On his 87th birthday, Leo Gaigals bought himself a berry cheesecake at Coles Balaclava and delivered it to his only friends—the guys down the road at the last independent video store in Melbourne. Five days later Video Vision would be dead.
During their 18 years together Gaigals hired around 14,000 films, which we discovered looking up his records. "We're his family," says owner Eddie Stefani "We do everything for him, whether it's go to the shops, ring up his doctor, fill in forms. Once we're gone, I don't know what he's going do. And he's just one of the many."
When the "For Lease" signs went up, Gaigals began buying Tattslotto tickets to keep the shop afloat. But with the rise of home-viewing options like Netflix, Stan, and Presto, Stefani can't afford to keep the store open and is shutting down on Wednesday, much to the dismay of the local community.
"Everyone's really sad about it," weekend manager Craig Martin tells me over a slice of cake in his storeroom-cum-office, where desks are piled with papers and DVDs. Stefani sits behind his PC, doing the administration on his MSDOS management system, VideoMinder, which holds the 65,000 titles; one of the largest film collections in Australia.
"Up until two years ago even, the place was still jamming," says Stefani. But when Netflix was launched, hires plummeted. Since closing was announced, customers have delivered chocolates and cards, some have choked up at the front desk. One family, after hearing the news, even moved house from St Kilda to Caulfield North. "I never knew it had that effect on people," Stefani tells me.
Over almost two decades of operation in Melbourne's south, Video Vision has been a favourite for film-buffs, families, drunks, and plenty of thieves. Martin recalls the time a drunk guy in a sailor suit had to be dissuaded from eating a six-year-old McDonald's fries and burger that sat infamously moldless behind the front counter. Last year, one of the staff accidentally knocked it to the floor, where it shattered like glass.
There was the grandmother with a penchant for action films, the kid obsessed with Buffy and Smallville, and a guy who only ever hired American Pie films—they gave him the set as a parting gift. More than 100 copies of Chopper have been bought over the years to replace those stolen. (At a close second came any Guy Ritchie film and Napolean Dynamite.) The dumbest question the team have ever been asked: "How long is a weekly for?"
"I always wanted to have a 'shit' section," laughs Stefani, extolling the virtues of watching bad films "so you know what not to do." Part of the tragedy of the closure, adds Martin—who is also a film-lecturer at Latrobe University—is the fact that customers will no longer be exposed to films outside their usual range. On-demand services like Netflix create tunnel vision. The company utilise an algorithm to determine users' taste and supply them with more of the same.
"Accessing stuff from home is this sort of alienated, atomised way of being, as opposed to going down to your local, asking questions, getting recommendations, and seeing stuff that you would never think about seeing," says Martin. "The way to keep your mind young is to not watch the same thing over and over again." He says the "diet of multiplex" means obscure and foreign films held by independent stores like Video Vision will disappear into the ether, as they can't be viewed with software like Netflix, and are usually otherwise only accessible as illegal downloads.
With this in mind, his parting recommendations are Bagdad Café, Another Woman, Wings of Desire, and The Swimmer. Stefani's are Les Diables, Aussie Park Boyz and Straight Story.
Stefani looks stumped when I ask what he'll do next. "This! I'd like to do this! This is what I love, but it's gone."
The next tenant, a cleanskin wine store, plans to graft an entire wall with a photo of its previous incarnation.
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