DVD rentals on death row

DVD stores are enduring a slow and painful death.
DVD stores are enduring a slow and painful death.

My local video store closed about three months ago. It went from a well-stocked shop that had everything, from the staples (Love Actually, Citizen Kane, Private Benjamin) to box sets and a reasonably good foreign film section where you could always find a copy of Wings of Desire or The Double Life of Véronique.

But over the past six months, like so many video stores around the world, it endured a slow and painful death. Video killed the radio star, so now maybe it was time for revenge.

Shelves started to thin out, "latest releases" dwindled, and soon stock was for sale (followed by the actual shelving), until all that was left was a few copies of Demi Moore's Striptease, ancient X-Box games and torn posters of The Royal Tenenbaums.

The demise of the local video store, along with the milk bar, the manual typewriter and Polaroid cameras is inevitable and yes, downloading a movie is cheaper and more efficient, but watching a video at home always seemed to have more to do with chilling out than it did saving time.

Along with relaxing, there were times when you'd "event rent" — moments in life when only renting a DVD would do. When hungover, you'd choose Bridesmaids, on Boxing Day, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, for insomnia, any of the Bourne franchise, on a scorching hot day, Jaws, if nursing a broken heart, Breathless, and on a rainy Sunday, Rebecca.

Like trawling between shelves at a bookshop, there was something about cruising down to the video store — the inevitable bickering about which movie to get ("We'll never watch five movies in three days!"), the sniggering over the hilariously bad triple-X titles, and the secret longing that all five copies of Batman Begins weren't already out.

An added bonus was catching up with the "video guy", a particular breed who shares his or her DNA code with every other person around the globe who has ever had the lucky job of working behind the counter.

They were usually incredibly passionate about film and free with their assessments about whatever you happened to be watching. If you were lucky enough to develop a rapport, they were just as astute as Margaret and David. The good ones never judged, they just cracked open the case with one hand, their face unreadable, while they searched for the Twilight disc.

There are still a few reliably good video stores around, staffed by those same guys (usually bearded) who have an encyclopedic knowledge that could rival Leonard Maltin's - but they are definitely on the endangered list.

A few weeks ago someone smashed in the front window of the closed shop near me, so now it looks like it belongs in one of those photo essays about abandoned buildings in Detroit. One afternoon while I was walking past, a teenage girl in a twirly skirt, who looked like she should be on a cover of Frankie, stood posing in front of the window, the '80s-style sign-writing emblazed on the glass. Her boyfriend took a photo from across the road with his iPhone (destined for Hipstamatic) - no doubt suspecting that this was their last chance.

This story DVD rentals on death row first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.