The big secret, no longer so secret, of the movie business is that DVD has become the locomotive to the Hollywood freight train. Priced to sell, not rent, those shiny little discs have proven irresistible to consumers building home entertainment centers and video libraries. Meanwhile, movie ticket sales are basically flat and the VHS tape is going the way of Beta. So it's a shrewd move for Scarecrow— perennially voted Best Video Store in our Best of Seattle issue—to build upon its beloved brand by publishing a big fat paperback guide to some 4,000 movies and TV shows (most of which are now on DVD). For those looking to fill the shelves beneath their new 42-inch plasma TV, The Scarecrow Video Movie Guide (Sasquatch, $24.95) will prove indispensable.
Gift Guide 3:
Books, Music, & DVDs
Desert Island, Defiant Barflies — The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker: 79 years of classic gags. By Brian Miller
From MOMA to Moaning — With 30 Porn-Star Portraits, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders sheds new light on the world's oldest obsession. By Tim Appelo
Scarecrow With Brains — Seattle video institution Scarecrow finally delivers a book as idiosyncratic and opinionated as it is. By Brian Miller
Only the Best — When only the best will do, give greatest hits. By Keith Harris
A Chorus Line — Books about pop music work best when they mix it up.By Michaelangelo Matos
Tokyo Calling — If you can't trek to Japan to load up on comics art and DVD anime, here's a shortcut. By Roger Downey
DVD Boxes — From Felicity and The OC to John Cassavetes' greatest, um, hits, plus Elf for the kids.
It'll also prove somewhat confounding to those who expect a bland, A-to-Z Maltin-style compendium of every title ever filmed. Most of the some 90,000 members (including me) who regularly shop the store won't be surprised, of course, to find some of our sacred cows led braying to the cinematic slaughterhouse. (Step up, Woody Allen.) The guide is highly personalized, with more than 60 contributors, and idiosyncratic. It's organized something like the store itself: major directors in alphabetical order, then genres, followed by a few catch-all categories. Since Scarecrow's actual rental inventory exceeds 70,000, the 4,000-odd entries are selective, but the editors have wisely avoided the easy "greatest hits" or "must-own" rubrics, since that kind of AFI 100 Best Movies of All Time stuff makes for awfully predictable reading.
Reflecting the store (located at 5030 Roosevelt Way N.E., 206-524-8557), there are plenty of welcome quirks to the guide. The "Directors" section is no simple pantheon, but a hodgepodge of favorites. Anyone familiar with Marc Levin, Jess Franco, or Larry Cohen? They're listed alongside Hitchcock, Ford, and the Coen brothers. Wes Anderson doesn't squeeze his way into such company; Paul Thomas Anderson hasn't got a single movie in the book. Ink is wasted on Spielberg's 1941, while Raiders of the Lost Ark is absent (despite glowing citations for the other two, lesser Indiana Jones movies). Under "Comedy," do we really need two different, competing reviews for Little Nicky? In the "Sexploitation" chapter, you'll find both Russ Meyer and the Pamela Anderson– Tommy Lee sex tape. Don Knotts movies inexplicably abound. And the editing can be a little lax—as in "site gags" mentioned in The Thin Man Goes Home. (Nick and Nora are searching the Web, perhaps?)
The writing quality is highly variable, but it's always passionate. Standouts include former SW pros Richard T. Jameson and Sean Axmaker (the latter seems to have written up every Iranian and Asian movie in the book). Informative little mini-essays and lists—"Directors We Truly Hate" is topped by Joel Schumacher—help eddy the flow of so many reviews. Even if you might turn to the Ebert guide for a more consistent barometer of quality (and those helpful rating stars, absent here), who wants to read 750 pages by one man? Even Pauline Kael grows numbing at such length. So the variety of views, like those of the clerks at the store, contributes to the volume's charm. Compared to the critical consensus of the well-wrought prose from well-known bylines, simple direct amateurism can be preferable.
For example, from one J.K.: "Singles made me fall in love with my city and made me want to find someone to fall in love with." Even if it ends with a preposition, I love the sentiment.