08
Jun
08

Ode to Days of Video Rental Past

Watching everything change suddenly (although this stuff was coming) I wanted to take a moment and reflect on what it was like growing up with video stores for those who can remember, and those who will probably never know. Here we go:

 

I lived in a small town outside a larger city (that city being Louisville). It was more of a suburban town that some envisioned rural existence that we all allude to, but it was pretty close to that, too. I remember the small video store we had in a small strip mall. In the days when Blockbuster wasn’t in the small towns chains like Roadrunner Video existed and they were nothing more than white walls with scattered videos, and an occasional poster adding a sense of decoration to the place. A constant was the New Release wall, which was consistently rented out.

 

Once you went to rent something, the cashier/clerk pulled out a “card catalog” that had your name somewhere in it. You presented your laminated card, paid your money, and had the movie returned in the next day or two or late fees would accrue (part of the reason for your name on the index card I think). And the card was not digitized; basically, the name of the video store, your signature, and it was laminated.

 

As for getting new releases, good luck. I remember when “Back to the Future 3” came out on video. I had to wait a week before there was a copy available. For whatever reasons “new releases” were limited. Some people waited a month before even considering renting something new.

 

Another service of the video stores was the rental of VCRs. If you couldn’t afford a VCR, or you were going on a trip, you could always pop down to the video store and see if they had any VCRs to rent with the movies you wanted to watch.

 

Should you have lost or misplaced the movie you rented, you were pretty much screwed. Video stores charged at least $99 for a replacement of the movie you lost.

 

By the late Nineties, I worked as a CSR for Hollywood Video. DVD’s were just beginning, so there was still a gigantic amount of VHS tapes. People dropped off their tapes and we’d put three at a time into the videocassette rewinders. We refused to rent to someone whose late fees were enormous.

 

There used to be “screener” copies of movies. Basically, we would get the “screener” copy about a month or two before it came out on video and we rented them from management with the 1-2 day return policy. Any time you watched these, the words “Screener copy -not for sale etc.” appeared on the bottom about every few minutes while you were watching the movie. The Heads of the company did this so when someone came in asking how the movie was, we would be able to tell them. Now, I think they either lie or just say, “I don’t know.” Something HV instituted was the fact that employees could not rent New Releases during their first two weeks. Unless we saw the screener, we either lied or simply stated that we didn’t know.

 

And, people will rent anything. ANYTHING. If you had a movie of Pierce Brosnan sitting on a park bench next to a flaming bag of dog crap, people would watch it (now, they would put it on YouTube and forward it to their friends). Where else but the video market can you find a movie where Burt Reynolds and Ice-T starred together? If at any time you wondered where such-and-such actor went, go to the video store; they’re still working.

 

The first month or so working at the store was pretty cool. I would go to work at six and be home sometime around 1 or 2 in the morning. Waking up around noon I would pop in a movie then kill some time before going back to work; it was a great way to catch up on stuff I had never seen.

 

Speaking of watching stuff outside of work, while at work we had to put on G/PG fare. I can tell you that I’ve heard “Mulan” about a million times, but have never watched more than thirty seconds. True story. One night I put in a “Best of the Muppet Show,” and all of us died laughing when we watched Viking Muppets torch and pillage a village, all to the tune of “In the Navy.”

 

And yes, we had our share of theft. The worst occurred when the movie “Virus” came out. We had a lot of copies walk out. Our thought was: if you’re going to steal a movie, why not steal a GOOD one?

 

Just a trip down video lane,

-Chas

 

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