Like you Dear Reader, I love cinema. I always feel the need to be around movies and truly cannot imagine a life without them. Having worked in the box office at the Alamo South Lamar (back at the “old” location in ’06), I got to know the Vulcan Video staff quite well because they haunted that theater. Turns out they needed a few shifts covered, so I applied, and thank the Movie Gods, I got in. Having grown up in video stores during the VHS era, their dusty racks were my church. Nearly a decade crept by and, while the majority of my time there has been pleasant, I definitely have etiquette stories that managed to fry my brain. My goal is to help you gracefully navigate these holy temples, should you ever be lucky enough to venture into one. While it isn't lost on me that video stores are rare nowadays, and are seconds away from being crushed by the Streaming Kaiju, it’d just be nice if we could die honorably knowing we elevated minds with our shelves of dreams.
IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Scores
Customer: "I like the actors in this film."
Me: "Oh, it's great! That movie is kind of slept on.”
Customer: "It only got 35% on Rotten Tomatoes…so it sucks right?"
Me: *face melts off*
Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB should never be your final decision maker. Getting a sense of the terrain? Sure. But I highly recommend you get lost in films and discover your own taste. Never let a number decide for you, and listen to your local clerk. He or she might be able to show you one of your all-time favorites, and you'd never know because of a percentage or splattered tomato.
We’re Bartenders, Kind Of
A good video store clerk will always lend you an ear. From your loves, dislikes and day-to-day problems, it’s how we’re able to gauge what you need to watch. But please, leave the crazy at the door. Racist and sexist comments (we've had a ton of both) while we're simply trying to ring up your Doctor Who selection makes for an awkward experience.
One major example: a regular (who we'll just call Unity to protect the guilty) went off for months on former President Obama – calling him a traitor, coward, killer, etc. Unity also asked me if I had kids and told me to be careful because the President was going to kill them. Every time she came in, we all knew it was about to go down. The note on her account had various warnings like DO NOT ENGAGE. Basically, what I’m saying is: do not trap a clerk with your regurgitated Info Wars madness. It’s not a good look.
Is This on Netflix?
This is the most heinous question to ask. Look, 90% of us have Netflix, and not every state has a rad video store. I get it. But when you walk into a Ma & Pa operation and ask that question, it actually translates to: I hope you die slowly in a fire and people pour more gasoline on you. OK, I'm exaggerating. It's not that intense. It's more like going into a vintage clothing shop and asking directions to the nearest Walmart. Just bust out your smart phone and look it up on the sly, if you must.
This happens from time to time, and the sting never wains. Out of Print films obviously hurt the most. The sub $5 movie rental that costs $100s to replace hurts. If Hell is real, there is a rung for these bandits. We actually had a monster once who had the audacity to steal Criterion covers! Now imagine that scenario: not only are you ripping films to your CPU or downloading them off the internet, you’re also going into a store and jacking precious Criterion covers. Shit like this makes you wish that John Wick was a real close friend. Even a copy of Destroy All Movies!!! was lifted. This was a book (again – out of print now) given to the store by authors, Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly. It’s a badass tome, documenting all the punk rockers found in cinema history. They had even signed the cover and clearly stamped Vulcan Video on top! No matter, gone forever; an irreplaceable gift swiped by a heartless critter to be flipped on eBay or worse yet, resting on their bookcase unearned. Just don't steal, people. Especially from stores where every penny matters.
Wow! Video Stores Still Exist?!
Hell yes they do. Thanks to amazing cities like Austin and Seattle, and to communities that fully support cinema, they not only exist, but can thrive. Considering there are way too many avenues to explore in cinema, I feel it’s important they remain standing for as long as possible. Now, if someone has given up hope on video stores entirely, then this article is obviously not for you. Go stream Sandy Wexler. However, should you find yourself inside of Vulcan, Scarecrow Video or (insert your sacred place here), please heed my silly words. Learn your store, its clerks, and you will get so much out of the classic physical media experience. It’ll help you develop a strong rapport with the very things you stepped into the building to grab in the first place.