If you’re a film fan, you probably have subscriptions to several video streaming services. But you might well be missing out on some cult cinematic gems because (*gasps*) the internet doesn’t have everything. After all, smart algorithms can only surface suggestions on materials they’ve catalogued, analyzed, and have access to in their digital databases.
The same goes for music. Not everything has been digitized, hence the resurgence in vinyl.
If you’re in Southern California, stop by Vidéothèque in South Pasadena. Celebrating its 15th birthday this month, it’s both a classic video store—with 30,000+ titles—and a hybrid hipster hangout, with a vinyl section, vintage cinema stills transferred to magnets and T-shirts (available on Etsy), and achingly cool black-and-white postcards from a supplier in Paris (naturellement). We dropped by to chat with owner Mark Wright about running a video store in the age of Netflix.
As you might expect from the name, Vidéothèque has a whole Francophile theme going on, from the massive old-style cinema lobby with Jean Luc Godard posters on the exposed brick walls to the Serge Gainsbourg on the turntable. Wright moonlights as DJ Pierrot; catch him at Décadanse Soirée. But the seed for Vidéothèque was planted while Wright was studying French at nearby liberal arts school Claremont McKenna College, and working at the local Rhino Records.
Rhino Records “announced they were about to open a video shop too, so I applied, and got the job as manager, staying with them for five or six years. I had such a great time that I thought I could go out there on my own, inspired by video stores I had seen on my travels,” Wright said.
“Growing up, there was a good video store in my local neighborhood in Fresno, which was the size of a shoebox, but had everything really well organized, divided by directors and countries. Other places that influenced me were Kim’s Video & Music, in NYC, which sadly no longer exists, and Scarecrow Video in Seattle, which thankfully still does, and has an incredible collection.”
South Pasadena is separate from Pasadena (and way cooler, the locals would have you know). Take the Metro gold line from Union Station—driving is so over in LA—and it’s less than a three-minute stroll.
“South Pasadena is super cute,” said Wright. “I used to go to the 1920s vintage movie palace Rialto, which is round the corner, and currently awaiting restoration. I would walk down this street, which was largely empty then or dotted with a few antique stores, and thought it had great potential. This building used to be a grocery store. You can see remnants of the wall-painted ad for lard, which I guess was once visible from the train tracks a block over.”
After its stint as a grocery store, the building became part of the Chouinard Art Institute, which was folded into CalArts, Walt Disney’s ambitious training ground for 1960s-era creatives (PCMag visited not long ago). But for the devoted scream queen crowd, the area is most famous for being part of the real life location for (the original) Halloween.
“People come down this street, all dressed up, on Halloween, and all our copies of the movie, and every other horror film in stock, gets rented out that week,” said Wright.
So, aside from Halloween, what are the top rentals from the past few years?
“The original Star Wars is generally No. 1,” Wright pointed out, checking his list. “People want to discover the backstory, or introduce their kids to how it all started; followed by Studio Ghibli Japanese animation classic My Neighbor Totoro. Blade Runner (original) is also very popular, plus basically anything by Wes Anderson, and Singin’ in the Rain is a perennial draw.”
How has Vidéothèque survived despite the proliferation of online services? Because Wright stocks titles, and entire categories, that the digital giants often overlook, including hard-to-find documentaries, as well as films that have never been digitized for streaming, but have made it to DVD (think: subtitles).
Membership is free; a three-night new release rental is $4.50. But many loyal cineaste members (this is LA after all) like to buy rentals by the block, up to 100 for just under 200 bucks.
The staff are all deeply knowledgeable, in de rigeur skinny black jeans. But if you’re too shy to admit ignorance on the finer points of Fassbinder (German director, not the Alien: Covenant star), there are press cuttings pasted on the side of stacks from serious reviewers and titles are carefully curated, with the sort of theming you’ve come to expect online. For example, Charles Mingus jazz documentaries are shelved next to those about Nina Simone.
If you’re trying to seduce someone significantly sophisticated back to your place, try the store’s “Turn Your Living Room Into a French Film Festival” section. Night in with friends? Peruse “Italian Crime” or pick up the entire run of The Wonder Years for a a “tbt” evening.
The store is open until 11 p.m., which is just as well, because you can get lost in thought between the stacks, or fall deep into conversation with other locals who share a love for Linklater. You don’t (yet) get that experience at home with your remote scrolling through the recommendations from an A.I.
Vidéothèque is open Mon – Sun 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (10 a.m. on Sat), and located at 1020 Mission Street, #J, South Pasadena, CA 91030.