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Arts & Life

The Video Station Closes Its Doors -- And Ends An Era

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Howie Movshovitz
/
for KUNC
The Video Station in Boulder

Next week, The Video Station in Boulder will close. It’s lasted for 35 years as a fundamental source for renting movies to watch at home – from all the pop stuff to a remarkable collection of important films that aren’t terribly well-known. Just this week I rented two silent films, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Master of the House and Sparrows with Mary Pickford. Neither is available to rent in any format from the most famous online service.

At The Video Station, I got suggestions and information from Noah, David, Stan and Bruce who know film well. The Video Station had stunning disks the moment they came out. It’s been an invaluable resource for this area, probably the best video store between Chicago and the West Coast. It’s been like having a comprehensive film lending library in the neighborhood, open to the public – the kind of place where you’d find something you weren’t looking for.

The Video Station will close because people now prefer to stream films or to order them by mail, and disk technology is fading away. In the current tech world, these things happen. But the loss in this case goes beyond the closing of one store in a small city.

For years, first with VHS and Beta tapes, then with laser disks, DVDs and Blu-Rays, the rich extent of the cinema progressively has become available to most of us. Our basic literary culture has always been available. We have long-established libraries for books – since the mid-18th century in America. You can walk in and find a copy of Middlemarch or Don Quixote, or Fifty Shades of Grey.

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Credit Howie Movshovitz / for KUNC
/
for KUNC

But until home video became available, movies were only on actual film, and for the most part, private citizens had no access. If you wanted to see The Godfather after it had finished its run in theaters, you had to hope a repertory theater or college film series would show it. But with home video, film titles long out of reach became easy to find, and both the number and the quality of available movies just grew and grew.

It’s been wonderful. Good film has been as handy as good books. Now, though, the richness is fading. Bruce Shamma, who has owned The Video Station for the past 15 years, made a guess that of his store’s catalogue, about half is available elsewhere. Again, it’s similar to the book world. Chain bookstores don’t like to clutter their shelves with books that don’t sell in significant numbers. It has been the independent booksellers who love books who will hang onto unusual titles.

The same has been true for films on video. The independent stores like The Video Station, who know their customers, will have the less traveled work. A friend likes to say “esoteric,” but, for instance, the Preston Sturges comedy Sullivan’s Travels isn’t esoteric; it’s just an older movie that not enough people know about. The films of Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky – Andrei Rublev, Stalker, Nostalgia – are much less known than that comedy, and you could find all of this at The Video Station and the few places like it around the country. The beauty of it is that all that wonderful film has been right there on the shelves behind the counter.

Some of the online video companies approach the depth of The Video Station. Some are starting to price subscription levels according to how far into the world of film you want to go, but it can be like hunting in a maze to find what’s where.

And there’s a question of the tangible. With actual film, you can touch it, unspool it and hold frames up to the light – it’s a profound physical presence. You can’t see images on a DVD, but at least it’s an object; it has that much reality. But streaming from a cloud? What in creation is that? Movies have always exuded evanescence but now you have to wonder do they exist anywhere at all.

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