Elgin Video: Eulogy

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 12.50.31 PMBack in the 90s, when there was no Amazon, no streaming, no IMDb, and when most video rental shops carried little in the way of foreign, cult, or controversial films, I became a regular at what was then called Elgin Street Video Station. This was the place to find the surreal and the repulsive as well as the classic. This was the place to find the BBC policiers like Prime Suspect and Cracker. This was the place to gaze upon rows of VHS tapes (often sorted by director) and learn first-hand about movies in all their permutations. Back then, Elgin Video had a “7 for 7” deal, which let customers rent 7 movies for a week–I did that most weeks for many years and expanded. I was the girl toting an awkward load of 7 VHS tapes through the streets of Centretown in a haze of happiness. No matter how banned, how obscure, how old, how terribly B a movie was, chances are they had it in stock, and chances were just as good the staff could talk about it. Film became my world, and I became a film buff and film writer, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Elgin Video partly shaped who I am. Bloody hell.

I moved away from the neighbourhood in the Aughts so my attendance nosedived, but I recently came back–my apartment is literally around the corner from the place. And I’ll admit that each time I walked by the shop–which is most days–that worm of dismay stirred in my gut because I knew it was just a matter of time before it shut its doors. In fact, it’s a testament to customer devotion and neighbourhood affection that Elgin Video held on as long as it did. But on April 29, the banners went up: STORE CLOSING. And the clearance sale began. No matter how prepared you are for a thing–no matter how inevitable or overdue–that thing can still haul back and punch you in the guts.

lsI went in around noon the next day, not because I needed discs. I’m a collector, so I still buy them, but I’ll soon be moving and have stopped loading up on books and Blu-Rays for practical reasons. Still…I wanted mementoes. I wanted the very stuff of the place that formed me, that gave me Jodorowsky and Argento before the internet made them better-known and more accessible, that gave me Von Trier and Riefenstahl when no other rental would carry them, that gave me Melville and Chabrol and Breillat and Haneke like they were no big thing, and all the Klaus Kinski movies an infatuated lass could ask for. All the big foreign directors like Kurosawa and Bergman and Tarkovsky–all their titles, not just the one or two National Society of Film Critics-approved ones. And all the not-for-the-squeamish weirdness and not-for-the-literalist strangeness that fill in our fledgling-film-buff cracks, if a fledgling film buff knows what’s good for them.

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 1.05.23 PMIt was hard being in there, knowing. But I found a Fellini, a Bergman, a few old Polanskis, a favourite old BBC policier, and a couple of newer beloveds like Bronson and Atanarjuat. They have Elgin Video decals on them–and it’s some consolation knowing that Ottawa is being seeded with these particular discs this month, leaving a trace behind. While I was in there, another local institution–Alan Neal, from CBC Ottawa’s All in a Day, was interviewing staff. I listened to the chat while I browsed, and ended up on candid microphone while I paid (hear me talking Fanny and Alexander with staff at 55 seconds in this clip). Being part of the farewell radio segment for Elgin Video is beyond meaningful to me.

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