If you are a Quentin Tarantino fanatic, you might recognize the name Video Out-Takes as having a “who begat what” relationship with Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.
In 1979, Tarantino’s now-estranged writing partner Roger Avary took a job at what was then a new and innovative business, a video-rental store called Video Out-Takes in Redondo Beach. Video Out-Takes was co-owned by Lance Lawson, who then broke off and founded Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, taking Avary with him. Tarantino became a loyal patron and employee of Video Archives, and a friend of Avary’s.
When VHS and Beta movies first appeared, the studios assumed people would buy them like books and LPs. By offering what were supposed to be end-consumer products for rent, the first video stores had a kind of “is this legal?” feel about them. Stores like Video Out-Takes and Video Archives provided the first opportunity for fans to see classic movies, cult movies, foreign movies, on demand in their living rooms–or in the case of Avary and Tarantino, on the TV monitor at the store when business was slow.
I never went to Video Archives, so I missed my chance to meet Tarantino in his pre-fame geekdom. However I was a Video Out-Takes customer for 25 years. My mother is a movie-lover, so she was willing to shell out what it took to buy a VHS player when the technology was still new and too expensive for me; and Video Out-Takes was her source. I lived an hour away in Los Angeles, but would sometimes come home on weekends just to rent movies and watch them in my parents’ den.
When I moved back to the South Bay in 1992, one of my first stops was to buy a discount card at Video Out-Takes. In addition to the movies I was interested in, Video Out-Takes had a great collection of Disney cartoons and obscure movies for kids — videos that had long gone out of print and could only be found there. My son and step-son loved to browse through dusty shelves full of faded clam-shell boxes to claim movies like Old Yeller, The Three Caballeros and The Best of Beany & Cecil.
Video Out-Takes was an oasis for people who loved movies of every genre — from art-house to slasher. You could tell that before you even walked in the door, from looking at the bizarre murals on the side wall: Elvis riding a pink Cadillac with Chucky…John Wayne taking E.T. for a ride. These murals as well as a faded collection of steamy lobby cards for obscure films noirs can still be seen if you visit the storefront on PCH, but probably not for much longer.
Video Out-Takes survived competition from giant chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video because of the depth of its offerings (which apparently also included a large porn collection secreted behind a false wall). It made the transition to DVDs fairly seamlessly.
Perhaps Netflix delivered the coup de grace, because like Video Out-Takes, the online service provides access to a huge collection suiting many tastes. However, when I visited the store last night, I saw an announcement for a public hearing on converting the site to a “commercial condominium.” It might just be that the landlord sold the store out from under them, and the owner didn’t have the energy to relocate.
What Video Out-Takes had that Netflix does not was its collection of old VHS tapes dating back to the beginning of the technology. Hundreds of titles got issued on VHS — once. These are titles that aren’t on DVD and might never be. The images and sound were starting to fade on these tapes, but at least you could see them. I was on my way to look for an out-of-print VHS title like that when I discovered the store was closed.
That was a great cinematic library: Where is it now?
(One buried treasure I need to mention: Lou Bunin’s Alice in Wonderland, a stop-motion animation “puppetoon” combined with live action that came out in 1950, the same year as Walt Disney’s more famous version. The Disney lawyers managed to suppress Bunin’s charming rendition of Lewis Carroll’s tale, allegedly threatening film labs and theater chains so that it barely reached U.S. screens. However, at some point in the late 70s, it was issued on VHS, and Video Out-Takes had it. I stumbled across it and thought my son might like it — and boy did he! That movie became the central focus of his life for several years, inspiring hundreds of drawings. We must have rented it 25 times, until finally we made a copy of it, fearing the rental tape might get stolen…or that something like this would happen.)