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Videoland: Movie Culture at the American Video Store

Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 332
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Videolandoffers a comprehensive view of the "tangible phase" of consumer video, when Americans largely accessed movies as material commodities at video rental stores. Video stores served as a vital locus of movie culture from the early 1980s until the early 2000s, changing the way Americans socialized around movies and collectively made movies meaningful. When films became tangible as magnetic tapes and plastic discs, movie culture flowed out from the theater and the living room, entered the public retail space, and became conflated with shopping and salesmanship. In this process, video stores served as a crucial embodiment of movie culture's historical move toward increased flexibility, adaptability, and customization.In addition to charting the historical rise and fall of the rental industry, Herbert explores the architectural design of video stores, the social dynamics of retail encounters, the video distribution industry, the proliferation of video recommendation guides, and the often surprising persistence of the video store as an adaptable social space of consumer culture. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, cultural geography, and archival research,Videolandprovides a wide-ranging exploration of the pivotal role video stores played in the history of motion pictures, and is a must-read for students and scholars of media history.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95802-9
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Video Rental and the “Shopping” of Media
    (pp. 1-14)

    A number of commercials appeared on television and the internet in the winter of 2010 claiming that the video rental store had entered the home through cable “on demand” services (figure 1). Paid for by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, which represents a consortium of cable providers, these spots used the video store as an analogy: “The video store just moved in. Rent new releases instantly, without leaving your home. Movies on demand, on cable.”¹ Each of the ads began inside a video store and showcased the comic banter of two clerks. One was a redheaded teenager, the...


    • 1. A Long Tale
      (pp. 17-49)

      The signs of the collapse of the video rental industry are everywhere. Or at least they were in 2010 and 2011. Driving around Ann Arbor, Michigan, I watched as all the local stores closed for business, from the independently owned Liberty Street Video, down the street from my office, to the various Blockbuster and Hollywood Video locations (figure 2). At the time of this writing, the only places left in town to rent movies are a gas station, the public library, and the Redbox kiosks outside my grocery store and pharmacy.¹ There is almost no indication that there were ever...

    • 2. Practical Classifications
      (pp. 50-82)

      There are many ways one might answer the question, What is a video store? As in chapter 1, one might use trade materials and other print sources to formulate a history of the video rental industry. Yet video stores cultural institutions as much as they are profit-driven businesses. Once movies were transformed from theatrical experiences into material commodities, people organized them in ways that created social roles, power relations, and understandings that were new to movie culture and specific to this historical juncture. The video rental industry has encouraged people to approach movies as commodities to be assessed and evaluated...


    • 3. Video Capitals
      (pp. 85-120)

      When I was conducting research for this book and told friends and colleagues what I was doing, they would regularly ask if I had visited such-and-such video store in this-or-that town. This was “their” store, which they said was “the best.” In some cases I had actually visited the store, but more commonly I had never even been to the city where it was located. These interactions did not simply demonstrate that my friends and colleagues had strong emotional connections to video stores, but that they had strong feelings about a specific store in a particular place—“the best” store...

    • 4. Video Rental in Small-Town America
      (pp. 121-152)

      In his examination of rural movie going possibilities and habits in the early twentieth century, the film historian Robert Allen asserts, “Writing the ‘rural’ experience of movie going into American film history . . . is necessary if we are to adequately conceptualize . . . the relationship, past and present, between cinema and place more generally.”¹ Allen’s work is part of a larger effort by film historians to look beyond major cities as sites of media culture.² Although this body of scholarship draws on archival materials to present a richly contextualized portrait of historical audiences, questions remain about how...


    • 5. Distributing Value
      (pp. 155-182)

      Video stores made movie distribution a concretely physical, spatial, and socially interactive process. They also reshaped the cultural values associated with movies. Corporate video chains reinforced the “newer is better” mentality occurring at America’s multiplexes, while numerous independent stores in small towns and suburbs across the country transmuted Hollywood glamour into a mundane object, much like any other cheap commodity. Cinephilia, meanwhile, took a turn for the exceedingly eclectic and obscure at the country’s various specialty video stores. In all these cases, the video store altered movie culture by placing movies on video in new spatial and social contexts. But...

    • 6. Mediating Choice: Criticism, Advice, Metadata
      (pp. 183-218)

      Historically, the video rental store provided Americans with a new abundance of movie options as well as new levels of control over movie consumption. This apparent plentitude created notable shifts in the perception of movies, as Americans now had to select from a number of different venues for watching a movie, in addition to choosing a particular film. Along with pay cable, video rental stores fractured the movie market even as they expanded it beyond the movie theater and broadcast television. Movies of all varieties appeared (seemingly) everywhere, all the time. The value of the individual movie title was suddenly...

    • Coda: The Value of the Tangible
      (pp. 219-228)

      The postapocalyptic filmI Am Legend,starring Will Smith, arrived in theaters in December 2007. The premise of the movie is that sometime around 2012 the world is overtaken by a virus that turns everyone except the unnamed protagonist into zombielike creatures. After establishing that the protagonist is alone in a depopulated Manhattan, with only his dog as a companion, the film shows him enter a video store. Both outside and inside the store, there are mannequins placed strategically to mimic the social interactions one might have at such a place. Mannequins appear as customers entering the store, as a...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 229-282)
  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 283-294)
  11. Index
    (pp. 295-316)