The value of physical media, physical spaces, and memory.
This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.
“Howdy, friendos. Krazy Jason here. And welcome to my movie adventure.” If you were a searching cinephile during earlier days of YouTube—before the video sharing platform provided a bonafide career path for millennials and sponsored ads ran rampant, you may have heard those lines regularly uttered by a bearded guy in a baseball cap ranting and raving about physical media deals. Jason had his own channel and another with a buddy of the same name (amusingly nicknamed O.J. for “Other Jason”) that they started in 2010 called Cackalacky Movies (a shortened version of Cackalacky Movie Madness).
Situated in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Krazy and O.J., as they regularly called themselves, seemed to be among the first not only to review movies on the virtual circuit but also to pioneer the sort of home-entertainment road-trip vlog that became a hashtag-able trend by the mid-2010s. Many others began documenting their Blu-ray and DVD hauls during new release days, store-closing bargain hunts, Barnes And Noble biannual Criterion Collection sales, pawn shop pickups, other online flash sales, and the like.
After uploading videos semi-weekly for several years, Krazy has been on hiatus since October 2016. He isn’t active these days, but his entire archive, and that of Cackalacky Movies (last video uploaded in September of 2018), are still available for viewing. (And, of course, if you watch one vlog, the current YouTube algorithm will persistently try to get you to binge.) Hailing from rural Pennsylvania, I instantly connected with Krazy’s oddball contrarian personality when I stumbled upon his videos—simultaneously celebrating and condemning his small southeastern corner of the States, which isn’t really known for being a landmark or beacon of cinema.
Even after watching one lone video, you’ll more than likely grasp how Krazy’s abnormal night owl schedule and appreciation for movies makes him feel a bit alienated. These routine vlogs, trekking from his car to a shop/store and back again, equipped only with camera in hand and a dark, sometimes sophomoric, but always smart-alecky sense of humor, were a way to build connections. (In the dead of night, dead of summer 2014, he snarkily pondered, “When people ask me, ‘What is the future gonna be like? What does the future hold in store for us?’ And I tell them, ‘Just go to Walmart and walk inside. That’s all you need to know.'”)
Those connections extend not only to other people but also to a sense of place. In mid-late 2022, when there seems to be recurrent news about streaming issues, with services inexplicably dropping titles from their catalogues, thus limiting availability in an era of streaming dominance, the facts have prompted me to consider the significant role that place has in retaining a movie experience and movie memory. (We’re now amid spooky season, maybe the most significant time of the year for particular cinephiles.) This experience doesn’t just have to be about going to the theater—although, by all accounts, Market Square‘s closure early this year dealt a significant blow, as did the loss of Westgate Art Cinemas almost 14 years ago. It’s really more about the circumstances and possibilities that physical media fosters.
The same year that Krazy Jason and O.J. started their YouTube channels, I moved to Madison. And, in essence, I ended up similarly documenting my own experiences here in trying to find and watch something in particular. I just didn’t broadcast it with the outsized personality of Krazy Jason. It first culminated in a personal essay I wrote for No Ripcord about Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent, the 13-episode anime series (2004), just a few months after the celebrated writer, animator, and director’s untimely death at age 46.
In my reflections, unusual for that time in my professional writing, I give a lot of credit to Four Star Video Heaven (at its old North Henry Street location) for the opportunity to affordably watch the notoriously hard-to-find DVDs before an anime streaming service like Crunchyroll had a library like it does today.
For a socially awkward introvert, the act of searching and journeying out, as simple as walking a few blocks, became a significant act. I had never lived in a place with a rental library accessible at 11:45 p.m., even if I found a brief refuge in digging through the uncommonly expansive VHS and DVD collection at Hollywood Video in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, in my mid-teens, and checking out discs free of charge from West Coast Video (where I once worked part-time in high school).
It’s probably not a stretch to cite both my Madison move and initial experience with Four Star as inspiration to further pursue writing on the moving image. In 2011, I formally started a blog beyond custom Rate Your Music listmaking, and began to program my own home-viewing series on directors starting with Federico Fellini. I wrote about everything I possibly could, if only (mostly) for myself.
Like a lot of the big-box stores and pawn shops you may often find in Krazy’s videos, The Exclusive Company on State Street became a local haunt, as I was often able to preorder new Blu-rays and pick them up days before their street dates on many occasions. The bastion that was the Madison location closed down nearly 10 years ago now, but I still flip through LPs in my collection with their shrink wrap and price sticker intact on and wonder about the lack of options to browse in a physical location (which isn’t the case for music). For movies, that’s doubly true, with Best Buy gradually cutting floor space and phasing out physical media since the start of the pandemic, perhaps leaving the couple Half Price Books locations on opposite ends of town as the true used treasure troves.
When you’re growing up in a place with a deficient cultural identity, and you find yourself cut off from the world by no fault of your own, the simple act of venturing out on a “movie adventure,” as they shall forever be known, is really tied up with the sense of self-discovery. And while there is convenience in tapping a few buttons on a Roku remote to find something new that’s just been added to the Netflix or HBO Max library on a weekend night, it lacks any real adventure, planning, or even understanding. Those paid platforms pitch you exactly what they want you to see, rather than permitting you to wander about uninhibited by yourself or consult someone for a live recommendation.
Perusing the stocked shelves in a place that houses physical media can provide more creative inspiration within, as well as a drive to embark on a physical journey intertwined with that passion. Maybe by the late 2020s, we’ll see a resurgence in specialty shops and spots to purchase physical media. But, even without pontificating, it’s important to cherish them now, whether you happen to hail from South “Cackalacky,” rural Central Pennsylvania, or here in the heart of Wisconsin.