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‘There’s still demand’: Bristol video store celebrates 40 years in business | Bristol board

Some come to the store looking for rare movies impossible to find elsewhere, while others come because they have become disillusioned with the power of streaming services and their algorithms. Regulars enjoy the good-humoured experience of movie-mad staff and are keen to root for the last of a dying breed.

Against all odds, 20th Century Flicks, a DVD and VHS rental shop in Bristol, has reached a milestone, its 40th anniversary, and is marking the moment with a festival showcasing films from the year it opened, 1982.

“It feels like a milestone,” said one of the owners, Dave Taylor, who started at the store two decades ago when renting videos and DVDs was as routine as clicking through to a Netflix or Amazon Prime movie is now. “A lot has changed, but there is still demand for what we do. People who use our service really appreciate it and Bristol really loves your movie. There are enough people in the city who want to see the things we have.”

The 20th Century Flicks showcase. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

The showcase tells the story of what 20th Century Flicks is all about. The sign features the iconic image of Béatrice Dalle from the poster for the 1986 French psychological drama Betty Blue and one of the walls is adorned with graffiti that reads: “The Warriors”, a reference to the 1979 New York crime cult classic .

DVDs featured prominently in the window range from new auteur films such as Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman and Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round to the 1964 British comedy The Bargee starring Harry H Corbett as a canal boatman.

The videos include the 1953 Japanese classic Tokyo Story, the following year’s On The Waterfront starring Marlon Brando, and Eating Raoul, a dark satire about a married couple who go on a murder spree to finance their dream of buying a house and a restaurant in the country. Clearly, the film was released in 1982, the year the store opened its doors.

The most rented movie is probably Withnail and I from 1987. One of the stars, Paul McGann, once borrowed the movie from the store. Other favorite directors include Peter Greenaway, Ken Russell and Joanna Hogg. “Bristol has an artistic aesthetic,” said Taylor. “That’s our bread and butter.”

Among the regulars who arrived when The Guardian visited was Pixie Paine, a 39-year-old woman who works in social housing. The last film she rented was the 2012 psychedelic sci-fi Vanishing Waves from Lithuanian director Kristina Buožytė. “They’re amazing here, so niche,” she said. She went on to hire Empire Records, the 1995 coming-of-age film that tells the story of a group of employees trying to prevent their independent store from being sold to a corporate giant.

But the store doesn’t just cater to fans of the esoteric. IT consultant Paul Triffitt, 55, was returning Die Hard, Die Hard 2 and The Last Boy Scout. “We’ve had a Bruce Willis season,” he said. Follow the extravaganzas of Steven Spielberg and Luc Besson chez Triffitt. “I like what they do here, I try to support them,” he said.

The movie has a library of over 20,000 movies, so there is something for most tastes. If they don’t have a movie, they’ll try to get it, and even if it costs them a few hundred pounds, they’ll rent it for a few pounds. The goal is not to make a profit, but to break even and move on.

Officially, the store has 92,000 members and about 200 people regularly rent movies. The store has branched out in recent years, opening two small screening rooms for eight and ten people. They can be rented and the store organizes screenings.

Passers-by try to identify the films from the sets in the store window.
Passers-by try to identify the films from the sets in the store window. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

Another new attraction is the second showcase, featuring lovingly crafted dioramas showcasing moments or props from movies like Beetlejuice, Seven, Blue Velvet, and Back to the Future. Visitors stop at the store at Christmas Steps and look inside, trying to figure out what some of the more obscure models represent.

For the 40th anniversary, Forbidden Worlds (the name honors the 1982 sci-fi horror Forbidden World), the store will reopen the suspended Imax in Bristol and screen films over the weekend of May 13-15. Films to be screened include Blade Runner, Poltergeist and Hammer’s Dracula AD 1972, to commemorate the centenary of Christopher Lee’s birth.

And then the plan is to keep fighting. Taylor said, “We’ll keep going, renting movies, hosting festivals, doing the odd diorama. It’s a satisfying life.”

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