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OPINION: End of the line

By Ed Grant -- Video Business, 1/5/2009


JAN. 5 | Several of my friends have cozily settled into the Netflix routine, while others download movies from the Internet. Me, I’m still taking the subway to rent DVDs and (gasp) VHS from a bricks-and-mortar establishment, one that’s going out of business this month.

Mondo Kim’s, the leading “alternative” retailer in Manhattan, is my destination of choice. The store on St. Mark’s Place in Greenwich Village, the cornerstone of the small Kim’s Video franchise, has had the broadest selection of rental titles in the five boroughs of New York City for nearly two decades (by the store’s own count, it has 55,000 tapes and discs).

I’ve been renting from the store since the early ’90s. At that time, I was shuttling the tapes back and forth on the subway to Queens. Now that I live in Manhattan, it’s still a hike downtown to rent and return. Why have I gone to so much trouble to rent from Kim’s? It started as a function of my rampant cinephilia and the store managers’ decision to stock movies that never played NYC’s busy rep-theater circuit. These are movies that can’t be easily found on the Internet and are arranged, I should add, in true geek fashion: by genre, country and director.

In 1993, I began producing and hosting a weekly arts cable-access show here in Manhattan, Media Funhouse (www.mediafunhouse.com), and my dependence on Kim’s hard-to-find movies grew. My focus on the show has been “from high art to low trash,” as I’ve said in my introduction each week. I can’t count the number of times I’ve preceded an interview with a filmmaker—be they grindhouse or arthouse—with a Kim’s run to take a look at their obscure works. The “Deceased Artiste” obit tributes I do also have benefited from the store’s rental library—a 2007 tribute to the earlier films of Ingmar Bergman was composed almost entirely of clips from Kim’s VHS tapes.

When Mondo Kim’s shutters its doors, there will be only two stores I’m aware of in Manhattan that still rent old VHS (the eclectic New York Video and the Video Room). The key at Kim’s, however, has not just been the VHS, but the avid acquisition of mail-order items and transfers of imported releases of films that are in DVD limbo now and for the foreseeable future.

L.A., Austin, Seattle and several other cities have retained their well-loved alternative video-rental stores, but when Mondo Kim’s closes, NYC will be strictly out of luck. It will join other Village institutions that have bitten the dust in the 21st century, from CBGBs to various ’zine stores, record shops, “movie material” emporia and countless landmark eateries and bars. Kim’s has not just been a video store; it has been an irreplaceable resource for those on a low budget who want—and, in the case of students and journalists, need—to see the rest of cinema history.

For that kind of experience, a subway ride was a small price to pay.

Ed Grant reviews DVDs for VB.

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