Q&A: Videology Wishes You a Culty Little Christmas
The video store. Alongside pre-caller ID prank phone calls and episodes of Boy Meets World where Cory was still a boy, it's become for most of us just another glimmering remnant of Friday nights passed.
The only elf in Elves.
When Videology made the conversion to a screening room and bar last month, the city lost one of its last true-form rental stores. But unlike the somewhat bizarre fate of the collection at the late Kim's, here the staff was determined to keep the store's materials in Brooklyn, and give the neighborhood a space that was equally conducive to fostering a love of film.
On the occasion of the Williamsburg institution's ninth anniversary, we sat down with owner Wendy Chamberlain and local director/series curator Zach Clark. They discussed the fate of the video store, the importance of alt-theaters, and Christmas cult movies that will wierd the everloving holiday spirit out of you.
Videology thrived as a rental store for nine years, even as Netflix was fast on the rise. Why do you think that was?
Chamberlain: Well I think it's for two reasons. First, that Williamsburg is actually all about community, and I think people here really appreciate local businesses and not getting everything off the internet. So that really worked for us. The other thing is that we opened in 2003 with a very small collection, and we built that up just through the movies people came in and asked for. So our collection was basically curated by the neighborhood. It met people's needs. But in the end the 21st century wasn't going anywhere.
What happened to all those movies?
Chamberlain: We still have our full collection right here. It's in the basement now, not on display anymore, but people can still come in and rent. We still do a lot of rentals. We were still doing a lot up until the change over. When Sandy hit we knew that it was going to get crazy because it got crazy before Irene. Any sort of inclement weather still sends people running for DVDs. So Sunday night we were packed in here. But the Williamsburg rent and our operating costs just got too high to support the video store.
So now, one month after the switch from video store to bar/screening room, how does Videology compare to all these other indie theaters in the neighborhood?
Chamberlain: Well, you've got Spectacle--that tends toward the far obscure, and then Nitehawk--that's more mainstream. We're somewhere in the middle. But the biggest difference is that our set up isn't a regular theater set up. We have group tables instead of rows of seats. It's a place to come with a group of friends. We want there to be interaction--with the movie but also with the people around you. Like having a really big living room.
Do you take that set-up into account when planning a film series?
Clark: Yeah, I'm all about coming up with new ways to share the things I love that will bring people together. For instance, I'm a big Twin Peaks fan, and Wendy's a big fan too, so we did a Twin Peaks bingo night with trivia and prizes. And I've seen it-- I don't know how many times-- but that was a completely new way to present that and contextualize it to make it fun and open to the community atmosphere Wendy was talking about. I just approach it as: What are my favorite movies? My tastes have always been a little bit more... obscure.
Clark: The first movies I cared about were, like, Meet the Feebles and Plan 9 From Outer Space. And those cult movies were the way I came to love film. I appreciate more mainstream stuff now, but those were what started it all.
Why is watching a bad movie with a group of people just more fun?
Clark: Because a bad movie, with a group, really becomes this amazing communal experience. You'll groan together, you'll laugh together. One person will pick up on something hilarious and then it will catch on to the entire room. They're perfect for grabbing a beer and having fun.
Well that explains some of your selections, like the "Very Culty Christmas!" series that's coming up. How did you find all these creepy holiday movies?
Clark: As a teenager, once a year at Christmas, I would find some new terrible, crazy Christmas movie to watch. It was like a tradition. So when I came on board here that was a natural fit. I just really love all of those movies. And I think people are looking for some alternative to A Christmas Story playing for 24 hours on TBS or It's A Wonderful Life year after year.
Best, by which we mean, worst cult Christmas movie?
Clark: Elves--which we're showing on opening night--I think is just this really truly undiscovered, underappreciated cult gem. I screened it last year at ReRun, and now I'm showing it here, and I'd like to be responsible for it showing every December in New York, for, well, as long as I'm here at least. Have you ever seen Troll 2?
Clark: Okay, well imagine if there was a Troll 2 Christmas special. That's Elves. It's like that level of total insanity. In true bad movie tradition even the title is inaccurate. It's called Elves but there's only one elf in it. And half the time it's just this puppet that doesn't really move, whereas the other half its a glove on some guy's hand. But I don't know, they're all crazy. Santa Claus, the 1959 Mexican movie where Santa's got these robotic reindeer and fights the devil is just surreal. Then there's Christmas Evil which is genuinely a really great movie that just happens to be about a man with a Santa fetish.
What's next for Videology?
Chamberlain: One thing I was hoping was that by doing this we can start building the collection again. Lately we've really only been getting select new releases. And that was really sad for us, because for the first six years we would get big boxes of new DVDs every week. So hopefully this will let us expand.
Clark: In programming, I'm working on an adult animation series for January, some very adult-oriented cartoons. But as for now, come chase your Christmas blues away. Or bring them! Accrue more Christmas blues.