MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

The Last Five Great Video Stores in Los Angeles



My journey to find the last great video store began at Cinefile Video in West Los Angeles. Even in LA, finding video stores in 2018 is harder than one might imagine — a number of stores like Video West and the last remaining Blockbusters have closed in the six years since I moved here, and information on what’s still open and functional isn’t always the best. But I’d visited Cinefile before, and was eager to check it out again.

In terms of curation, Cinefile can’t be beat. They have the most interesting director’s section I’ve ever seen — filmmakers like Martha Coolidge, Alan Rudolph, Bill Gunn, Ida Lupino, and Ed Wood are given an equal spotlight within. By presenting viewers with a director’s entire oeuvre, Cinefile makes it easy for renters to find their own personal entry point into a particular filmography. And Cinefile’s uniquely curated sections — Nunsplotation, Holiday Horror, Private Dicks, Southern Discomfort, and Cannibals were just a few of offerings the day I was there — help customers explore even the most niche genres.

Cinefile also highlights subgenres like made-for-TV movies, filmed plays, and musical documentaries that would get overlooked by lesser video stores. This is also precisely the kind of material that never makes it to streaming — Cinefile’s dedication to showcasing this work is not only exciting from a customer’s point of view, but essential from a preservationist’s.
An endcap section at Cinefile

I was the only person in Cinefile the Thursday I visited them, and it was tough not to get a little disheartened by the lack of traffic in the store. But, when I visited a few months later, after 11PM on a Friday night, the store was bustling with activity, patrons eager to check out titles before a long weekend. Cinefile showcases some fantastic memorabilia within the store too — velvet paintings, tchotchkes, and rare promo images line the walls, adding to the ambiance of a visit.

For buyers, a hearty stock of DVDs were on sale for 50% off, and VHS tapes were selling for a quarter. Cinefile’s signature auteur-directors-as-metal-bands shirts were also well-stocked alongside tote bags featuring filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and Jim Jarmusch. Cinefile is an excellent option for film fans on LA’s west side — yearly, monthly, and pay-as-you go memberships are available to best suit your personal rental needs.

Cinefile Video,
11280 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90025. Sunday-Thursday, 11AM-11PM, Friday-Saturday, 11AM-12AM. $5 pay as you go rentals; $30 monthly membership for four rentals at a time; $330 yearly membership — all memberships come with perks like 10% off American Cinematheque memberships.
Vidéothèque

For my second visit, I headed east to Vidéothèque. Immediately, I was struck by how vital Vidéothèque felt among a strip of other small businesses — it’s clearly a community hub for South Pasadena. Like Cinefile, Vidéothèque is all about exquisite curation: the impeccable but not at all sterile store makes browsing new releases and pre-code films feel equally essential.

Vidéothèque impressed me with their extensive sections for international TV and harder-to-find American shows (like THE WONDER YEARS with the original music intact) as well as a massive music doc section that emphasized rare girl punk bootlegs, Mingus performances, and classical concerts with the same level of enthusiasm.

With some groovy shoegaze playing while I browsed, I hung out while a dozen or so customers came through the store on a Sunday afternoon. A father extolled the virtues of Ray Harryhausen to his middle-school son (who just wanted to rent SHIN GODZILLA again) while I perused Vidéothèque’s excellent avant-garde and experimental section. Documentaries were sorted by director and by subject — especially helpful for those seeking materials for research purposes.

Vidéothèque’s focus on international titles is quite impressive — thirty-year old VHS tapes were stacked alongside new Blu Rays, providing access to films that aren’t available on DVD or Blu Ray in the US. I also really appreciated how diverse Vidéothèque’s children’s section was, with documentaries and foreign films presented to children alongside Pokémon and THE LITTLE MERMAID — Vidéothèque understands that children become voracious watchers as adults if they’re shown a wide array of films as kids.
The Cult section at Vidéothèque

While the dual sorting of American films by both director and actor (depending on the genre and title) might feel confusing to some, I enjoyed being able to peruse filmographies of actors like Barbara Stanwyck and Sidney Poitier alongside directors like Allison Anders and Sam Fuller. It’s just so much easier to fall in love with an actor or director when their entire filmography is laid out in front of you, not just a few random titles.

Vidéothèque also sells vinyl, t-shirts, buttons, and new and used DVDs, further bolstering their role as an important gathering place for South Pasadena. Even after one visit, I could tell fostering and nurturing a sense of community was one of Vidéothèque’s core values — the store is an essential hub for film lovers on the east side.

Vidéothèque,
1020 Mission Street, South Pasadena, CA, 91030. 11AM-11PM weekly (10AM on Saturdays.) All rentals $4.50, with option to pre-purchase rentals in packages for a discounted rate.

The next two stores I visited most reminded me of the Blockbusters and Hollywood Videos of my childhood: Star Video in Van Nuys and Odyssey Video in North Hollywood. These stores are catered towards the more casual viewer — lots of new releases and popular catalogue titles.
Star Video

Star Video felt almost exactly like a Blockbuster to me: new releases lined the outer edge of the store, with older titles sorted by genre in the middle. While there wasn’t any curation to speak of, Star Video does feature some very deep genre sections, particularly for late 90s/early 2000s titles — some sections were so full that titles were stacked on top of each other.

Star’s most impressive racks include a massive selection of thrillers, and a funky children’s section with titles like MAD HOT BALLROOM and THE LEGEND OF NATTY GANN. They’re also the only store I visited that’s still renting video games — that market has been squashed by Gamefly, so Star Video is meeting an important need for those who would prefer to rent in-person.

I was the only person in Star Video on a Sunday afternoon, but if I lived closer, I’d be stopping in for new release titles on Blu Ray since they’re just $2.50 each — catalogue titles rent for only a dollar.
Odyssey Video

Odyssey Video gave me some intense 1997 vibes — in absolutely the best way. VHS tapes were shelved alongside DVDs, and I noticed a lot of forgotten 90s cable classics like THAT NIGHT, SHAG! and THERE GOES MY BABY were still renting at the store. I was most struck by some of the rare children’s titles at Odyssey, like compilations that never made it to DVD from ANIMANIACS, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, and THE SIMPSONS.

Like Star, there’s no curation at Odyssey outside of genre, but the store featured an extensive martial arts section (with titles from the 1970s still available on VHS) and a deep musicals rack, including some out-of-print compilations from major studios.

And, while almost every store I visited had an adult section, Odyssey’s behind-the-curtain titles are truly something to behold: they take up almost half the store, with a smattering big-box pornos from the 1980s still available to rent. Odyssey felt like a store out of time and space, but that’s not a bad thing: a visit there feels like a voyage back in time. And the prices reflect the retro vibe of the store as well — most of Odyssey’s extensive VHS collection rents for just $.99 a movie.

Star Video, 13644 Vanowen, Van Nuys, CA, 91405. 10AM-11PM daily. $2.50 for new release rentals, $1 for catalogue titles.

Odyssey Video, 4810 Vineland Avenue, North Hollywood, CA, 91601. 10AM-12AM daily. $1.99 for rentals, $.99 certain days of the week.
Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee

I found what I was looking for when I visited Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee in North Hollywood.

I figured I was in good hands when I saw “Mount Rushmonster” painted on the outside of the nondescript building, but once I walked in and saw the one-sheets, movie magazines, scripts, and laserdiscs for sale, I knew I’d found the video store I’d been searching for — the vibe was just right.

Eddie Brandt’s rental floor houses 80,000 VHS tapes — twenty times the number of films now streaming on Netflix. While there, I slipped into that glorious zen state only a concentrated browse can provide — I could’ve easily posted up there for the rest of the day. Eddie Brandt’s has countless rare and out-of-print titles I’d never laid eyes on before like early commercials compilations, classic Western and detective serials, multi-part television documentaries, and so much more.

The scope of Eddie Brandt’s rental catalogue cannot be understated: only the VHS tapes are out on display, but the store also rents over 20,000 DVDs and Blu Rays, including the newest releases, available to scan via their catalogue. Titles at Eddie Brandt’s are alphabetized, but with a catalogue of that size, one opts for simplicity over curation— and don’t worry, the clerks behind the counter and your fellow customers will be happy to recommend things once you start talking about the kind of movies you like.

While I was browsing, I struck up a conversation with Tony Nittoli, who was working the counter, and two patrons — one an older gentlemen in a WWII veteran hat; the other a young metalhead carrying his chihuahua. I told them I was working on a piece about video stores, and all three of them were eager to tell me about Eddie Brandt’s history.

Nittoli mentioned that Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino are still customers — not at all surprising given that Anderson and Tarantino are some of the most film-literate directors working today. The older gentleman (a patron of many years who asked not to be named in this piece) told me that most of the major studios keep contracts with Eddie Brandt’s, as it still provides the easiest pathway to find very old and obscure titles from their own catalogues. The four of us chatted about how much we all missed this exact moment of the video store experience: just shooting the shit on a Friday afternoon, talking about movies without a care about anything happening outside the store’s VHS-packed walls.
The Westerns section at Eddie Brandt’s

I had such a great afternoon at Eddie Brandt’s that I went back a few Saturdays later — Nittoli remembered me and asked how my piece turned out. He also insisted I take a donut from the open box on the counter — all patrons were cajoled into taking one before leaving, adding to the family feel of the store.

Both times I visited Eddie Brandt’s, there were multiple groups browsing, and conversation flowed between customers and counter staff — everything from to why THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG had been checked out for so long to where to find obscure skateboarding videos to why studio movies were so bad in the 1980s.

And, I was able to find four movies — LITTLE DARLINGS, DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE, LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, and PLAY IT AS LAYS — that will never make it to DVD (thanks to, you guessed it, music licensing issues) on VHS in Eddie Brandt’s collection, a thrilling moment for me after being on the hunt for many years. I talked to Nittoli about needing a VCR again after discovering all Eddie Brandt’s offered me, and he mentioned how much harder they’d been to come by in the last few years. Nittoli said that he’d noticed an uptick in customers asking about VCRs as they began to realize how many titles weren’t (and would never be) available on streaming or DVD/Blu Ray.

Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee is the most impressive video store I’ve ever visited — I’m scouring Goodwills for a working VCR so I can start a membership in earnest. In addition to their massive one-of-a-kind catalogue, the warm, welcoming atmosphere at the store made me feel like a member of their community after only two visits.

And the sensual experience of visiting the store — the pleasant library musk of dust and cardboard, the murmur of a mystery movie on an old TV mixing with customer chatter, the feel of well-worn, embossed letters on a shaggy shell case — kept me engaged throughout both of my visits. I felt so much more invested in the films I was looking at — holding them in my hands made the stakes of choosing something feel so much higher than when on streaming.

In addition to one of the most impressive rental catalogues in North America, the store also houses twenty-two tons of promotional photos, film stills, posters, and other movie memorabilia — and you can browse their entire catalogue online.

Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee is an essential haven for cinema’s true believers, and should be preserved and protected at all costs. Next time you’re in the Valley, stop by, and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee, 5006 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood, CA. 1–6PM Tuesday-Friday, 10AM-6PM Saturdays. One-time membership fee of $15, all rentals $3.

 
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