What do the
Ku Klux Klan, Quentin Tarantino, surfers and the McCarty preschool have in
common? Answer: my hometown of
Manhattan Beach, CA may not seem like much...and indeed it isn’t.
It’s a standard beach community in most respects, indistinguishable
from the dozens of other surfer havens dotting the So Cal coast.
Look a little closer, though, and you’ll discover some fairly
important, if inconspicuous, landmarks.
The Strand Cleaners building, for one, located about a mile from
where I grew up, is where the infamous McMartin preschool, where numerous
kids claimed to have been molested, was once located.
A bit nearer the beach you’ll find a strange-looking park amidst a
gaggle of townhouses; this was where a black family was run off the land
back in the 1920’s, and which the Ku Klux Clan controlled city council
subsequently turned into a park in order to keep them away.
Another landmark, one that should be of particular interest to
patrons of this site, is situated on a small stretch of Sepulveda Boulevard,
an undistinguished looking mini-mall where THE GREATEST VIDEO STORE IN THE
WORLD once was.
Yes, Video Archives, which started in the early eighties, as a
hole-in-the-wall located at 1822 Sepulveda, was indeed the greatest video
store in the world. Now I’ll
grant that all such distinctions are subjective and subject to the whims of
memory and nostalgia, particularly in this case, as the business in question
has been closed for over nine years. I’ve
patronized a number of video stores since VA’s closing that may possibly
be better--West L.A.’s Cinefile, Santa Monica’s Vidiots and
Vancouver’s Videomatica--but was unable to make a first-hand comparison in
any case, so Video Archives remains at the top of my list.
I remember this now-famous establishment vividly: my family, after
all, was, according to an overheard comment by one VA’s longtime clerks,
“there since day one.” I
even recall my customer number: 387.
At a time when video rentals were a novelty and most video stores had
puny selections (not unlike those of your modern-day Blockbuster or
Hollywood Video chains), Video Archives had everything: Hollywood
blockbusters, documentaries, foreign films (organized by country, an unheard
of innovation at the time), cult flicks (which had their own wall, another
innovation) and the all-important “adults only” section.
The place also had a cool big screen TV, where I experienced my first
taste of quite a few great films.
An added attraction was the guy who worked there whom we knew as The
Tall Guy With the Big Chin. You
know him as Quentin Tarantino.
You’re aware, I’m sure, that the one-and-only Quentin Tarantino
worked as a video store clerk prior to hitting it big...well, Video Archives
was where he worked. As I
remember, he was always amped, plugging any given video with such
enthusiasm you felt you had no choice but to rent the damn thing—I
specifically remember Quent selling my mom on UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948) and
myself on a James Bond flick (it might have been DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER).
After watching the videos, we both agreed it was more fun hearing
Quent talk about ‘em!
An early film project of Quentin’s called MY BEST FRIEND’S
WEDDING is currently making the rounds of the bootleg circuit.
Much of it was clearly filmed in and around Video Archives during
those heady days, and features a number of recognizable faces culled from
The fizzy-haired Rowland was a ubiquitous figure behind the Video
Archives counter (he’s the dude Quentin chats with at the beginning of MY
BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING), as was the wise assed Stevo (who can be seen as
one of RESERVOIR DOGS’ four bathroom cops).
There was also the big, burly manager Lance, a blond woman whose name
I never learned and the “two reds” (twin redheaded gals).
One employee I don’t recall, ironically enough, is Roger Avery,
Quentin’s longtime buddy who shared the screenwriting Oscar for PULP
FICTION and worked at VA alongside him (Avery cast the abovementioned
Rowland and Stevo in his 1996 flick DR. STITCH).
I understand Mr. Avery was quite the ladies’ man—rumor has it he
regularly came onto one of my little sister’s friends!
Most of Video Archives’ principals stayed with the place into the
early nineties, when it moved to a bigger location two doors down, at 1808
Sepulveda. Quentin, alas, quit
around this time (nobody told me this, mind you, I just stopped
seeing him around).
continued patronizing the store, which managed to stay afloat in the face of
overwhelming odds, most notably a Blockbuster Video that around the time of
Quentin’s departure opened two blocks up on the same street (in a
depressing reminder of the sad realities of modern-day capitalism, said
Blockbuster is still there...while Video Archives is not).
long after that I began hearing about a movie called RESERVOIR DOGS, written
by “some guy who worked at Video Archives.”
I knew whom it was upon seeing the face pictured on the cover of a
1993 issue of LA Weekly profiling the film and its creator.
At that point Video Archives became RESERVOIR DOGS’ unofficial
South Bay publicity resource, as soon everyone in the store was wearing RD
tee shirts, RD posters were hung up everywhere and televised interviews with
Quentin at Cannes seemed to always be playing on the store’s new
monitor (the big screen television unfortunately went out with the old
location). I recall one clerk,
upon seeing Quent interviewed by Roger Ebert on the store TV, laughingly
commenting that “Quentin haaates Roger Ebert!”
As RESERVOIR DOGS’ profile grew, so did Video Archives’, to the
point that, as manager Lance stated in a later interview, he started to get
applications from people who’d already made movies (it usually works the
other way around, as Quentin’s career attests).
It would be hard to screw up such a perfect business opportunity, yet
somehow VA’s management did so, by abruptly and unexpectedly moving the
place to Hermosa Beach, over three miles away, in a crowded and uninviting
area with NO parking.
In this new location, Video Archives lasted about two months before,
in early 1994, going belly up. Like
quite a few of VA’s patrons, I didn’t know about the move...just that
the place had closed down. By
the time I found out Video Archives was gone for good.
The store’s stock of videos, many of them rare and extremely
valuable, was auctioned off amongst VA’s movie-loving staff; Quentin
apparently got most of ‘em.
Thus the greatest video store in the world went out with scarcely a
whimper. In the years since,
its reputation has grown to near-mythic proportions, with articles on the
“now fabled” “rude little video store” in publications like
PREMIERE, FILM THREAT and EMPIRE, as well as lengthy profiles in the
Tarantino bios SHOOTING FROM THE HIP by Wensley Clarkson and QUENTIN
TARANTINO: THE MAN AND HIS MOVIES by Jamie Bernard.
A former employee has even taken to selling Video Archives paychecks
he’s obtained made out to and endorsed by Quentin Tarantino.
To think: all this about a little video store I patronized for much
of my life. It’s gratifying
to think that, unlike the writers of the above-mentioned articles and books,
I’ve got firsthand knowledge of this “now fabled” establishment.
Unfortunately, I’m also aware that I’ll probably never see its