R.I.P. Hollywood Video

RIP to The 'Wood 1988-2010

While the beautiful people out in Hollywood, California (formerly Hollywoodland, California) flock to empty their pockets in efforts to save a landmark reminder of where they are, 49 other states this week were given notice that their neighborhood land of the stars was about to become a ghost town. Founded in 1988 by Mark Wattles, Hollywood Video was truly the movie lover’s chain. By shelving the latest independent, foreign and genuinely oddball titles next to box office hits, it presented a level playing field for all films not seen since the initial Video Boom of the 1980s. It also was the only nationwide chain that carried an equal amount of movies in letterbox/widescreen and pan-and-scan formats and, unlike rival Blockbuster Video, DIDN’T edit their movies ensuring proper intact viewings of Basic Instinct, Life of Brian and Last Tango in Paris for generations of moviegoers.

What always stood out for me about Hollywood Video was how truly “Hollywood” it felt. At a time when most video chains were just some DMV-Hallmark Store hybrid, Hollywood really seemed like a piece of Hollywood. Red carpet floors, classic film images decorating the walls, and exteriors having everything from light-up Hollywood sign reproductions to the more-elaborate Golden-Era Hollywood theater recreations, it would always stand out amidst the bland strip-mall culture of urban sprawl. The decorum and often overkilled uniform of the employees almost subliminally reminded you that movies were something special and you were privileged enough to be surrounded by them. There was something for everybody without having to bend for anyone else. The catalog of films was as wide as the Heavens but intimate enough to make it feel like they were just for you.

Yes, this was an actual Hollywood Video.

There’s really two places I can attribute my lifelong love of film to. One was the (original) Suncoast in Rosedale, MN, and the other was the Columbia Heights Hollywood Video. I was all of 13-years-old when I discovered The Toxic Avenger in their Cult Classics section, a stretch of shelves that determined my weekend screening schedule for the following three years. From wooing girls on dates with Surf Nazis Must Die!! and The Human Tornado to attempting to explain Naked Lunch and Twin Peaks to my ninth-grade classmates to show how deep I was, to Class of Nuke ‘Em High and Pink Flamingoes teaching me how to talk to girls, to attempting to use the September 11th attacks to get out of paying a late fine on Killjoy, those dusty VHS tapes really struck a chord with me and ignited my love of film. Such incredible worlds created without any regard for genre or convention, it was like someone scribbled down what was heard in the far reaches of the lunchroom and put it on screen. Even dealing with my first major breakup I lost myself in Bamboozled, 8 1/2 and Jan Svankmajer’s Alice which, thanks to Hollywood, were all within eyesight of each other.

Open 365 days a year - thanks Mormons!

Of course, times change and Hollywood seemed to be the only video chain taking an active position, instead of the “well, let’s see how this whole Netflix thing pans out” approach of their cohorts. In 2004, Hollywood shut down 3 out of every 4 locations and moved the inventory into most successful branch in the area. Instead of competing with the Blockbuster/Netflix standard rental approach, they rebranded themselves as a film archive that promised to have whatever you were looking for. Even if the drive was longer, you were pretty much guaranteed to get your Power Rangers: No Clowning Around, Eraserhead and Magic Johnson AIDS videos while still scooping Battlequeen 2020 on DVD for your nerdy hormonal little brother and Dreamgirls on Blu-Ray for the whole family to watch at Christmas. This approach allowed them to flourish in their number 2 position, inspiring long suffering competitors Movie Gallery to acquire the franchise, returning them to their failing standard rental format and in eight more days successfully sinking the company.

Julie Strain IS Barbara Walters IN - a cover art teenage boys will no longer get to see every Friday night.

This is only the latest in the physical media trail of tears. Even after the Tower/Virgin/Circuit City/etc. genocide, it still hurts. When the closing was announced on Monday, I ventured out to the Hollywood Video Bronx location, the last one in NYC, to get one last look at the franchise. With Mystikal’s Greatest Hits as the requiem, I took one last walk up and down the aisles looking for Troma films, esoteric foreign affairs and low budget action movies starring rappers. I saw DVDs like Delta Delta Die and Dead and Rotting which I hadn’t thought of since getting my driver’s permit but used to smirk at their cover arts every weekend for a good stretch of my life. I witnessed a bevy of adolescents buying armfuls of Playstation 2 games as part of the “10 Video Games for 10 Dollars” section and while I’m happy Christmas is coming early for them this year, it’s saddening to think they’re going to grow-up without knowing what it’s like to be physically surrounded by thousands of movies. Literally millions of man-hours* and wildest dreams went into every Hollywood Video location and soon they will all be gone. Granted you don’t miss what you never had and I’m sure they’ll fine their own ways to alienate their high school peers, but as another nail goes into the coffin of a past life, I’m sad Hollywood Video will no longer be a part of my skyline.

So until next time…let’s agree to agree!

*Don’t even think about how many Dog-hours they took!

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3 Comments on “R.I.P. Hollywood Video”

  1. DonCon Says:

    Hollywood Video wasn’t as big as Blockbuster in Chicago but we definitely had them. I may have been inside only once or twice in my life. They sounded like a cool franchise. Honestly, I thought they closed their doors years ago but I stand corrected. R.I.P. Hollywood Video. You sounded like an upstanding gentleman that stood for the common man.

  2. cinestina barnburner Says:

    Prior to my Netflix conversion, Hollywood Video was always my rental chain of choice (Blockbuster sucks balls). Not only did they have the best selection of films, this company single-handedly fueled my passion for movies, made me into the cinephile I am today, and without which would probably have never gone to film school or chosen entertainment as my career path. And I’m not just saying it cause I worked there, despite the millions of man-hours I may have given them – and yes, they took that many! 😉

    HV will be sorely missed, but never forgotten – for me anyways. RIP, may you finally reach the movie rental home in the sky!

    As a former renter and employee of the Hollywood Video family, from San Diego,CA to Albuquerque,NM to New York City, I thank you for your words, your patronage, and your love of cinema.


  3. i always frequent movie rentals because i am a movie addict and i watch so many movies at one time -.;


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