- H.M. Cauley For the AJC
If you’re looking for old-fashioned family fun or some retro-style entertainment with friends this holiday season, Matt Booth has a suggestion: Rent a movie.
Yes, rent, as in head to the Poncey Highland neighborhood in Atlanta; pick out an indie, foreign film or new release; take it home and enjoy. That’s what customers of Booth’s Videodrome store at the corner of North Highland and North avenues have been doing since 1998. Even with the advent of online streaming and the death of Blockbuster and Hollywood Video chains, Booth boasts a big enough clientele to keep the doors open.
What keeps customers coming back to the store with the trademark film-reel eyeballs on the exterior wall is a mix of features that don’t exist at the Redbox or online sites. To start, there’s a mind-boggling collection of more than 23,000 DVDs and 2,000 Blu-ray discs. (Netflix’s inventory is reportedly just shy of 7,000.) In that count is a broad swath of genres: classics, indie, foreign, new, television series. Missed “Barry Lyndon” in 1975? Ready for season three of “Twin Peaks?” Nicole Kidman in 2015’s “Queen of the Desert?” They’re on the shelves, along with Japanese animation, Asian horror and other less mainstream productions.
“We try to be a library for film,” said Booth, whose staff includes one full-timer and seven part-timers. “Of course, we have a lot of new releases, too, but people really come in for the arthouse and the foreign films they can’t see anywhere else. And they want to see all the other stuff – the director’s commentary, the behind-the-scenes extras – that you don’t get online. With streaming, you’re supposed to be able to sit at home and have films at your fingertips. But … if you’re like me and want to watch a lot of different things, you need multiple services to find them.”
The library concept also serves not just viewers but the state’s burgeoning film industry as well, said Booth. “We’ve had so many people come in here just to do research. Everyone from filmmakers and assistant directors to cast members have stopped by to check out what we have.”
Having a vibrant film industry has also generated new interest in movies, and Booth has fueled that interest by sponsoring screenings for students and Atlanta Film Festival goers. He also produces five-minute online segments of “Videodrome Dialogues” that share insights into the history of film and what’s happening in the industry. But it’s primarily the store’s vast inventory that draws people like Midtown’s Melanie Blake in the door every week.
“They have a great selection,” she said, picking up a copy of “Wonder Woman” and director Eleanor Coppola’s “Paris Can Wait” during a recent visit. “And they’re really knowledgeable without an attitude. They make good suggestions. They’ve turned me onto things I wouldn’t have picked myself, like indies that they get in stock really fast.”
Booth began developing his film expertise working a high school job at a Kroger video counter before heading to the University of Georgia. The history and political science major watched everything screened on campus and discovered a world of foreign films. After graduating in 1996, he worked at a video store on Moreland Avenue where he cultivated a clientele.
“I got to know people from Little Five, Candler Park and Inman Park who were looking for something different,” he said. “I knew I could make money at it, so I saved up to open my own place. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t make a profit. We’ve had our ups and downs, but I’m making a living doing this, catering to a high-functioning movie crowd that’s not satisfied by streaming.”
That crowd also enjoys browsing the 2,000-square-foot store and chatting about what’s just come in and what’s worth watching with staff members who are passionate about film.
“I really don’t have time to search through everything on Netflix,” said Sean Antonetti, a Midtowner who makes regular Videodrome visits just to check out the inventory and talk to the staff. “It’s nice to come in and browse, see what’s new and what indies are in. They have so much here I can’t find online.”
It’s that connection between film lovers on both sides of the counter that’s kept Videodrome in business.
“There’s something tactile about coming in, talking to people who work here and discovering new things,” said Booth. “Amazon tried to make a program that can make recommendations without offending anyone, but it’s hard to teach a computer to do that when everyone’s taste is so different. For us, Videodrome is about having conversations with customers. It’s more of an experience than just renting a movie.”