Video Store Spotlight: A Q&A with Videodrome (Atlanta, GA)
Interview by Eddie Gurrola
Home Video has been there for us in a way we've never needed it before over the past year. In celebration of the format, we've reached out to the folks that own and operate some of the most epic video stores in America to hear about how they got started, where their passion comes from, and how they've adapted to new customer needs during the pandemic.
Matthew Booth, co-owner of Videodrome in Atlanta, GA, joined us for a virtual Q&A, which we're excited to share below.
Cinematic Void: What gave you the motivation to start the store?
Matthew Booth: I've worked in video stores on and off since high school. In 1996, I moved to Atlanta and picked up some shifts at a video store chain called Moovies. Yes, it was cow-themed. Google it! Moovies was soon taken over by a bigger chain, Video Update, and I became a manager at the local Little 5 Points location. This was right during the heyday of the industry. There were six video stores in a five mile radius, and Friday and Saturday nights were slammed. Little 5 Points was a unique cultural area. (Co-worker) Jeff Sutton and I started to think about opening our own, less mainstream store to meet the needs of people looking for an alternative to corporate video chains. We started collecting VHS and convinced a local landlord to take a chance on us. We opened Videodrome in the summer of 1998 with a small, but curated, collection of Independent, Foreign, Cult, Horror, Anime, and Documentary VHS titles.
When was the moment where you realized that the video store model, at least in a mainstream way, was going to shift, and what made you decide to keep moving forward at that time?
There've been so many changes over the years, it's hard to remember them all: Blockbuster undercutting independent video stores in the 90s in an attempt to put them out of business, the early 2000s shift from VHS to DVD, Netflix offering DVD rentals at a loss to build a customer base, and more recent shifts to streaming and Blu-ray. Honestly, we just keep trying to focus on our customers' needs. We're always looking for opportunities to expand our library and brand. We've recently increased the retail component of the store by adding a dedicated retail section, and starting an online store (videodrome.tv).
Who's your typical customer at Videodrome nowadays?
We've always been more of a "niche" store. Videodrome started as an alternative to corporate stores, specializing in genres that the chains ignored. If anything, we've become more mainstream as the years have gone by. Now that we are the last video store in Atlanta, we strive to be a more complete video library, stocking a mix of independent, foreign, documentary, horror, cult, and Hollywood films.
When folks come in to Videodrome, what do you hope they get out of the experience?
Something active, something different, hopefully a bit of a mini-adventure. It's both fun and educational to wander the aisles of our store. It's also a social experience. Customers can interact with friends and employees while making their selections.
The most common question we get these days is, "Who needs a video store in an age where you can stream everything from home?"
The general perception that people can essentially order whatever movie they want from home is flat out wrong. Streaming was promised as a giant video store on the internet where a customer was only one click away from the exact film they were looking for. Disappointingly, it has become the opposite. New releases are expensive, content is fractured between multiple subscription services, and movies appear and disappear in 30-day windows. To get anywhere close to a similar selection of the films that we have, a customer would need at least five or six different subscriptions. Even then, we have many films that aren't available on any streaming service. The content that is available online is almost entirely mass-market Hollywood films, made since the year 2000. Streaming has become both frustrating and expensive, and it does not seem to be changing anytime soon.
What is your midnight movie section like? Is there a different type of thought process that goes into stocking this section?
Our midnight movies section is an awesome mix of excellent films and bad/trashy ones. It's split up into general cult, shot on video, action/trash, horror franchises, American horror, Italian horror, Italian crime, Euro zombies, Euro vampires, European horror, classic horror, mondo/global weirdness, sexploitation, blaxploitation, vehicular exploitation, and Ozploitation. When ordering, we mostly trust the boutique labels that specialize in these films. Our favorites are Arrow, Vinegar Syndrome, Severin, Code Red, Scorpion Releasing, Grindhouse Releasing, Scream Factory, Mill Creek, Synapse, and Ronin Flix. We also spend a lot of time on diabolikdvd.com.
If we walked in right now, what would be a few recent restorations, and also a few recent release titles, you'd recommend to us that we might have passed over on our own?
As far as recent restorations go: Arrow Video's BLACK TEST CAR (Yasuzo Masumura, 1962) and SOLID METAL NIGHTMARES: THE FILMS OF SHINYA TSUKAMOTO; Second Run's GOODBYE, DRAGON INN (Ming-liang Tsai, 2003); Kino Lorber's THE TRAIN (John Frankenheimer, 1964); Criterion's BRUCE LEE: HIS GREATEST HITS and GODZILLA: THE SHOWA-ERA FILMS: 1954-1975; Synapse's MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH (Rene Daalder, 1976); and Arrow UK's PRIMER/UPSTREAM COLOR (Shane Carruth, 2004/2013). All of those really stand out.
My favorite new physical releases of 2020 were: BACURAU (Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonca Filho, 2019), POSSESSOR (Brandon Cronenberg, 2020), THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW (Jim Cummings, 2020), and JESUS SHOWS YOU THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY (Miguel Llanso, 2019).
Any recommendations from customers lately that you were impressed by?
One of our favorite customers recently turned me on the British crime films of Basil Dearden. I enjoyed LEAGUE OF GENTLEMAN (1960), POOL OF LONDON (1951), and ALL NIGHT LONG (1962) immensely.
Another customer who's been going through a bunch of 1960's French films recommended the stylish psychosexual thriller, LA PRISONNIERE: WOMAN IN CHAINS (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1968), and that definitely left an impression.
Have you noticed a difference in customer watching habits since the pandemic started?
The pandemic has brought out the inner cinephile in a lot of our customers. Extra time at home, combined with the popularity of the app Letterboxd, has customers coming in armed with lists of unique and rare titles. Many customers are working through specific directors or genres. Others are just trying to stay entertained and keep their minds away from the current situation.
Tell us about the drive-in series you've been hosting during the pandemic...
Our store started to see a fairly significant drop in rental revenue in 2017. We called a store meeting, and brainstormed plans to expand our brand outside the store and create some new revenue sources. One of the solutions was to start a monthly cult movie screening partnership with Atlanta's oldest movie theater, The Plaza Theatre. We named it Plazadrome, and it was immediately successful, drawing crowds as big as 300 people. We continued to build on its success and held one-off events/screenings with some of our friends: The Deadly Prey Gallery, Lunchmeat VHS, Vinegar Syndrome, Grindhouse Releasing, and TCM Underground.
The Plaza Theatre adapted to the pandemic and created 2 drive-in screens where we have held screenings of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (Ishiro Honda, 1968), CHOPPING MALL (Jim Wynorski, 1986), DEAD END DRIVE-IN (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1986), THE BLOB (Chuck Russell, 1988), SHOGUN ASSASSIN (Robert Houston, Kenji Misumi, 1980), ACTION U.S.A. (John Stewart, 1989), GINGER SNAPS (John Fawcett, 2000), and WHISKEY MOUNTAIN (William Grefe, 1977).
Final question: what's the one movie you've always wanted to see, and never got around to watching, that you've finally watched during the pandemic...
I've been able to get into a really good groove of watching 4 or 5 films a week during the pandemic, and while I've mostly been concentrating on watching DVD and Blu-ray versions of movies I haven't seen since the VHS era, I did stumble upon a few gems.
The re-watch standouts include THE EXILES (Kent Mackenzie, 1961), TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (William Friedkin, 1985), DEEP COVER (Bill Gunn, 1992), ONE FALSE MOVE (Carl Franklin, 1992), and THE HIDDEN (Jack Sholder, 1987).
The new discoveries that absolutely blew me away were CRIME WAVE (1953, Andre De Toth), THE LANDLORD (1970, Hal Ashby, written by Bill Gunn), DEEP END (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970), and LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1969).