he is not renting pornography but old movies. “Most of the stuff that comes out now is crap. I figure it ain’t no crime to go back in time. People are willing to put up with this new stuff because mediocrity is a way of life in America.”
A mother, Katie, and her young daughter, Gabrielle, are renting Return to Me, a romantic comedy, she says, and Buzz Lightyear. A man in his 30s is renting Hollowman (with Kevin Bacon). He calls himself a cinematic geek because he rarely gets to see movies. A young teen named Nick is renting Me, Myself and Irene (with Jim Carrey).
A man named Patrick (looks like a boxer, but I didn’t ask him about it) looks puzzled as he studies the racks and I ask him what he’s looking for. “Something my mother-in-law and my wife can watch and that I can enjoy. I don’t want any unexpected things like nudity.” He bemoans the loss of the local theater, The Village, which recently closed. He predicts that video stores like this one will no longer exist in five years. “You’ll pull more movies in on cable and download them off the Internet. The idea of running out to spend $3.75 and then returning your movie doesn’t seem the way we’re going. Our technology is beyond that. In five years we’ll be saying, ‘Remember when we had to actually go out and rent our videos?’ All this,” he gestures at the shelves, “is going the way of the eight-track.”
On the way out I thank Ed and Marianne, who quickly tells me The Thomas Crown Affair was the best movie of all time. (I am proud to say I refrained from rolling my eyes.) “Thank you,” says Ed. He gestures with both arms at the people in line as if he is about to embrace them all and turns his head to me, “This is a little bit of the heart of the community.”