Some come to the store looking for rare movies that can’t be found elsewhere, while others come because they’ve become disillusioned with the power of streaming services and their algorithms. Regulars appreciate the good-natured expertise of the cinema-mad staff – and are eager to support the last of a dying breed.
Against all odds, 20th Century Flicks, a DVD and VHS rental store in Bristol, has reached a milestone – its 40th anniversary – and is marking the moment with a festival showcasing films from the year it opened, 1982.
“It feels like a milestone,” said one of the owners, Dave Taylor, who started working at the shop two decades ago when renting videos and DVDs was as common as clicking on a movie. Netflix or Amazon Prime is now. “It has changed a lot, but there is still a demand for what we do. People who use our service really like it and Bristol really loves its movie. There are enough people in town who want to watch what we have. »
The showcase tells the story of what 20th Century Flicks is all about. The sign features Béatrice Dalle’s iconic poster image of the 1986 French psychological drama Betty Blue and one of the walls is adorned with graffiti reading: ‘The Warriors’, a reference to the New York crime cult classic from 1979.
DVDs featured in the showcase range from new art house films such as Celine Sciamma’s Petite Maman and Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round to the 1964 British comedy The Bargee starring Harry H Corbett as a canal boatman.
Videos include the 1953 Japanese classic Tokyo Story, On The Waterfront starring Marlon Brando, from the following year – and Eating Raoul, a dark satire about a married couple who embark on a murder spree to fund their dream of buying a house and a restaurant in the country. Carefully, the film was released in 1982, the year the shop opened.
Probably the most praised film is Withnail and I from 1987. One of the stars, Paul McGann, borrowed the film from the shop. Other favorite directors include Peter Greenaway, Ken Russell and Joanna Hogg. “Bristol has an arthouse aesthetic,” Taylor said. “It’s our bread and butter.”
Among the regulars who arrived during the Guardian’s visit was Pixie Paine, a 39-year-old woman who works in social housing. The last film she rented was the 2012 psychedelic sci-fi Vanishing Waves by Lithuanian director Kristina Buožytė. “They’re amazing here, so niche,” she said. She came to hire Empire Records, the 1995 coming-of-age film which tells the story of a group of employees trying to prevent the sale of their independent store to a corporate giant.
But the shop is not only for lovers of esotericism. IT consultant Paul Triffitt, 55, was returning to Die Hard, Die Hard 2 and The Last Boy Scout. “We had a Bruce Willis season,” he said. It follows the extravagances of Steven Spielberg and Luc Besson at Triffitt. “I like what they are doing here, I try to support them,” he said.
The movie has a library of over 20,000 movies, so there’s something for everyone. If they don’t have a movie, they’ll try to get it in, and even if it costs them a few hundred pounds, they’ll still rent it for a few pounds. The goal is not to make a profit but to break even and keep going.
Officially, the store has 92,000 members and about 200 people regularly rent movies. The store has branched out in recent years, opening two tiny screening rooms for eight and ten people. They can be rented and the shop organizes screenings.
Another new attraction is the second showcase, which features lovingly made dioramas showing moments or items from films such as Beetlejuice, Seven, Blue Velvet and Back to the Future. Visitors pause in the shop on the Christmas Steps and peer inside, trying to figure out what some of the more obscure designs represent.
For the 40th anniversary, Forbidden Worlds (the name pays homage to the 1982 sci-fi horror Forbidden World), the shop is reopening the mothballed Imax in Bristol and screening films over the weekend of May 13-15. Films screened include Blade Runner, Poltergeist and Hammer’s Dracula AD 1972 – to mark the 100th anniversary of Christopher Lee’s birth.
And then the plan is to keep fighting. Taylor said, “We’re going to keep going, renting movies, doing festivals, doing odd dioramas. It’s a satisfying life.