Videosyncratic by Jon Spira is several things in one, an autobiography of sorts, a brief history of film and the historical impact of home video, an interesting look into the inner workings of, and the rise and fall of, the video rental industry and an ode to the importance of independent businesses.
Depending on how old you are the idea of video shops will either bring about confused indifference or nostalgic memories of looking at rows and rows of video cases and trying to decide what to watch on a Friday night. Whilst it might seem strange now in the age of Netflix and streaming on demand but for a considerable amount of years video shops were a staple fixture on many high streets and this would be something that most families would be doing.
There were several video shops in my home town, although curiously never a Blockbuster, the nearest one was the next town over. On the one occasion I ventured there with a friend I was really rather taken by how awful it was, the stench of corporate homogeneity was overpowering both literally and metaphorically.
Spira, now a film maker himself, is an engaging and witty story teller as he tells the tale of how a film obsessed kid spent years working in various video shops, including a considerable amount of time in a variety of Blockbuster branches, before realising his dream of opening his own independent video shop.
Anybody who has ever spent any time working for a retail behemoth will find the frustrations of dealing with managerial stupidity and illogical corporately mandated policy in Blockbuster familiar, along with the selection of miscreants and psychopaths that make up both the staff and the customer base.
There’s a distinctly admirable element of David and Goliath as Spira goes about setting up his own video shop, whilst still working for Blockbuster, and actually being quite gleeful at the prospect of stealing their customer base. Not only that but he even steals many of the people he meets whilst working there for his own shop, a mix of film geeks and slackers, reminiscent of Jeff Anderson’s Randal Graves in Kevin Smith’s classic indie film Clerks.
One of the more surprising aspects though is the emotional punch as Spira talks about the reality of realising the industry he has spent years working in, and has now established a business in, is collapsing due to a combination of the advancement of technology and the actions of film studios.
Videosyncratic is rather funny but also sad, most of all though it’s a great read. Reading it brought back memories of fiddling with the tracking on videos, watching the trailers, and the conversations you would have in the video shop about what you’ve seen. A good video shop was a gift.
To quote Spira,
“Independent businesses, set up and operated because of the passion of the people who establish them, are beautiful, precious, and increasingly rare things and should be cherished. Every single purchase makes a difference.”