So, after a run of acting in some truly terrible movies (thus the run ended nearly as quickly as it began), and writing/producing/acting in a couple demonstration TV pilots that were successful only in depleting my bank account, I then found myself in such dire straits that the gas pump wouldn’t accept my ATM card, and I was not entirely sure if my car had enough gas to make it two full blocks uphill to my apartment in Beachwood Canyon in Hollywood. So, after a tortured night of cursing the heavens (and the fact that I wasn’t a trust fund baby), the next day, I literally applied for every single minimum wage job that would take an application. I was hired for three of them and worked as many hours as each would allow, averaging 100-hour work weeks for about a month and a half utilizing an egg timer to take naps in between shifts.
Well, one of those jobs lasted awhile, which was at the Videotech on Sunset in Hollywood. The video store was in the Carolco building (Carolco was, of course, the company responsible for the RAMBO films, BASIC INSTINCT, TOTAL RECALL, and SHOWGIRLS, among other contributions to grand cinema.), right across the street from the legendary Tower Records store and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago restaurant.
This was a “higher end” store than the Odyssey, at least in style and customer aspirations, heavy with laser discs, which were the cool, expensive technology that couldn’t be surpassed as far as picture quality. Whoopi Goldberg came into the store with a CPA one-time and bought what seemed like a carload of discs for a tax write off. We would have a higher traffic of movie stars in and out of the place which led to the following stories:
JASON PATRIC AND ROBIN WRIGHT GO ON A DATE
Jason Patric was in the store all the time, as he watched films non-stop, always hungry to see something new or be introduced to a filmmaker he was unfamiliar with. I would talk to him quite a bit as he liked my taste in films and therefore would seek me out to get a recommendation on something that I knew about or was a fan of that he hadn’t come across yet. He was quiet, and tried to blend in and not draw attention to himself – to the point that he always sported a grunge, maybe been working in a garage all day look. Whether by design or not, if you weren’t astute at picking out celebs from the crowd, you wouldn’t notice him. I even kidded him about it, that he shouldn’t feel a need to dress up on the store’s behalf.
Well, I was working a Friday night shift, at the counter, when Jason steps up out of the line to check out a couple of films. It was like an entirely different guy was there, he was cleaned up and dressed up and looked every bit the leading actor on the rise that he was. I kinda laughed and started to say to Jason, “So, dude, what’s the occasion…?” But before I could even finish the question, out from behind him, Robin Wright steps into view, matching his Young Hollywood stardust. Seriously, sometimes, you are confronted in a moment like that with just how a thing like “Hollywood” happens. So I swallowed my laugh, nodded to Jason, who kinda smiled, as I said, “Never mind. Question answered and duly noted. Uhh, have a great night.” He got a lot of mileage after that from the look on my face when I saw Robin come into view.
THE WILY SELF-PROMOTING HENRY JAGLOM
Henry Jaglom is largely famous/known in Hollywood for a couple of reasons. One, he was friends with Orson Welles and became very closely associated with Welles toward the end of the film legend’s career and life. Two, he was – and still is – able to string to together a seemingly endless number of modestly budgeted films that would be advertised on a single billboard on Sunset that apparently was his as it only had advertisements for his films and the film’s poster image would stay up there for an entire year, until it was replaced by the next Henry Jaglom production. Say what you want about his filmography and style (his films routinely feature a core troupe of veteran character actors and for the last several years, have often starred Tanna Frederick, a friend of mine), but his (more or less) annual output of films is rivaled only by Woody Allen when it comes to their prolific nature, as is his independence to write and direct films on subjects and genres and styles that he is interested in and entertained by.
However, it took me awhile to come to the appreciation I have for Jaglom because of some self promotion shenanigans he pulled while I was working at Videotech. His latest film, EATING, I believe it was, had come out on video. Jaglom came into the store occasionally, and without asking us, and without us seeing what he had done, he had put stickers on the backs of several of the shelves where the video boxes were stacked, so if there was some empty space, you couldn’t help but see the poster for his film. And those things wouldn’t just peel off. We had to get paint scrapers to take care of the infestation. He could not have pissed us off more, if he had dropped a dozen un-rewound videos in the drop box overnight. Bastard. I believe we may have pointedly pointed out his film to random customers telling them that whatever they did, NOT to rent that one.
Which, of course, just gave the film more juice.
A SUNDAY MORNING VISIT FROM THERESA RUSSELL
Working the Sunday morning shift at the video store was alternately a lame assignment (because NO ONE cane in the store on that day at that time) and also one of the best (because NO ONE came in the store on that day at that time). In fact, it was so lax that we seriously needed an enforced dress code since we often just rolled out of bed and didn’t bother to change clothes before heading into the store. In fact, one of my outfits (I believe it was a striped t-shirt with plaid shorts and a Gilligan hat) – kind of hard to believe by anyone that knows me now inspired Ka’lyn, a gay co-worker, to say that I was “painfully heterosexual,” meaning that my style-sense at that time was clearly so heterosexual that it actually hurt him to witness it and have to work next to it.
Anyway, it was no man’s land and we were sleepy and bored, so we would put on whatever outlandish videos to keep us awake and entertained while we filed videos away and did spot cleaning, etc. Well, one morning the Ka’lyn and I decided to watch Ken Russell’s WHORE. We both loved us some Theresa Russell and we thought it would be funny to put the film on early Sunday morning. As Wilford Brimley would say, it just seemed like “the right thing to do.”
That was until Theresa Russell actually walked into the store. With her kids.
Awkward. We tried to be casual as we walked over to the counter to switch out the tape, but – of course – we both got waylaid by a customer asking for something before we could do so. Ka’lyn and I were making eye contact with each other and then back to Russell, who didn’t seem to notice (but how could she not) while she looked for films with her kids. Until finally, she turned and intercepted us in a little triad of unfortunateness and asked if we wouldn’t mind “turning that off until I can leave with my kids.” I mean, sure, that seemed reasonable, and yeah, right away, and holy crap this sucks, and wow, can’t wait until the next time she visits the store, maybe we could play BAD TIMING as a (literal) chaser…
BREAKING THE CASE WIDE OPEN
I thought I would finish with this fun story that reads like one of the oldest joke bits done in countless films and TV shows. The hierarchy at Videotech worked like this: There were a couple owners that only came into the store once a week, had little interaction with the staff, and would just make a beeline to the register at the counter and print out the tape of that day’s sales. I mean, these guys barely could get out a hello and we joked about the likelihood that they didn’t know any of our names even though we had introduced and re-introduced ourselves to them over and over and over again. Then there were two or three general managers, and then the rest of us. So, fairly early into my time there, the store had one general manager who was the senior guy, had been there the longest, and everyone took their cues from him.
Now, the other important thing to know id that one of the perks of working in a video store was…free videos. Duh, right? So, if you love movies, you could not beat that for a job – an endless supply of film films to take home and watch.
So, one day, one of the owners drops in to “check the tape.” As he does so, the general manager is leaving as he has just finished his shift, carrying an open over the shoulder bag. The owner nonchalantly peers inside and asks, “Taking some movies? What have you got in there?” But instead of answering him and talking about the films he planned to watch that night, the general manager completely breaks down and loses it, confessing to stealing hundreds of videos since his time at the store. It was like the stock scene in a courtroom (I think Woody Allen did it best in BANANAS) where a guy bursts into the courtroom and confesses to the crime in a complete emotional breakdown, then realizes that he’s in the wrong courtroom. But, it turned out that this guy had, in fact, stolen, two hundred or so videos and stashed them inside (what was apparently) a pretty big coffee table. Exciting. Of course, it screwed everyone since we had to start formally signing films out and were limited to 2 per night or something like that.
There you have it. I obviously have a fond and emotional connection to the video store culture as it was back in the day. And I know that the city of Dallas will miss having Premiere Video around to serve as a one-stop go-to place to find something you’re dying to see but couldn’t find elsewhere or to just load up on films for a couple nights. Yes, we watch films differently due to streaming and what is easily accessible there – and I am as guilty as anyone for viewing so many films that way that even accessing my own personal library is altogether infrequent. So I’m part of the problem too. And it is my loss as well. As the song says, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” Maybe they’ll pave over Premiere Video and put up a parking lot…