An old man on a swing in the snow sings a song. Translated from the Japanese, the lyrics conclude:

life is brief

fall in love, maidens

before the raven tresses

begin to fade

before the flame in your hearts


flicker and die

for those to whom today

will never return

That’s the classic scene from Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film “Ikiru” (“To Live”). The old man, played by the great Japanese actor Takashi Shimura (the leader of Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”) is dying. The swing is on the playground he’d built on the site of a fetid swamp, his accomplishment the one, small, good thing he did at the end of a career and a life of meaningless bureaucratic drudgery. At the end of the struggle and the monotony and the disappointment of a life filled with regrets discovered too late, a tiny, glowing moment of peace and grace. Singing a little song on a swing in the snow.

I am tired. And while I’m not dying, I’m writing this from the perspective of someone looking back on something that is, and wondering what could have been. For 15 years I’ve worked at a place where I felt valued and useful and at home. I worked with people I loved and who shared a similar love of movies like “Ikiru” and thousands of others that were all at our fingertips, surrounding us, nourishing us. We lived movies, breathed movies, talked about movies, certainly drank movies (got drunk on movies, in fact). All gone now.

Videoport is closing.


Announced yesterday by Bill Duggan, Videoport’s one and only owner (alongside his wife Yolanda Cherubin) since the independent video store opened in February 1987, Videoport’s closing (its final rental day is Aug. 15) comes at the very end of the movie rental industry itself. We hung on longer than almost anyone – best of luck to remaining Maine video stores like Portland’s Jet Video, Bart And Greg’s DVD Explosion in Brunswick, and Bath’s River Bottom Video. Keep up the good fight, comrades. The chains came crashing down long ago, crumbling under the weight of massive overhead, uninformed employees who might as well have been selling sneakers as renting movies, and 500 copies per store of whatever Adam Sandler churned out that month. Independent video stores like Videoport hung on with a combination of thrift, dedication, sacrifice, tough choices, and, yes, love.

The factors are – well, just one factor, really: convenience. Or, if you’re being less charitable, laziness. Despite the fact that its name, when casually dropped by a customer at Videoport, functioned like needles in employees’ eyes, Netflix’s push-button ubiquity spelled Videoport’s doom from the moment it went online. There was still hope when their business model relied on the postal service delivering scratched DVDs of a movie people thought of watching two days earlier, but when its streaming service meant that American consumers could remain on the couch and numb themselves out with all the undifferentiated distraction of cable television, we were effectively sent into hospice care.

Not that we didn’t fight. People in a dying industry are nothing if not adept at fighting losing battles. We started beefing up our online presence, employing our collective imagination to spreading the message of local, independent movie rental businesses over soulless corporations who, again, may as well be beaming funny cat videos as “Citizen Kane” for all the commitment to great cinema on display. Our weekly newsletter, The VideoReport (, featuring movie reviews from Videoport staff and customers, has come out once a week for 10 years. Tallying up the fact that I (and a few dedicated contributors) had written, for free, over a million words over the years caused me to have a little sit-down. Meanwhile, the store continued to do essentially everything right, and customers kept leaving in bunches.

Prices? Videoport raised them a total of three times in 27 years. While DVD rentals typically are listed at $3.50, our many specials mean that most go for much less. Selection? Unparalleled – our 40,000 titles were lovingly curated, scrupulously maintained, and enthusiastically shared with the people of Portland by a staff of people who knew and cared about movies more than any other thing in the world. Even as business shrank and once-loyal customers deserted us, Bill maintained the highest standards, both in bringing in the best movies available and in his business practices. A founding member of Portland Buy Local, he practiced what he preached, buying from local vendors and maintaining ties to local businesses in all things. We were – the time for false modesty being past – the best video store in the world.

And yet, here we are. Myself and our few remaining employees will lose our jobs, sure, but we’re also losing a place where we felt at home. A place we believed in. All of us could have done (and, in most cases, have done) other things with our lives, but it’s rare to love where you work. Portland is losing a resource few other places still have – a place where those of us (on either side of the counter) who loved movies could engage in a daily conversation about what movies meant to us, or just meant. Or, rather, Portland would lose all that if Bill Duggan did what the average businessman would do and sell off our movies for some quick cash at the end. Instead, he’s donating the bulk of Videoport’s collection (definitely all the good stuff) to the Portland Public Library, essentially turning the library into the best video store in the world. So, on behalf of the people of Portland as well as myself – thanks, Bill. A stand-up guy right to the last.

So back to “Ikiru,” since obviously everything in my head is filtered through movies. It’s a bit melodramatic since, again, no one’s dying, but the slow, neglected demise of a place I cared about for so long will do that to a fella. So I’m going to sit and look back – I don’t sing, but I’ll think about that scene, and dozens more like it, from some of the best movies I watched from Videoport.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer in Portland and Videoport employee who writes the Indie Film column every Thursday in the Press Herald’s MaineToday Magazine and on

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