I Lost It at the Video Store: A Filmmakers’ Oral History
of a Vanished Era by Tom Roston
The Critical Press, 2015; 164 pp
Reviewed by Charlie Riccardelli
So many young cinephiles have grown up with the tales of Baby Boomer filmmakers educating themselves at revival theatres, the 42nd Street grindhouses, or late night viewings on an old black and white television. Now Tom Roston’s I Lost It at the Video Store offers a rich and fascinating oral history into the lives of Gen X-er and some older Millennial filmmakers who made their own syllabus in the aisles of their local video store. In this beautifully compiled narrative, Roston talks to the men and women who grew up on, prospered from, or help create the home video market that gave cinephiles everywhere the chance to discover movie history in ways not thought possible before that time.
Some of the interviewees like Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith have well-documented histories of how they leveraged a job behind the rental counter into a filmmaking career, but Roston finds new avenues to explore when discussing these topics, like reading about how Tarantino’s savvy knowledge of the home video market allowed him to find success when making and distributing his first film, Reservoir Dogs. Roston gets some great material out of producers and executives like Ted Hope and Richard Gladstein about the early days of the market that I wished he explored more figures like these. Some of the directors reminisce about the “Adults Only” rooms that helped mom and pop stores prosper or the sleazy genre filmmaking that blossomed from the home video revolution. Hearing more from the voices that churned out these titles might have been informative for learning about the growth of the format. Even without that, though, I Lost It at the Video Store has a time travel quality when reading the vivid memories of people like Joe Swanberg or Alex Ross Perry recount how they passed their formidable years consuming cinema like how Pac-Man consumes dots.
The book opens as Roston prepares to write an article about the last Kim’s video store in New York is about to go out of business. The small but famous chain, a hub for many of the city’s most dedicated film lovers, may not have been the rental location many of us frequent. However, what the author so evocatively communicates is that we all had our Kim’s that opened us up to whatever cinematic passions drove us. I Lost It at the Video Store has that effect to put its readers back in the aisles where we all stood before a wall of movie choices in joyous uncertainty as to where our next selection might take us.