In a world of relative cinema-watching convenience, with Netflix and Blockbuster By Mail, the quirky neighborhood video rental store is going the way of the record store and the dodo. However, the East Bay still houses at least one fantastic holdout, REEL Video, located on Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley. But perhaps not for long — despite REEL’s unique stock and organization, it is in fact owned by Hollywood Video, which recently filed for bankruptcy and announced the liquidation of all its stores. Over the past few weeks, REEL was suddenly plastered with fliers addressing frequently-asked questions about the store’s imminent closure, and calling for customer input on the store’s uncertain future.
Thanks to its impressive Netflix-besting selection (a VHS copy of 1965's Chimes at Midnight!) and its invitingly idiosyncratic shelving categories (e.g. “Your Mom,”” “So Bad It’s Half Off,” “One Man Army,” “British Television,” “Werner Herzog,” “Bromance”), REEL is a staple of the Berkeley film-buff/geek/cultist community. With a section devoted specifically to the beloved Criterion Collection, and a broad array of international cinema, it’s a great resource for UC Berkeley students studying film or just looking for a crazy popcorn movie on a Friday night (Black Gestapo, anyone?).
The latest press release from REEL details a proposed future for the store, wherein it would become “ a community movie education and gathering place in addition to its on-going video rental business.” REEL’s employees and other champions are seeking “angel investors” to help purchase the video collection and lease the store grounds, in preparation for their newly conceived “potentially non-profit” status.
Get on this, people! A genuine outpost of cultural weirdness and passion is about to be subsumed by the tide. It seems these are slowly dissipating, at least in the non-virtual world, so we have to save what we can.