Reflections on Video Store Day V

October 20, 2015 | By

Rather than do the usual VSD tie-in and offer up some scans of home video ephemera and related reviews (not to fear – they’re still in the pipeline), I’ve chosen to write an op-ed piece. No pictures, no video clips, no stills – just thoughts.

I’ve a feeling that when Record Store Day began in 2007, it was initially met with a little skepticism by the mainstream – ‘Why bother?’ – if not cynicism – ‘Are you kidding? Vinyl is dead!’ – but the resurgence of the 12” audio platter among bands and connoisseurs alike helped the LP enjoy its new life as a ‘hand-crafted’ audiophile format.

Vinyl has many appealing qualities if done right – beautiful art direction, warm sound, custom coloured LPs that spin attractively on the turntable – and it’s a physical thing that mandates some interaction instead of an easy click on a player, or the anonymous loading of a digital file that seems to produce music from air rather than a stereo / speaker set-up where you have to sit and appreciate within a mood-oriented room.

The infrastructure of LP distribution never went away, in part because music stores, as chains or indie shops, still existed in cities and towns, and the creation of RSD seemed over a short period to assemble music shops as a means to trumpet the viability of the LP, and the enjoyment of physical media. It’s a cross-border, international scale programme that happens on the third Saturday in April in which music is feted with live performances and unique LP pressings exclusive to participating shops.

Since its inception in 2011, Video Store Day has similarly grown into a movement that celebrates the enjoyment gleaned from physical media and entering the environment of a classic bricks & mortar shop where customers can rent or buy films that few major chains bother to stock.

Part of VSD’s mantra is to reinforce the viability of the home video business’ physical end, which indie labels recognize as still being the most attractive product for genre connoisseurs. To have, to hold, to display a product that contains a movie you can watch whenever you want, wherever you want.

The movie could be a classic 40s screwball comedy, a forgotten noir, a rare foreign flick, a martial arts cult classic, or for Canadian fans, a rare CanCon exploitation film that neither domestic nor foreign labels have managed to touch, and exists only on videotape. Essentially titles which often don’t appear on TV or digital venues because of licensing issues, market demands as perceived by the vendors, and rights holders not really knowing what unusual titles lie buried in their vaults.

If you were to assemble all of the video stores in Canada, you’d probably have an outstanding archive of film history which, while regional, would still constitute a massive trove of entertainment that doesn’t exist online, or because of rights, is trapped on the original (and often obsolete) physical media they were released, like Betamax, VHS, laserdisc, and CED.

Add the U.S., and it gets even bigger. Fold in Europe and Asia, and it gets massive, but VSD hasn’t evolved into the phenomenon that’s RSD.

Part of the problem may lie in literally not knowing exactly how many shops are left after major chains like Blockbuster and Canada’s Rogers folded, and once-expansive franchises like Video 99 shuttered.

Some indie shops may not be aware that VSD actually exists. Some non-participating stores may not even have an online presence, and the owners may not feel the need to have one because they’re actually doing fine in their local hoods, owning the building they’ve been occupying for 20 years.

Another major hurdle is the lack of studio support, which itself may stem from an attitude of ‘Why bother?’ when sales from surviving indie shops pale in comparison to big box stores, which themselves have a limited variety of represented genres. If you fill big box stores with A-list, tent-pole, and Oscar bait titles people easily recognize, you also give the impression that anything older is either no longer relevant, or no longer exists, and ‘that’s just the way things are.’

Which is of course untrue.

So why isn’t there any studio support? Why aren’t there limited releases by major and indie labels available exclusively on the designated Saturday in October that is VSD?

Why aren’t there signings or live podcasts with local filmmakers, home video historians, culture critics, readings from books, curated short film screenings or tie-in screenings at local cinemas of rare films poised to make their home debut in a loaded special edition that’s de rigueur for indie labels?

Why not plan far ahead, and go big?

It’s perhaps a complex organizational endeavor that mandates coordination among local shops, a central master chef that keeps the information flowing and ensures deadlines are met, and persistently liaising with labels, studios, and venues to ensure events are formulated, appearances are guaranteed, unique product is equally distributed among participating stores, and advertising reflects a unified team of shops in a city to ensure everyone knows where their local video shops are located, and what’s going on.

Using Toronto as an example, the media coverage leading up to VSD on Oct. 17th was comprised of a Toronto Star piece (published Oct. 12) with brief comments by Scott Worsley, the soon-to-retire owner of The Film Buff West; and Bay Street Video’s manager Paul Roth, both of whom acknowledged the wealth of film history that disappears whenever a shop closes.

A Globe & Mail piece (published Oct. 17) with Eyesore Cinema and VSD creator Daniel Hanna championed the indie spirit and value of physical media over streaming, downloading torrents, selling bootlegs, and other venues and illegitimate media that are responsible for eradicating revenues and store sustainability through tough seasons.

A BlogTO piece offered a Best-of tally (Oct. 10) that included some new faces – shops like 2Q Video and 2 for 1 Movies that have been around for some time, but weren’t as well known as some of the other shops who’ve benefitted from word-of-mouth among genre enthusiasts and tie-ins with special film screenings in rep cinemas or at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Collectively the pieces state bricks & mortar shops still exist, are viable, and contain treasure troves of titles that you can’t find on Netflix or other streaming variants. There’s a slightly different stance between the Globe and Star pieces – one championing a single shop, the other more of a cautionary alert on an industry that’s being neglected by itself (spanning studios, shops, and once-in-a-blue-moon customers) – but the contrast shows that unlike the LP, home video product (DVD / Blu-ray) has an image problem outside of collectors and heavy film connoisseurs.

The music labels realized the LP was a means to resell catalogue titles on high quality vinyl, as well as music to a younger demographic willing to part with hard cash. Like the music industry, the movie studios have focused on building digital infrastructure and licensing back catalogue to digital vendors, so one can argue that to some degree it’s an issue of perception (the ‘Why bother? They’re all dying’ view), and perhaps not knowing exactly who’s left, because in spite of the international tally on the official VSD website, it’s still kind of nebulous, if not dependent on who stands up and gets their name on the list, or is spotlighted in a media piece.

The Toronto articles perhaps represent the most independent media coverage VSD can gain at present: this is what the major papers and sites can do, but it’s a preamble to the coordinated P.R. local shops have to organize on their own, sharing information on social media and presenting an image that’s inclusive. With maybe 10 shops left in Toronto, there’s no competition; it’s a collegiate of businesses working together, sharing customers so the spirit of VSD and the local home video industry is whole.

VSD can evolve into an event that transcends more than the old bricks & mortar rental / buying activities it seeks to preserve, and part of that may necessitate involving other venues that may not specialize in films exclusively, but make up a smaller but no less viable stores to buy movies on disc.

It should remain a celebration of the indie spirit (single shops as well as franchises not owned by big chains and studios), and one that has to grow / sustain itself in what’s a climate where shops do close, and one in which few new ventures rarely take their place (Toronto will have lost 3 by the end of 2015).

VSD is a brilliant concept that’s reminded neighbourhoods of what hasn’t vanished and is still an important source of home entertainment and film history, but prior to VSD VI in 2016, the event might mandate a rethink to ensure it adapts, and prospers.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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