I Lost it at the Video Store: A Filmmakers’ Oral History of a Vanished Era


I Lost it at the Video Store is a love-letter to the near-extinct video store and its culture. The title is an homage to influential film critic Pauline Kael’s I Lost it At the Movies.

Out of all retail outlets that are dying off the video store has been the saddest one to watch go. There was something more exciting about hunting for new movies than for books or records. It was always tailored to my moods – find a torturous Arthouse film or the trashiest horror, and I’d always come across random gems  whereas record and book purchases were always decided upon first. There’s not a huge investment in taking a risk on a crap film, you waste between $1-$8 and it’s no big deal, but I was never keen on taking risks on records and books.

Tom Roston interviews some big name directors who were educated and influenced by video store culture, names such as Kevin Smith and Tarantino. There’s also the odd quote from pointless famous people like James Franco but he’s incredibly dull. Through interview transcripts Ronson shows us film fans just how much video store culture influenced these directors and that they often had the same experiences and attachments to them as us. A lot of directors admit to learning the craft of film-making from studying VHS tapes at home.

The book is at its best when it’s directors recounting their stories of local shops and experiences. There’s a fair bit about the business side of it and the production of Tarantino’s movies. I never really knew how video store culture really helped American Independent cinema, so that was another interesting aspect of the book. It is quite a brief read, I got through it in about half a day, but that shouldn’t discourage you from buying it.  It’s not an in-depth analysis, it’s pretty much just interview transcripts, but a nice little package of nostalgia that film fans should dig. The main thing is that it’s an incredibly fun read and you really will pine for the days of VHS, hitting your VCR and waiting impatiently while you fast forward through trailers.

After reading this book I am going to go the DVD store and sign up again. I have a three year old and I want her to have some memories of the excitement of going to choose a movie and some lollies and having a fun night. Let’s face it, turning on the TV, browsing Netflix for 20 minutes to find one movie you all agree on only to have minds changed 20 minutes into the film isn’t fun. You’re invested in going to the video store, looking, choosing, parting with cash. It’s a memory I want my daughter to have.

Available in paperback and hardcover.

Product Description:

For a generation, video stores were to filmmakers what bookstores were to writers. They were the salons where many of today’s best directors first learned their craft. The art of discovery that video stores encouraged through the careful curation of clerks was the fertile, if sometimes fetid, soil from which today’s film world sprung. Video stores were also the financial engine without which the indie film movement wouldn’t have existed.

In I Lost it at the Video Store, Tom Roston interviews the filmmakers–including John Sayles, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Darren Aronofsky, David O. Russell and Allison Anders–who came of age during the reign of video rentals, and constructs a living, personal narrative of an era of cinema history which, though now gone, continues to shape film culture today.

About the Author:

Tom Roston is a journalist whose work appears in The New York Times, The Guardian, Spin, The Los Angeles Times and The Hollywood Reporter, among other publications. A former senior editor at Premiere magazine, he also writes a weekly blog about documentaries for PBS’ award-winning POV website. He lives in Brooklyn.

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