So, I'm looking for this movie. Where the Buffalo Roam is a faux-biopic about Hunter S. Thompson from 1980, starring Bill Murray and Peter Boyle. The film was once released in VHS format., but it is long out of print and, to my knowledge, is currently unavailable on DVD. (Amazon.com lists a DVD edition, but includes a disclaimer on the page warning that some titles go in and out of print often, leading me to believe that while somebody may have done a limited run in 2000, they don't really have it in stock.)Eliminating for a moment both exhaustive Internet research and eBay, what are my real-world options?
There are Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, a couple of mammoth chains that offer about a googol copies of each domestic new release, but seem uninterested in even acknowledging that they have movies made before 1996, much less beefing up their DVD back titles. No help there. There's the flea market, but it's a weekday, and by the time Sunday rolls around I will have moved on to trying to locate a vintage Heather Thomas poster or Alien vs. Predator graphic novel, or something.
That leaves the independent video-rental places. Or rather, the independent video-rental place. According to co-owner Joe Cheslik, who bought it one year ago to the day I come in with my request, 17-year-old Ewing Video is currently the only indie rental business in St. Petersburg (adult-oriented and culturally specific shops excepted, of course).
That, at 898 49th St. S., it's within walking distance of my house, only sweetens the deal. I've spent several weekend hours wandering Ewing's small but well-stocked location, marveling at all the marvelous straight-to-video horror flicks (Slash? Spiders? The Attic Expeditions?!) jammed between popular, new-release and independent features. Ewing won't have 50 copies of American Wedding or School of Rock ready to go, but it will have a few, as well as more than just the one copy of a more obscure flick that's always, always, always out when you go to Blockbuster specifically to rent it. It even offers some of the more edgy videos that timid franchises no longer carry, like the infamous and self-explanatorily titled Bumfights.
"We try to have something for everyone, at the exception of no one," says Cheslik.
That balance of mainstream and niche fare is partially responsible for both Ewing Video's longevity and its large, loyal contingent of regular customers. But why do we really go to mom & pop stores? Because of the comfort, the vibe, the feeling that we're in on something off the beaten path. Because the best indie video stores look like the cool indie video stores in cool movies. Because we can get into arguments with the staff over whether or not Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson's forthcoming remake of King Kong is going to suck, and forget what time it is instead of stopping in to quickly grab a movie on the way home.
In all cases, Ewing fits the bill. The entrance and exit are on opposite sides of a large, up-front checkout booth, encouraging a greeting from and banter with the staff. On most of my visits, two of your typical young film-obsessives would be in the booth, talking movies (in fact, Cheslik jokes that he cost himself money when he hired his best customer, who now gets his rentals for free) and generally evincing a Clerks-like ambiance. Today, I'm in much earlier than usual, and Cheslik and a partner are updating their computer's database.
Like most strip-mall spaces, Ewing is long and narrow, inviting a cool non-chain record-store feel that's augmented by the unframed posters new and old, the hand-drawn signs denoting sales and sections. A large, prominently placed neon sign points the way to the Kid Stuff that is, in fact, no longer the Kid Stuff but rather the Adult/Alternative Lifestyle section — it kind of makes you want to hang out all day just to see who goes in there looking for Finding Nemo, even though the over-18 closet is less hardcore porn than it is Girls Gone Wild and gay-themed features like Jeffrey. The whole place is a tattered sofa,
overflowing ashtray, sleeping old dog and layer of dust away from movie-nut clubhouse heaven.
It is missing one other thing, though: Where The Buffalo Roam. I can't blame Cheslik for the hard-to-find DVD's absence — it seems like nobody else has got the damn thing, either. Besides, where else can I still rent a copy of COPS: Too Hot for TV!, AND be treated to a monthly rare-and-classic special called "The Vault" that highlights stuff like Dawn of the Dead and A Clockwork Orange?
There's really nothing inherently wrong with Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and the like. They cater to the needs of the many. The side effect, however, is that the needs of the few can go unmet. That's where ever more rare businesses like Ewing Video come in — to meet those more eclectic needs, while providing for a smaller portion of the mainstream as well. And some of us don't just need a movie. We also need a place where we can feel like our own particular (and more refined, naturally) tastes are being courted, where we can feel a bit like we're really movie snobs, and in our element.
"We try to cater to the independent thinkers," is how Cheslik puts it.
And who doesn't want to think of themselves as one of those?
Contact Scott Harrell at 813-248-8888, ext. 109, or at scott.harrell @weeklyplanet.com.