In the mid-1980s, Cathy Tauber and Patty Polinger, two LA-born childhood friends, decided to ditch their day jobs and start a video rental store. Their day jobs weren’t run of the mill pen pushing gigs either: Cathy was doing office/business management for Frank Zappa and Patty worked at MGM in International Theatrical Distribution.
But a dream is a dream and theirs became the ultimate video rental store called Vidiots, which opened in 1985 with an initial stock of just 800 very carefully selected VHS tapes. Nearly 28 years later (with a stock of over 40,000 titles), despite the threat from new fangled worlds of downloads/streaming and the Netflix queue, it’s still in business.
That’s because if you love movies, you’re definitely a card-carrying member of Vidiots. From cult to vintage, foreign films, silents, TV binge-watching box sets and those mainstream romantic comedies that gave the rest of the world an idealized view of Meg Ryan, it’s all on Vidiots’ shelves. In fact, because they’ve outlasted the competition, and have deeply cool and vastly knowledgeable staff (many of whom are film-makers themselves), Vidiots is almost becoming (whisper it) Mainstream.
But this is a Company Town so the word mainstream is rather relative (the most requested/rented movie is still “Y Tu Mama Tambien” – with good reason). Hollywood production companies often send assistants to Vidiots to do research on a director’s back catalogue at short notice. Many celebrities have membership cards but this is a low-key place (in fact Keanu Reeves came in, removed his motorcycle helmet and no one recognized him at first so he had to show his drivers license like everyone else. But Keanu probably got a kick out of that.) And once Marlon Brando called to place an order. Yes, Vidiots is one groovy place to hang out.
There are also wonderful cineaste events: Callie Khouri did a talk after a screening of Thelma and Louise. Kenneth Anger and Alan Rudolph both did in-store appearances. (Just checking – you have seen Rudolph’s The Moderns – the sensual languid take on 1920s Americans in Paris, right? Rent it – Vidiots has copies.)
The next event at Vidiots is September 12th at 7:30pm for The Source Family, the counter-culture documentary about the experimental lifestyle choice group that ran the utopian 1970s Source Restaurant on Sunset Strip. After the screening there’s a Q&A with the director (and former “family” member) Jodi Wille.
If you need a cinematic reference (and you probably do if you have a Vidiots membership card), The Source Restaurant is the place where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton attempt to communicate over mashed yeast in Annie Hall.
You never know whom you’ll bump into at Vidiots. Many a lifelong friendship/romance/Hollywood producing partnership has started right about the place where Claire Denis’ films are shelved. Just saying.
Vidots is located at 302 Pico Blvd in Santa Monica. Get more on them here.