A Farewell to Family Video

I knew the day would come soon enough. While not having the national reach of Blockbuster or Hollywood Video, Family Video has been a Midwest mainstay for the past 40 years, and a regular stop during weekly errands throughout my adult life. The news they’re closing their remaining locations hit me especially hard last week.

The video store in general has been a big part of my life since I was a kid going in with my parents and renting Jurassic Park or Airplane or eventually sneaking Pulp Fiction and Clerks into the mix, two films fundamental to my love of cinema. I rented these films and built my love of cinema and love of discovering films on the racks at primarily the Blockbuster Video in Manhattan, Kansas. That Blockbuster is now a liquor store, by the way, didn’t even change the sign.

Former Blockbuster in Manhattan, Kansas
Former Blockbuster in Manhattan, Kansas

But Family Video… Family Video existed on a different level. I didn’t join the world of Family Video until I moved to Marquette Michigan in 2003 for college. We had both a Blockbuster and Family Video, and I had memberships at both. The Blockbuster closed in 05 (became a Verizon store), and I was OK, because I had shifted to Family Video almost full time for all my rental needs.

Family Video obviously brought the mega hit movies. That’s what pays the bills. As a regular visitor, more than once I’d see them sell out of a movie even if they had an entire wall devoted to it. But they also worked hard to bring everything. Even if it was just like one or two copies, they had the hard to find indie films, foreign films, documentaries, straight-to-DVD films. Stuff you couldn’t, wouldn’t find at Blockbuster, as they were aggressively corporate, mainstream, and populist. Family Video was a magical place that catered to all forms of cinema. In terms of recent releases, they had a vast array of films for you to choose from. Their selection of favourites and classics was varied eclectic, and never consistent from one Family Video to the next. They were very much of and for their market.

When I got my first radio show on Big Country 92.3 WJPD in Marquette, Family Video was a big part of that show. One night, I drunkenly walked in to find a movie to watch with some friends, we were ending the night after some bar hopping. I found what I wanted, then struck up a conversation with the manager about the movie I was getting, and then it turned to the Tin Man SyFy miniseries with Zooey Deschanel and Neal McDonough. The conversation went so well, she asked if I did movie reviews, and I told her I do on my radio show for Carmike Cinemas (which also doesn’t exist anymore, it was bought by AMC), and then she wanted to join on with DVD reviews. That partnership lasted my entire rest of the time with WJPD.

One week when I went in to pick up my weekly DVD, the manager mentioned their partnership with the local humane society to do an adopt-a-thon in their parking lot. She asked if I could mention it on-air during their segment. I told her to hang on a sec. I went back to my office (it was literally half a block away), talked to my manager, and I called her back to tell her we’ll broadcast live from the event. It was pro-bono for a charity, but she paid me in a movie poster. That Hannah Montana: The Movie poster has hung in every office I’ve had since then.

A friend of mine likes to remind me that I sold that partnership drunk.

But throughout the course of the partnership, I tried to represent the best of what Family Video had to offer, the full spirit of that particular brand. I’d review the big showy blockbusters that everyone already saw in theatres. But I also reviewed Leaves of Grass, a weird little movie where Edward Norton played a dual role as twin brothers growing pot in Oklahoma.

And everywhere I lived that had a Family Video, Marquette, Iron Mountain, Mexico, MO, here in Quincy, I had an account and made regular visits. Streaming is great, but there’s nothing like browsing the new release wall for all the random crazy stuff that came out. I have a friend from college who is now an actress in New York City, and she made a movie with Tom Sizemore and Eric Roberts called Black Wake, and through her I’ve become acquainted with both the director and the writer. All the way here in Quincy I was able to walk to my local video store in late August and pick up a copy and see this labour of love for two acquaintances and a beloved old friend.

As I sit here in early January, the posts that have populated my Facebook Memories recently have been me in an end of year mad dash to the finish to catch up on all of the films that came out over the course of the year but never came to my local small town theatre. Because above all else, that’s what Family Video was for the small Midwestern towns it existed in. It brought all forms of cinema to these small towns. Our six screens on the AMC isn’t showing the foreign films, the indie films, the awards contenders. Half their screens need to be showing Star Wars. I’ll miss my end-of-year trips to catch up on films I couldn’t see in theatres.

Was I part of the problem for subscribing to most of the major streaming services? Probably. But I did still go to the theatre and the video store on a weekly basis since there are experiences to be had in both those places that you can’t get streaming. So kinda, but not really.

Family Video was a magical place for small town cinephiles, a shining beacon of the cinematic arts, and the world will be a little dimmer without it. I raise my glass to you, Family Video. Thanks for everything.

P.S. I did hit up a clearance and grabbed a few movies. I really wanted to get the Blade Trilogy, because I still have an outstanding late fee with Blockbuster video for Blade II, and I figured buying the film would be a poetic kind of end. Unfortunately they only had Blade and Blade Trinity on their shelves. I’ll be heading back to see if I can score any more loot.

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