Aged like Fine Wine: Thoughts on Film with Gary Byrd

For this assignment, I immediately thought to interview my dad. He happens to have a very unique relationship with a video rental store, Rosebud Video, in our neighborhood in Asheville – so I wanted to talk with him about his experience with films. What follows are his answers to some of the questions that were provided as a guide to conversation.

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My Dad and I, this past Father’s Day, at his favorite German restaurant in Asheville.

What was one of the first films you remember watching in a theatre?

“Gotta think about this one. I don’t know. I grew up in Johnson City, Tennessee, and the theatre we had was the Majestic Theatre. My first memory is going to the skyline drive in with my mom and one of her friends, and four other kids in the car. We watched Elvis movies. I don’t remember the names, but that was my first experience. All I cared about was the concession stand, the candy. We put the speaker inside the car and it was like Elvis was performing live. I remember seeing Viva Las Vegas because I sung it for about a week afterwards. And I remember around the time of Woodstock, the movie Woodstock came out and all the teenagers wanted to go to the Majestic on Main Street and see that. It was all that “hippie shit” and “getting back to the land” nonsense. I started getting into movies in the seventies and eighties. Really, around 1984, when I moved to Burnsville after college, I really started getting into movies. I started to develop a sense of style and interest for particular actors. I’m more about the actors than I am the directors. Sometime in the late seventies, I got really into Hitchcock and Woody Allen.”

What do you remember about those early film experiences (food, type of theatre, friends, family, how you felt, etc.)?

“Going to the Drive In was a HUGE treat. That was monumental. You’d go there in the summer, and it didn’t get dark until nine. It was all about the experience, the event. As soon as it got started, the image would come up on the screen and we got really into it, as kids, because it was like nothing we’d seen before. The screens were so big compared to the 29inch TV that we had.”

Did you watch many films growing up? If so, what films were you drawn to?

“I primarily watched TV. That was easier. Somewhere in the mid-eighties we had VHS which was a precursor to the DVD. Films weren’t available like they are today. You’d go to the theatre on dates, and I took a lot of girls to see movies. You went to see because you wanted to see something, but you also went to be seen with this good looking girl. I remember being drawn to movies like Scorsese’s Godfather epic, Blue Velvet, Hitchcock. The Cohen Brothers as I grew older. But we really watched a lot of TV.”

 Do you remember when the event films like “Jaws” and “Star Wars” when they were in theatres?

“Yeah, I remember seeing Jaws for the first time when it came out. Star Wars too. I’d never seen anything like that before in my life; the visual effects of Star Wars were mind blowing. Jaws freaked me out, I didn’t want to go to the beach after seeing that. We actually took a vacation to the beach sometime after that and I wouldn’t get in the water.”

When HBO, Showtime & VCRs were readily available, did that change how you went to see movies? Or which ones you went to see in a theatre?

“I never had much of HBO and that sort of stuff because I couldn’t afford cable as an art student in college. Sometimes I had a VCR but sometimes I didn’t, depending on who my roomates were. I didn’t watch movies on VHS or DVD until your mom and I got married, really. I just didn’t have the means for the technology. We just had movies for a long time when you were growing up, going to rent movies became a family ritual for us I think. Blockbuster was really close and that was our video store for a long time. Because we didn’t have cable, we had to watch movies as entertainment. That makes you appreciate it a little more I think.”

Did you ever go rent movies from a video store? If so, how did you approach deciding what to choose to watch? With all those choices?

I love the whole concept of a video store. This goes back to Kevin Smith, the director, and his movie Clerks – the whole concept of hanging out at the video store and talking about movies. Just so happened that we had a video store within walking distance of the house. I went through a term of unemployment for two years, and I watched a lot of movies to pass the time. Rosebud Video became my second home. They did a customer appreciation day, and some dude figured out how to see who rented the most videos. It was me, and I had rented somewhere close to a thousand. I’d watched close to a thousand movies. So they gave me my own shelf for recommendations. It’s called Gary’s Shelf. They also gave me two months of unlimited free rentals, and I watched close to two hundred movies during that period.

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Outside of Rosebud Video, on Charlotte St. in Asheville, N.C.

Does having your own recommendation shelf make a difference in what you watch or recommend, since you put films out for anyone to choose?

 Having a shelf doesn’t change what I watch or what I recommend. I put out strange stuff that people ought to give a try. I did, and it worked for whatever reason. I hope that the films I put on my shelf will encourage folks to take a different look at what Rosebud Videos offers. They have thousands of movies. I encourage people to go deep and look at what they have in the collection. That’s what a video store is: a collection of videos that’s growing over time. It gets deeper based on customer recommendation, and it gets that much more interesting based on that participation. The LAST thing we need is the elimination of a place to go to rent films. The dialogue in video stores about films is so important. You only find that in the store. It’s not the same in a theatre, on amazon, on Hulu, anywhere else. Those online platforms are so impersonal. You can’t tell if someone really hated a movie or if they really liked it. A star isn’t a substitute for a facial expression or an honest discussion about a movie.”

How and where do you watch most of your movies now (theatres, DVD rentals, streaming, etc)?

“Lots of DVD rentals. That’s primarily the only way. I have my man cave set up pretty comfortably, and I have my big screen TV and my slippers and a beer. It’s how I relax. Netflix is like the song, “Video killed the Radio Star.” Netflix isn’t hurting Rosebud because it’s a neighborhood niche, supported by the neighborhood. But we’re unique in that fact. I probably wouldn’t be on Netflix if I didn’t have Rosebud though, because I like the personal connection of going to the store to check out a movie. I’m all about the personal connection and dialogue. If Rosebud closed, I’d watch less videos. That’s just part of my daily routine to stop by the video store. I like being about to talk with other people about films. I like people who are excited about movies and want to talk about the experiences we’ve had with other people, whether that was talking about movies we watched with other people or recommending movies to them. Movies are all about the experience you had while watching it, and then sharing that with other people.”

What kinds of films do you watch now? Do you feel those tastes have changed much in the past 20 years?

“I watch just about anything. I engage in a couple of series, like House of Cards and recently watched that series in entirety.  I’m drawn to almost every genre equally, because I’m an actor oriented viewer. I don’t particularly like war films, because those tend to be buzzkills. TV Shows are good because they can have these long, involved, convoluted plots with twists and turns. But I love it when a movie can do that, and do it well. I love Will Ferrell and those funny guys, but I love foreign films and dramas and those classic films too. My tastes have changed in the fact that they’ve matured. I think I’m more open to watching all types of movies now than I was when I was younger, for sure.”

How often do you go to theatres now to see films? How different is that from how you experienced films 25 years ago? What do you attribute the change to (if there is one)?

“I’m not a huge fan of theatres because I don’t like sitting in a place that isn’t my house, is probably too cold, and probably doesn’t serve beer. No, but seriously, movies are the way that I relax and unwind and going to a theatre isn’t relaxing for me. For some movies, like the ones you just HAVE to see on the silver screen, then yeah, I’ll go to the theatre. I think the last one I saw was the latest Star Wars, but I left when they killed Hans Solo. I’ve been told I look like Harrison Ford, so I took that personally. 25 years ago I wouldn’t have thought that I’d watched nearly as many movies as I have, mostly because 25 years ago I thought I’d be a world famous artist. But I’m still working on that, probably because I got distracted and started watching movies instead of painting every day.”

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My dog and I in Rosebud circa 2013. If you bring in your pup, the clerks will give them a free treat.

For me, the most interesting part of this was thinking about my Dad’s relationship with films and how that’s formed mine. Like he said, going to Blockbuster on the weekends and picking out movies to watch as a family (we only had one TV in my parent’s room, so it really was a family experience) was just what we did. I never missed having cable, and I never thought that other people religiously watched TV like we religiously watched our movies. But what I loved the most from the interview was hearing about Rosebud Video and his relationship with the clerks and other customers. He will seriously spend an hour or longer in there if he gets to talking or changing movies out on his shelf. This used to be an annoyance, because I didn’t understand why we couldn’t just leave and go enjoy our movies for ourselves, without anyone else’s opinion. I can’t count how many times one of the clerks has recommended me a movie and I have taken them up on it MONTHS later – only to realize they were totally right and I loved the film. Those interactions are what is special about a traditional video store, and exactly why my Dad has watched well over 1,000 movies – there is nothing better than talking about films with people who are passionate about films.

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One thought on “Aged like Fine Wine: Thoughts on Film with Gary Byrd

  1. I always liked “Viva Las Vegas ” as well. Awesome tune. Woody Allen, Hitchcock, Scorsese, Kevin Smith … great taste. Your dad had his “Own” video section – how awesome is that. I love his thoughts on the personal interaction of the video store “experience.” Thanks so much for sharing. I think your dad and I would get along pretty well.

    Like

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