Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Ex-Video Store Employee Picks - Laird Jimenez ""

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ex-Video Store Employee Picks - Laird Jimenez

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In 2000 I began working at Athens, Georgia’s Vision Video at the Homewood Hills shopping center. Our corner of the strip mall was shared with a Christian book store and a Winn Dixie grocery store. The store that rents videos is miraculously still there, while the store that sold bibles and the store that had cardboard standees of NASCAR drivers are gone! It was at Vision Video that my co-workers introduced me to Dolemite, Yuen Woo Ping, Werner Herzog, and a number of other directors and movies I still love today. When I moved to Seattle in 2004, I immediately applied to work at Scarecrow Video where the trickle of movie recommendations grew to a surging cascade. I moved to Seattle without knowing anyone but the girlfriend I moved with, and Scarecrow provided me with the friends and family I needed to adjust to living in a new city. I ended up chasing my passion for film into the archival side of things, but I still work at Scarecrow when shifts need to be covered. I can’t quit you, video store lifestyle.

When Mr. Pupkin asked me to contribute to this list, I was a bit overwhelmed at trying to think back on 12 years of video store work. Pretty much all of the “Bad Movies We Love” and “VHS Gems” I listed were staff picks of mine at one point. There are some questions we get frequently that could be made into a list. “What’s a good fucked-up movie?!” is a fairly common one (I’m always tempted to give a joke response to that, but usually I just lazily point to the Takashi Miike shelf). Instead I’ll break out my early “career” into years and select a movie or two I feel represents the kind of dope I was slinging at the time:

 Day of the Beast (1995) and Six String Samurai (1998)

Both movies I saw my senior year of high school at Georgia State University’s clubhouse-like Cinefest theatre. My foray into off-the-beaten-path movies probably started around here. Day of the Beast is a black comedy about a quixotic rogue priest who must commit sins himself in order to discover and battle the anti-Christ. I remember it being much more consistent than most of the Alex de la Iglesia stuff I would see after it, plus it contains a scene in which a metalhead feeds acid to his naked grandfather. As far as I know, it never got an official US DVD release (VHS gem?). Six String Samurai, I’m almost certain I would not like now, but at the time, this retro-rock, DIY post apocalyptic tale was right up my alley. The Red Elvises, a novel Russian surf-rock act that perform the soundtrack, are pretty great.

Un Chien Andalou/Land Without Bread (VHS)

Two years of film studies classes made my recommendations swing violently “arthouse” for a brief period. I still love all of these movies dearly, but I think I’m less likely to passionately recommend them to unbelievers. Land Without Bread (Las Hurdes), Luis Buñuel’s documentary about extremely impoverished villagers in rural Spain, continues to be somewhat elusive on home video in the U.S. I highly recommend watching it both for its historic value and as an example of how a true auteur is able to express their concerns as clearly in non-fiction as in fiction. I’m pretty sure nobody rented these when I had them as my picks.

Head (Rhino DVD)

On one wonderful day at Vision Video, a really filthy man wearing coveralls came in and began browsing the staff picks. Totally prejudiced, I assumed the guy was a redneck who just got off work from the nearby chicken processing plant. So imagine my surprise when he picks up the Monkees Head VHS and scratching his gnarly beard asks, “Do you have this on DVD?” He was elated when I said we did. “Does it have any extrees?!” he gasped!

Battle Royale (2000) and Shaolin Soccer (2001)

By this point I had been promoted to store manager and was given the privilege to place orders for the store, or even buy titles from outside our distributor and then reimburse myself. It was also at this time that I discovered the massive “grey market” that is Hong Kong DVD websites. In case you haven’t heard of or seen these, Battle Royale is a pitch black satire about a near future Japanese game show in which school children are forced to fight to the death (the Hunger Games more or less stole the premise, though the author denies it). Shaolin Soccer is a cartoonish comedy from Stephen Chow that spoofs sports dramas, getting-the-gang-back-together action movies, and of course, kung-fu.

Mysterious Magician (Der Hexer) (1964)

My girlfriend rented this based on the name. I had never heard of Edgar Wallace before, so this was my introduction to the pulpy, sometimes campy, always entertaining world of low-budget 60s German crime movies (krimi). Watch them all.


One of the best movies of the past decade… I was already excited for a follow up directorial effort to Sexy Beast from Jonathan Glazer. That it was written by Buñuel collaborator and writer of the Tin Drum screenplay, Jean-Claude Carriere, was just icing on the cake. Birth works on absolutely every level it should: on its surface it’s a creepy, often moving, pseudo-gothic horror tale about reincarnation, forbidden love, and mortality. It’s also a meditation on class, love, and the chance circumstance of, well, birth. It’s beautifully shot by the recently deceased Harris Savides, beautifully scored by the now prolific Alexandre Desplat, and featuring one of Nicole Kidman’s strongest performances. Seriously underrated during its initial release, I felt compelled to pick it for staff picks even when it was still relatively new. Thankfully it seems to be growing in stature with age.

Tony Arzenta

In my time at Scarecrow I’m responsible for the creation of two subcategories: Polizio (Italian cop movies of the 70s and 80s) and Mondo Macabro (genre and exploitation movies from South America, Philippines, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Turkey, and a handful of other countries). While going through the Polizio movies was a lot of fun in theory, I would be lying if I said I didn’t find the majority of them to be quite boring (Manhunt, Street Law, and High Crime are a few exceptions that come to mind). Tony Arzenta breaks with the pack in very big ways with more dynamic characters, competently directed action, and a plot with elements lifted from the Big Heat rather than Dirty Harry or French Connection. Casting Alain Delon and Richard Conte in the leads certainly helps elevate this.

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