Find below a charming short film about Bristol’s 20th Century Flicks, the world’s oldest video rental store (established 1982). While at first this may seem like a fool’s errand and an indulgence in nostalgia, the shop’s employee owners make a compelling argument about how the way we experience art has changed. To them, there is value in the ritual of making the effort to come to the store and select something to watch; in the social aspect of speaking to another human being about what you’re interested in or what you’ve just seen; and perhaps more importantly in the slower pace provided that allows you time to process what you have experienced.
In the world before VHS (or Betamax, for that matter), when you went to see a movie in a theater, you sat in rapt attention, because you knew that this was likely the only chance you’d ever have to see this particular movie. You might get lucky, and one day it might come on one of the few television networks available, but who knew when or if that would happen. This was your one shot, so you made the most of it. The availability of movies on videotape (and later DVDs) reduced that scarcity, offering convenience at the expense of lessening the experience.
As streaming media has entered our homes, movies and series have become even more disposable. If you aren’t thrilled in the first few minutes of a new show, it’s trivial to move on to something else, knowing that you can always come back (although you probably won’t). As one of the video store owners explains, that Netflix countdown to the next episode prompts you to do away with any reflection or processing of what you’ve just witnessed, leading to a much shallower level of engagement.
As with much of modern life, we are trading off quality (of experience) for quantity, and there remains a perhaps unrecognized value in shared experiences and inconvenience.
Regardless, it’s still kind of cool to see that there’s at least one video rental store still out there.