Friday, July 12, 2013


Filmzilla closed in May of 2013.  With it, Minneapolis lost a great place.  They had been that rare place that you could wander into without any sense of what you wanted and leave pleased.  It was a video store for cinephiles and the casual movie watcher.  They had some of everything.  Their catalogue spanned all genres and I was always impressed by the stuff I would find.  
Their staff was extremely knowledgable and warm, and you could tell they loved movies. They weren't my neighborhood video store (which is Movies on 35th Street), but I loved being in there.   I met John Smith during their closing sale and he was generous enough to share some of his thoughts on it all with me.  It is great to see his picks for movies. Categorized and organized, it is a poignant view of what we're losing.  
Filmzilla2.jpg (792×432)

ASV: Where are you from?  How did you end up getting interested in movies?   What was your childhood like?  Were your parents interested in film?

JS: I grew up in Minneapolis. Single mother, Younger brother and television as a babysitter. I fell in love with comic books and monster movies really young and my mother was real good about taking us to saturday matinees. Lots of Godzilla and anything animated. She took me to a double feature of the original King Kong and Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast when I was 8 or 9. that kind of opened the doors to black and white and subtitles. Also this was happening in a time without infomercials, So there were a lot of movies on television. Prime time we would watch the Clint Eastwood westerns and James Bond Films ands made for tv stuff like Bad Ronald and Trilogy of Terror and during the day on the indie station they would play Matt Helm movies and stuff like Equinox and Two Lane Blacktop.
Then Star Wars came out when I was 9. I was obsessed with it and got the toys and comics and any magazines that featured SW characters on the the cover. This led to mags like Starlog and Famous Monsters and finding out about more movies.
My grandparents lived in Detroit and I visited every summer. This led to my aunt taking me to the Drive-in 2-3 times a week and seeing the Corman stuff. I started getting heavily into music after seeing The Kids Are Alright and getting all the music mags which had movie stuff that was different than Starlog.
Then cable hit Minneapolis and shows like Night Flight would show weird movie stuff like Warhols Frankenstein and Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. The Uptown theatre was showing great stuff.
When home video hit in the 80's Northern Lights record store had a small selection of tapes and the clerks would make us rent stuff Like the Monkees "Head" and the Russ Meyers films.
That's pretty much how My movie tastes were formed.

ASV: How did you get involved with Filmzilla? How long were you affiliated with it?

JS: I had worked at Discount Video in the early 90's they had a great collection. I quit there to work at the First Avenue nightclub and was out of the movie scene for 10 years, only seeing films that people were raving about (Clerks, Tarantino) or mainstream stuff at the Skyway.
In 2003 I was looking for a second job and a friend told me to go to Nicollet Village Video. I went, checked out the catalog and asked for a job. I stayed for a month shy of 10 years.

ASV: What is Filmzilla? How did it get started? (Used to be Village Video, etc...) How long was it around? How did it work originally? (was it a membership? etc...) Did that change through the years?

JS: NVV was a indie store. ID and credit card got you a account. New releases $3.50 overnight, catalog 4 for $5 for 4 days. Prices stayed the same tip they closed.

Chris Becker had the philosophy of just get everything so the selection was incredible. He opened it in 1996 and everyone told him that video stores were over.  The store was in a gay neighborhood so he ordered all the GLBT titles he could get. He pretty much ordered every foreign title he could. For a big hollywood release Blockbuster would get 70-100 copies, he would get 6. so the new release wall had hundreds of titles. 

xDSC_0313.jpg (600×402)

ASV: How would you describe the heyday of the Video Store?

JS: Weekend nights were like a bar scene, people's big plans have fizzled out or couples doing a night in. lines lasted until close, We would get in 70 -100 titles a week!  It didn't really slow down until 2008. 2009 I think is when the numbers started dropping.

ASV: Can you talk about a favorite memory at the store?

JS: Guy with a straight face asks how to rewind a dvd.

ASV: Who was a favorite customer?  Why?

JS: There were 5 pre-teen girls unrelated to each other who HATED disney princess movies and Twilight crap but loved Batman or Star Wars. Mostly Batman. So I would steer them to the good comic book properties Like Batman Animated or the Justice League Unlimited.
There were guys who liked to play stump the clerk, not realizing none of us really cared. 
There were a lot of nice customers. and a lot more pricks who wanted to yell for 15 rather than pay a $2 late fee.

ASV: What were some of your Staff Picks through the years? How about if you could do one now? & in what circumstance would you recommend people watch it?  (food, place, types of people)

JS: Off the top of my head.
This assumes I don't have to recommend the obvious (Citizen Kane and the rest of the canon) and fairly mainstream. 

Pre 60's
His Girl Friday
Kiss Me Deadly
any of the Ida Lupino directed noirs
Bad Seed
Night of the Hunter
almost any Preston Sturgess
Girl Can't Help It/Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter
Peeping Tom
He Walked by Night
Shack out on101

Lord Love a Duck
Faster Pussycat Kill Kill/ Mudhoney
Head (Monkees)
Wild Angels
Sergio Leone Trilogy ( I'm stunned at how may people won't watch these because a. western or b. Clint Eastwood

Prime Cut
Mean Streets
Two Lane Blacktop
Vanishing Point/ Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry/ Race With the Devil.
Rock and Roll High School
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Exorcist
Halloween and all the good imitations.
Drunken Master

Blade Runner
Repo Man
The Loveless
Near Dark
The Hitcher
A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon

City of Lost Children
Take This Waltz
10 Inch Hero
Archer (tv)
The Wire (tv)

ASV: How did Filmzilla manage to hang on as long as it did? 

JS: Catalog. Buying everything we could when the money was coming in helped a lot. When the store moved the demand shifted from movies to new TV shows and kid stuff, and random college kids looking for "The Room" or "Troll 2".

ASV: What do you think caused Filmzilla to have to close it's doors?  What about video stores in general? 

JS: When the store moved, our porn customers didn't follow, and the Filmzilla customers really cared about new releases that red box didn't have. The average customer was 53 years old. Young people are not going to video stores.

ASV: Do you see anyway that a video store could survive today?

JS: Cinema Revolution tried the Curated Collection and didn't survive. no. I don't think so. I see downloads and streaming getting better in the next 5 years.

ASV: What is your plan from here on?

JS: I'm still at First Ave and I'm going back to school.

ASV: Best of luck, John.

tumblr_inline_mnjnbmyklU1qz4rgp.jpg (478×640)

-J. Moret

No comments:

Post a Comment