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Rewind, please: the video store generation reclaims its past | Culture

by News Room
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Among the little that can be saved from the weak and apocalyptic Netflix film Leave the world behindwhich everyone was talking about not so long ago and almost no one remembers anymore, is one of its final shots, in which a teenager discovers in a luxury bunker a bookstore with DVD tapes among which is, along with dozens of movies, Friends, his favorite series. In a world plunged into chaos and collapse due to technological sabotage, a girl regains hope thanks to the discovery of the old physical format.

It is still paradoxical that Netflix is ​​precisely the platform behind that nod to DVDs the same year in which it said goodbye, after a quarter of a century, to its postal rental service. It was in spring when the giant of the streaming announced that its operation would be dismantled starting this fall. The reasons: given the increasingly “decreasing business” they could not “guarantee the quality of service.” For the farewell, Netflix launched from a giant screen located in the middle of Sunset Boulevard all kinds of slogans: “DVD will always be in our DNA” or “Don’t give up. “Our dream started with some DVDs.”

The battery of propaganda did not serve to stop the flow of articles that in recent months have lamented the closure of this postal service online. And not only for romantic reasons or pure cinephile training. For many Americans living in remote places with poor digital coverage, the service was still the only way to access the movies or series they were interested in. The truth is that for many the news was a surprise, comparing it to the unexpected obituary of an old Hollywood glory that everyone thought was dead. This service, which since 1998 distributed more than 5.2 billion tapes to four million regular users and whose funds were not limited to the Netflix catalog, never went beyond the US borders.

One of the Netflix signs on Sunset Boulevard.Netflix

According to the company’s own data, the last film that went into an envelope was True Grit, the 2010 western by the Coen brothers starring Jeff Bridges. In its last year, the most rented was Top Gun: Maverickexcept in Washington DC, where it was Warehouse, who knows if because of the familiarity they have with the power in that city; After all, the film tells the story of an abusive conductor. Cate Blanchett, with 44.2 million albums, was the “most rented” actress, two million above the next, Meryl Streep; and Clint Eastwood, the most sought-after director, with Gran Torino as his most requested film. The second and third places were for Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, respectively, and the most popular 1920s film among users, Metropolisthe Fritz Lang.

Columnist Melinda Delkic lamented in The New York Times something that is often forgotten among the dizzying offer of streaming: There are simply thousands of movies that will be very difficult to find. She was referring to one in particular, Crossroads (2002), filmed to the glory of Britney Spears. If it happens to a title like that, what won’t happen if we travel in time. Furthermore, the problem does not only affect the tapes, but also increasingly obsolete reading equipment that ends up stopping working.

DVD replaced VHS in 1996 and began its decline in 2008. The great recession and the emergence of Blu-ray caused the perfect storm. In recent years, citizen platforms such as Free Blockbuster have flourished for the distribution and exchange of VHS, DVD and Blu-ray and there has also been a return to a certain nostalgia for the video stores in which so many viewers were nurtured, including one of the biggest lovers of the seventh art in history, François Truffaut, who when the new format emerged in the early eighties joined the tribe of those who integrated with the following phrase: “Since I am a cinephile, I am a video lover.” This suddenly universal access also caused changes in the artistic language of films and in an entire generation of creators marked by this new form of consumption, with Quentin Tarantino at the helm.

Another image from Instant Video, in Barcelona, ​​on March 1. Maximilian Minocri

The movie Kim’s video store, available on Filmin, is a good example of how far the influence of support reached. It’s a somewhat haphazard documentary about New York’s best video store, a place that housed more than 55,000 tapes, including a significant collection of unfindable films and underground. The bizarre history of this collection includes the Sicilian mafia, the controversial Vittorio Sgarbi—art critic and until recently Secretary of Culture of the Italian Government—and a group of fans of that video store who learned everything on its shelves.

Aurora Depares is the owner of the oldest video store in Spain, Video Instant, opened in Barcelona 43 years ago. With a fund of 47,000 films, the business was recycled in 2018. In full boom of the platforms and given the chain closure of similar companies, the offer was expanded with a space with a cafeteria and a private movie theater. Today they survive with 250 clients who pay a flat rate of 9.95 euros and collectors and scholars who flock to their gigantic fund. “My parents bought everything that was published in Spain and that is why we have such an important archive,” explains Depares. “We have everything you want, plus 7,000 VHS tapes with movies that don’t exist on DVD or Blu-ray. Our mission is to guard and preserve this legacy.” “I was born in the video store and I don’t have platforms,” he adds, “either I go to the cinema or I watch movies on DVD. The video store forces you to socialize, you face the bookshelf and a much more active and enriching conversation than the sofa and the scroll”.

In this sense, the critic of The New Yorker Richard Brody pointed out that even the most rigorous and cinephile platforms, such as Criterion Channel or Filmin itself, remove films from their catalog after a certain time. For Brody, maintaining the physical format is not an act of nostalgia, but of rebellion. In other words, one’s own collection as a response to the gaze imposed by the large streaming: “Far from being nostalgic and conservative, maintaining a stock of physical media at home is a progressive act of rebellion between corporate entities and individual viewers.”

Perhaps we are facing a rebirth of the medium like that led by vinyl or surely just the last hurray of a format that has also evoked cinema itself, as in the wonderful Rewind please (2008). In that comedy by Michel Gondry, the rapper Mos Def and Jack Black claimed cinema as an act of love and collective memory at the controls of a video store ready for scrapping.

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