Dennis Perkins’ in-progress home video store Photo by Dennis Perkins

When you spend a lifetime loving (or obsessed with) movies, you accumulate. It’s the same with any interest, I suppose, although a lifelong passion for cinema tends to attract more detritus, swag, memorabilia and assorted tchotchkes than most. And movies, naturally. So many movies.

For an aging film freak (like, just to pick one example, me), a life spent in video stores, theaters and the occasional sweaty film convention means making space in your life for the stuff you simply have to have. For those unafflicted, the answer to where to store your movies is probably something like a box or maybe a bookshelf. After all, who really needs a movie once you’ve seen it, right?

Well, me. I need to be surrounded by my favorite movies. Or sometimes just movies. It’s why I spent most of my adult life gravitating toward employment in things called “video stores,” a now all-but-defunct link in the movie-watching experience that’s finally, irrevocably lost to us. Rows and rows of movies. Colorful box art to be lingered over and examined for that spark of inspiration that triggers in your brain the need to see what’s inside. A well- (or, sometimes better, eccentrically) organized library of variously dusty cinematic questions you just had to know the answers to, the blockbusters, would-be blockbusters, indie darlings and the utterly forgotten and disreputable, all reduced to the same fate. Fighting for your attention, fighting to be rented. To be remembered. Watched.

“But streaming … ” you protest, to which I respond the same way I did when, watching the writing appear ominously on the video industry wall, I warned you as the tech giants and major studios wheeled out their shiny, video store-killing services. Apart from the inexorable march of corporate greed forcing you to eventually pay for multiple streaming services (How much is that new Disney+ these days?), your Netflixes and the like oversold how many movies they gave you, and that even before they started producing swaths of expensive original content that they’d really prefer if you watched instead.

A closer look at what made DVDs made the cut to get into Perkins’ collection.

Movies were always going to lose, especially smaller movies unlikely to pull in one-billionth of the revenue-per-bandwidth of a single episode of “Friends.” Small movies, indie movies, foreign films, older movies, and, most vital and alarming to those like me, weird movies are always left behind in the steamroller march of technology and corporate profits. That’s not new – each new format shaved off the fringes, depriving those hungry to explore and re-experience the eccentric treasures made up of spare parts and also-rans. The changeover from VHS to DVD wiped out thousands of films deemed not commercially viable enough to bother with, and DVD to Blu-ray did the same. Now streaming. As a guy who spent 15 years walking the blessedly packed aisles of Portland’s late, lamented video paradise Videoport, it can feel that – like video stores and the glorious array of the weird and wonderful movies therein – there’s just no place for us any more.

So I make my own.

If there’s an upside to the inevitable shedding of old movies and old technologies in the pell-mell rush to the newest, biggest and most expensive, it’s that a whole lot of great stuff gets left scattered all over the landscape like so much spilled popcorn. And, sure, it’s easier now that I live in a house rather than a ridiculously tiny Portland apartment, where groaning bookshelves have given way to a room specifically set aside to store, and grow, a movie library. But the passage of time only means that – if you’re patient, and persistent and a little lucky – you can make your own video store, one tailored to your specific tastes and long-ago movie memories.

I prowl thrift stores (Goodwill’s better than The Salvation Army when it comes to movies). Yard sales are a summertime gold mine, people’s overwhelming need to clear some space seeing their movie nostalgia give way to reasonably priced de-cluttering. Online is an option, although the collectors have turned what was once prime bargain-hunting ground into an increasingly market-driven boutique. Maine’s Bull Moose chain deals in used DVDs, often quite reasonably, if you finally despair of finding a playable copy of “Nashville” by chance. And while I’m more of a DVD guy – those mass-produced discs that flooded video store shelves have to end up somewhere – a good friend has transformed his own foray into middle-aged home ownership into an entire attic dedicated to VHS, that four-times-removed format now essentially free anywhere for the taking.

I have rules for myself. I learned that, no matter how inexpensive a copy of one of Chow Yun-Fat’s American movies is, I’m never going to pop “Bulletpoof Monk” into my player again, while finding a near-mint copy of his peerless Hong Kong bullet ballet “The Killer” remains an all-time happy memory. It’s less about increasingly affordable quantity and more about shaping your own video store out of your own memories, passions, curiosity and plain old movie mania.

And it’s not all about you. One my proudest Christmas gifts came out of a year-long side-project, picking out films and TV series I thought my (less obsessed/more normal) parents would like. Thinking about them, individually and together, I plucked old movie stars they loved, TV shows I remember watching with them as a child, documentaries that seemed right up their alley. Assembling a modest library a few bucks at a time, I bought a small, unobtrusive bookshelf for their TV room, stocked and labeled the sections my video clerk mind had organized the movies into and printed up a jokey sign for mom and dad’s own video store. Good gift? They tell me so and have become their neighborhood stop for same-age friends looking for just the right movie to borrow.

Movies will always be around, but all movies won’t. Dedicated film freaks (or “enthusiasts,” if you’re feeling generous) will cling to them in whatever dusty format, and perk up in barely understood glee as an unprepossessing yard sale on a leafy Maine street offers up that one out-of-print Blaxploitation flick or inexplicable Criterion Collection DVD. Loving movies means acting as their curator – and sharing your strange but rewarding obsession with others.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.


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