November 2019 marks the beginning of what has become known, in the press at least, as the great Streaming Wars. Apple and Disney will both be launching their flashy, direct-to-consumer platforms, offering entire libraries of new and classic programming, available to viewers as quickly as they can turn on their iPad.
But what is fascinating is that, at the same time as the digital revolution threatens to change the way we consume our entertainment (if it hasn’t already), an old-school way of watching has reemerged from the not-so-distant past and it turns out that it could be a huge deal for Los Angeles filmmakers.
Vidiots was Los Angeles’ premiere video store, founded in 1985 in Santa Monica by Patty Polinger and Cathy Tauber. The name came from Cathy’s sister, since they were trying to think of one word, that was short, since they couldn’t really afford a neon sign. When Blockbuster came to town, most of the independent video stores faded away. But Vidiots flourished, bolstered by their commitment to lesser-known and foreign films. In thirty years, their collection blossomed from 800 titles to more than 50,000. But as alternate forms of entertainment entered the marketplace, their revenue dwindled. David O. Russell pushed to turn the store into a nonprofit, in an effort to “preserve, protect and educate,” with the fun video store vibe being replaced by the more educational air of a community center. And Annapurna head Megan Ellison helped float the store for a while as well. In 2017, they closed up for good, but they promised they’d be back – and they are!
First, they made an inauspicious return in the lobby of the new Alamo Drafthouse theater in downtown LA. There are a lot of titles, crammed into a very small space, in the retail center near various Alamo and Mondo-themed knickknacks (you know you want that Jurassic Park Tiki mug). And then, in late September, it was announced that Vidiots would be making a glorious, really-for-real return in 2020, with a new, state-of-the-art independent theater, a multi-purpose second screening room and video store located in the very hip Eagle Rock part of town.
“We’re thrilled that Vidiots is moving into this next chapter and that our unique library of films will once again be made available to the public, especially in this era of streaming where choices are increasingly limited,” Polinger and Tauber said in a statement. “Vidiots at the Eagle Theatre is a truly exciting and ambitious plan that revolves around our commitment to archival preservation, education, and accessibility, while maintaining and growing our passionate community of film lovers.”
The return of Vidiots, which will open after the opening salvo of the Streaming Wars has begun, is a huge deal for movie lovers and an even bigger deal for filmmakers. And here’s why:
Vidiots will be returning with its glorious, 50,000+ title library, including all those out-of-print and hard-to-find titles that only they have. And the inspiration that these titles will contain cannot be properly quantified. Even if you don’t watch the movie, your imagination can run wild simply running your hands across the spines of the titles, reading the synopsis on the back, or being dazzled by the cover art. There’s something about the creative zest you get just by luxuriating around all of these movies. Inspiration can strike anywhere at anytime, but there are certainly things you can do to coax that inspiration out. Hanging out in Vidiots is the closest thing to a surefire way.
One of the aspects of the loss of video stores that is most bemoaned by people who remember them is how often you would chat with people – either the folks behind the counter or the like-minded film freaks browsing the aisles with you.
This experience will undoubtedly be replicated in the new Vidiots space, especially with that mixed use room that (we can only assume) will be host to Q&A’s, signings and trivia contests. The fact that this new version of Vidiots will be opening in arguably the coolest part of the city only adds to the mystique. And chances are that you will be bumping into not fellow video fans, but also people that could go on to become key creative collaborators. Listen, if you’re both in the same aisle looking for the same obscure movie, it’s probably a pretty good sign.
Want to know what a piece of furniture looks like from a specific era and a specific part of the world, and photographs on Google just aren’t going to do it? Well, heading to an encyclopedic library of old movies will probably get you exactly what you need.
Vidiots as a research library cannot be overstated, especially since, unlike the big streaming services, a holdout for more licensing money will never threaten the titles or make movies simply disappear. Video stores are an invaluable tool for filmmakers of every kind, from directors and producers down to more technical roles like production designers, cinematographers and costume designers.
Vidiots will be a resource unlike any other, for the filmmaking community and Los Angeles as a whole.