Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Ex-Video Store Employee Favorites - Ariel Schudson ""

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ex-Video Store Employee Favorites - Ariel Schudson

Ariel Schudson is a former video store professional whose path in the VHS-arts translated to a career in moving image archiving and film preservation. She is currently finishing her Master's degree in Moving Image Archive Studies at UCLA, serves as the President of the Student Chapter of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), and writes regularly for CraveOnline. She knows in her heart that The Saw Is Family is the video store.

When I started working at Westside Video in Santa Cruz, CA, I wasn’t old enough to drink and I was in junior college. I was 19 years old. That was about 15 years ago. Since then, I have worked in:

1) An ex-patriate video store smack dab in the middle of Prague, in the Czech Republic. We got discounts on beer. I hung out with one of the guys from Killing Joke. If you think this job was the penultimate Video Store Job? It kinda was.
2) Another video store in Santa Cruz. The customers were asleep I think! It was so boring I don’t even remember the name of it. I only worked there for a few months after I got back from being out of the country. I graduated and returned home to Los Angeles and got a job at….
3) Amoeba Records (not a video rental place, but hey- a recommendation is a recommendation, right?)
4) Rocket Video in Hollywood. I MISS THIS PLACE. RIP ROCKET VIDEO, 4-EVA. Oh, the stories…oh, goodgracious the STORIES.

They say that you never forget your first.
Especially in Video Store Employment. Okay, so…maybe they don’t exactly say that, but I would say that. The guy who hired me at Westside Video was this guy named Gary. He was weird as hell. As in, he had no friends and went to Disneyland with little kids who were not related to him and it was weird. His sister Karen worked there too. She lived up in the trailer park with her two kids. She had served in the military, but boyhowdy could she repair a VHS tape! Westside was the video store for everyone at UCSC, and on 4/20, our entire section of Cheech & Chong films was gone before 1 in the afternoon.

I loved my job in a video store more than anything. I miss it. Even today, publishing regularly and my career as a film archivist going quite nicely…I miss it.

So here are a few of the films that, while working at a video store, I would either recommend or I kept on my Employee Pick’s shelf FOREVER. They are generally ones I discovered during my Video Store tenure, but a few are Tried & True. Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t know if all of them are actually available on DVD or Blu-ray. But they’re all worth a shot. Or they were when I was 19. Some of them I haven’t seen in quite a long time, but I am willing to vouch for each and every one.

So, let’s go back. To a simpler time. A time when I spent every night heaving huge stacks of VHS tapes around a tiny store in a beachfront University town, wishing that stupid FRANKENHOOKER box still worked so I could figure out what the hell it used to say when you pressed the button on the front….

1) Icicle Thief – Maurizio Nichetti – 1989 – VHS
Okay, so this is and isn’t what it sounds like. Yes, it’s Italian. No, it’s not neo-realist. It’s a parody on the Bicycle Thief (of course) but it’s really nothing like it. This film (from my cloudy memory) is a fantastic and smart burst of deconstruction of the media through a television station. It involves advertising, animation, sexy strangeness and you will laugh and think it’s completely bonkers. But I remember thinking that I had never seen anything like it. When I was a kid, I was really obsessed with being able to go inside my TV, so the idea that a director gets pulled inside his own creation and then must cope with all the commercials and other televisual aspects that come with being broadcast entertains me to no end. I know that Nichetti is also connected with Allegro Non Troppo (Bruno Bozzetto, 1976) and another absolutely fabulous movie that I discovered from Icicle Thief called Volere Volere (Guido Manuli, Maurizio Nichetti, 1991) . Unfortunately, from the brief glance that I had when doing this, it looks like Icicle Thief has not yet gone beyond VHS. Which means I need to locate myself a copy. And…so do you.

 2) The Reflecting Skin – Philip Ridley – 1990 – DVD (apparently not the best quality?)
Viggo Mortensen was insanely hot in 1990. But no one knew who he was. Least of all this gal. I loved this film. Not just because of Viggo. But because it was eerie in all the right places and so unusual. I’ve still never seen a single film in my life that I could say: “Hey! That’s like that one film- The Reflecting Skin!” It’s a child’s story. A story about loneliness, obsession and vampirism. I’m not usually a vampire person. In fact, I like Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987) and maybe 1 or 2 others and that’s it. But this is nowhere near those films. There’s no way to properly describe it. It’s haunting, quiet and terrifying enough to stay with you for, oh, 15 years. I love this movie and desperately want to see it projected. Maybe someday that dream can come true.

 3) Rubin and Ed – Trent Harris – 1991 – VHS
I’m not going to lie. I have a Crispin Glover fetish. But it was borne, nurtured and made into a healthy sized one through this film. The day I found this VHS at the store, I looked at the back, and thought: huh, looks kinda interesting. Let’s do it! I probably took it home with a gaggle of other pieces. But there was nothing else in the world to me at that point. I have now watched my VHS more times than I know. I have shown it to multiple people who share my love. Howard Hesseman. Karen Black. A road trip movie involving a real estate cult, a shut-in who is obsessed with his dead cat, and a shrewish ex-wife. Also, the dead cat doesn’t stay at home. THIS FILM IS AMAZING. So are Cripin’s shoes. All I have to say is: my cat can eat a whole watermelon.


 4) Trust – Hal Hartley – 1990 – Blu-ray soon!
Then there’s Hal Hartley. Oh maaaaan, does Hal Hartley remind me of these days. I watched Every. Single. Hal. Hartley. Film. We. Had. I think we had pretty much all of them. And then I was working there when a new one came out and I was thrilled to my eyeteeth. I feel a little weird saying this (am I old?), but back then, there were no “hipster” cliques in the film folks I knew, so the fact that I loved the hell out of Hartley didn’t really mean anything except…I liked Hartley! Now, I get weird looks. Like people think: Oh, you’re one of “those” types. I’m not sure what that means. I’ve never been cool. I like what I like, and I like Hartley. Back in Santa Cruz, some people liked his work, some didn’t, and it was primarily due to the way his dialogue ran. Trust was the first of his that I saw and it wasn’t “too arty” for me, it was just right. A great love story with some fantastic up-front dialogue. Once again, I tasted a flavor that I didn’t recognize, loved it, and haven’t tasted anything like it since. Not everyone I recommended it to loved it, but the people I did recommend it to? LIFELONG Trust fans. That was a great feeling.

5) Female – Michael Curtiz, William Dieterle (uncred.)., William Wellman (uncred.) – 1933 – DVD (on the Forbidden Hollywood, vol. 2)
So the VHS versions of these pre-code beauties were all totally available and totally waiting for my hot little hands to snatch ‘em up and watch them on repeat. And I did. This is the one that I picked for this list, but I would switch them out. The first film I watched was the classic Three on a Match (Mervyn LeRoy, 1932) with Joan Blondell, Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart. However, I was more than mildly obsessed with Night Nurse (William A. Wellman, 1931). Pre-code didn’t do badly either, I must say! I think some of those college kids may have had a fetish? Hrm….

 6) Miller’s Crossing – Coen Bros. – 1990 – DVD/Blu
This movie (like most people) rocked me when I saw it. It took some actors that I was familiar with and loved (John Turturro was already a Spike Lee favorite of mine) and completely turned them around. I was starting to get my noir adoration on so put those things together and…this staying on my shelf for a good long time. It was also a very easy recommendation. When all else failed and people “just didn’t know what to rent,” I could recommend this (as long as they were in a certain age/interest bracket).

 7) Witness for the Prosecution – Billy Wilder – 1957 – DVD
I wish I could go back and watch every Billy Wilder again for the first time. Especially this one. I think that this courtroom piece is so especially well-crafted, with Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton together and Marlene Dietrich…well, she’s exceptional alongside Tyrone Power. And Tyrone’s no slouch! I used to actually get kids to rent old movies that they didn’t have to see for class. It was really great. It would take a little doing since they generally came in for the latest Morgan Freeman/Ashley Judd-style film, but it wasn’t impossible. And this was a film that I remember a few kids returning with a look of shock: “Hey! This was good!” Oh really? You don’t say!

 8) Murder by Death – Robert Moore – 1976 – DVD and The Court Jester (Melvin Frank, Norman Panama, 1955)
There was no way that I could work somewhere and not be able to recommend these films every chance I got. These films take the same slot, as they generally switched places. Also, these were the films that I cut my teeth on. They are, for lack of a better term, my cinematic security blanket. I felt that if I shared these pieces of film with other people in the world that they, too, could feel the enormous joy that I have felt my entire life through by the laughter that I have gotten from Danny Kaye, Peter Falk, Basil Rathbone, Peter Sellers, Angela Lansbury and the rest. Thankfully, I was able to see so many parents rent these films for their kids and the kids would come back wanting more. Whether they got it or not, watched the films or not, who knows? I’ll believe my version.

 9) Zentropa aka Europa– Lars Von Trier - 1991 – DVD
So when I got this film, it was called Zentropa, it was on VHS, and, to repeat the same thing as I have many times above: I’d never seen anything like it. I watched it multiple times. Then I was taking a film class at Cabrillo Junior College. I was doing pretty well. Very well, actually. But I got overconfident. I decided to write on my new Favorite Film of All-time, Zentropa. But…I decided to do it after I had smoked pot with my housemate. Oh, Ariel. Stupid stupid teenage girl. I turned in my paper. My professor handed it back to me the next week and said: “You are one of my best students. I have no idea what this is. Can you redo this and get it back to me tomorrow?” I have the feeling that I probably went as red as a bag of burst stage blood. I have not made the same mistake since. This Von Trier film was rarely heard about for years. No one I knew had seen it and I thought it was such a tragedy and I always thought it was such a coup that the people from Westside had gotten the chance to watch it when it was there. Finally it was released by Criterion, however, and it is available. I highly advise this picture. It is not like the rest of his work at all. If you cannot stomach the later Anti-Christ-style work, that’s fine. You’ll be fine with this. It’s shot beautifully, the story is intricate and fascinating. Really great film and I’m so pleased to have discovered it, even if I did embarrass myself with it!

 10) Wild Strawberries – Ingmar Bergman – 1957 – DVD
This didn’t rent a lot, but I didn’t care. College kids didn’t like subtitles 15 years ago then, they don’t now. The only time they probably did was probably during the rise of arthouse cinema in the 1960s, but that’s a whole other discussion. If I had enough time I would talk about my passionate love for Bergman. It’s deep, man. It was all over after I saw Fanny & Alexander (1982). I love a good ghost story. But this film is very special and I felt like I could really share that with other people in the Santa Cruz community. Luckily, there were enough people who wanted to hear me yap my mouth off about Bergman and proceeded to rent (and love) Wild Strawberries that it was worth it to keep this up there for some time.

Speaking of yapping, thanks for letting me yap at you about this. It was a lot of fun and it took me back to some movies I hadn’t thought about in a long time. Recommending films is something I have always taken seriously because I believe so dearly in fun. I always want to help people get the most pleasure out of their night. If I could somehow do that by recommending some flicks that I totally adore?? MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.


Robert M. Lindsey said...

Interesting that you'd put Murder by Death and Court Jester together. To me, The Court Jester is on a whole other plane, up with the classics, while Murder by Death is an interesting comedy of it's time. Enjoyable, but not classic.

SteveQ said...

The only movie poster I ever bought was of "The Icicle Thief." I love that movie so much...

Anonymous said...

Robert- I put them together because I love them so much and I thought people should see them both. I personally believe that they are both absolute classics, but that's just me.

SteveQ- I am so happy to hear that someone else has seen ICICLE THIEF! That's great!!

Anonymous said...

Some SUPERB choices. I actually saw most of these in theaters (never was much of a renter believe it or not) including ICICLE THIEF and TRUST. WILD STRAWBERRIES is a Top 10 movie for me. And, seeing MURDER BY DEATH stoned at the Drive-In.....ah the memories! Would enjoy hearing more of your video store memories as well.

Anonymous said...

Here are a few video store memories for you:

1) Faye Dunaway used to rent at Rocket. She was...a handful. This is news to exactly no one of course. But in her more interesting times, we used to refer to it as having been "Dunawayed." I never experienced that. She was very pleasant to me & we spoke about Billy Wilder once.

2) At Westside Video, we used to play 6 Degrees of David Lynch to get through the night. You can totally do it! Great film n3rd party game!

3) From Rocket- I am notoriously terrible at recognizing famous people. I recognized Billy Zane when he came in wearing the best Joy Division shirt ever, but one day I asked a girl & her tall shaggy haired boyfriend for her last name since she couldn't remember her phone number and she said, "No problem! Z-e-l-l-w-e-g-e-r" YEAH. And the guy was Jack White. It was when they were dating. My co-worker wouldn't stop laughing at me ALL night.

Salvage Video said...

Great picks - thanks to your recommendations I picked up: The Icicle Theif, The Reflecting Skin, and Rubin & Ed. Luckily, a video store nearby was selling off their stock so I was able to find them pretty easily! :)