When I began thinking of potential questions to ask Matt Booth, the owner of Poncey-Highland’s Videodrome, most of my ideas revolved around the continued relevance of a brick-and-mortar video store in the digital age. But my questions regarding the store’s outdated business model quickly faded.
As a fan of the bonus materials and unadulterated aspect ratios found in the pricey editions of the Criterion Collection, I became enthralled by the vast collection of films covering every inch of wall space, each available for a mere $3.50 rental fee. From the complete filmography of Robert Altman to the Criterion release of Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, the selections are both contemporary and classic with a degree of thoughtfulness that was rare at even the height of independent video stores. I had to keep myself from spending too much of my paycheck.
After weaving my way through the sections organized by genre and director, I realized that Videodrome operates in a cultural sphere that remains unaffected by the relentless technological push towards digitization. The film catalogue is participatory and creates dialogue. Some DVDs are donated to the store’s collection by customers, who might also submit suggestions for new acquisitions, while staff members recommend their favorite films to curious visitors, all of which adds to the collective consciousness found in Videodrome.
In speaking with staff members, it became readily apparent that they view themselves as curators rather than clerks. Overseeing 17,000 titles, they have every right. Ten-year veteran Matt Owensby described his role at Videodrome as a facilitator of a “collaborative experience.” Owensby believes that physical media allows for a greater degree of discovery and adventure. “No search engine designer can give you the thrill of browsing through DVDs and taking home an unknown title,” he said. “Algorithm-based suggestions on streaming sites [like Netflix] do little to broaden the horizons of viewers.”
There is a unified vision shared by Booth and the staff members. Booth spends two hours a day scouring over film periodicals in order to record upcoming releases and limited edition material. Owensby said that his understanding of film is mapped directly onto the highly specific categorization system (e.g., sections for Italian Crime Dramas, Michelangelo Antonioni and Japanese Splatter). It’s obvious that they appreciate film history, in physical form in particular.
Booth doesn’t seem discouraged by the increasing popularity of video on demand and streaming media. As a neighborhood institution, the majority of the store’s customers are regulars who live in close proximity. Additionally, he says that some of his best customers are “next wave kids born in the ’90s.” They consider Videodrome a place to seek guidance in selecting films from before their time. As a child of the ’90s, I appreciate the thoughtful curation, not to mention being able to lay my hands on the hard-to find 1990 smash hit Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.