RE-ANIMATION STATION: FILM NOIR, BROOKLYN NY
FILM NOIR, BROOKLYN NY 5/19/11, 8:45pm
In a small storefront in Greenpoint NY, squeezed into a row of stores off Manhattan Ave (one of the busiest blocks in Brooklyn), sits Film Noir -- a small hometown rental hub for obscure cinema, exploitation, & horror rarities. One of very few "mom & pop" video stores left in the city, Film Noir is still going strong in a struggling economy where big rental chains are throwing in the towel. Lunchmeat sat down with owner, film connoisseur, and movie collector, Will Malitek, to discuss how he keeps the store alive & why he loves VHS . . .
When did you open Film Noir & what made you choose Brooklyn?Film Noir opened on March 14, 2005, at 4:30pm to be exact – I remember the exact time. I had been living in Greenpoint since September of 1990 – the people who live here made the decision for me to open, not me. There was a need for something like this here. I live only a 12 minute walk from my store – this is my home. I was born in Poland, and when I moved here I worked in some video stores and that’s where I learned how to run this business – it wasn’t just work, it was like school for me, you know? So when you start your own thing, you already have experience from years before & then you do it on your own.
Blockbuster & other large corporate chains have been closing their doors recently. What makes your store stand out from the rest & keeps you in business?The selection of the movies is what makes Film Noir stand out from the rest. We do not concentrate on mainstream at all – that is maybe only 10% of our income. The more obscure the better! If I find something that even I don’t know about, this makes me happy & that is what goes on the wall. Not stuff that is popular. I think people are starting to see the big picture – this is the edge. If I was to concentrate on mainstream I would be gone like Blockbuster, I would be out of business in a week. You have to give people something that no one else can – you can’t give people “Hollywood,” because EVERYBODY has Hollywood.
I noticed you still have a large selection of VHS for sale & for rent - are you seeing a renewed interest in VHS and do people still rent them?When I first opened, DVDs were rented more often than VHS, but they didn’t sell that well. Now it sells well, but rents less – the percent of income from VHS remained the same, around 10-15% income, which is good enough to keep it running. No business will cut 15% of its income, no matter what it is. As long as it brings a certain percent in, it is here to stay. But I’m seeing more people buy VHS lately, because it is becoming collectible like vinyl in the early 90’s, which we also carry. I’ve had instances where someone comes in to buy a movie and I have it in both formats, and they end up buying the VHS! A good example is Blade Runner: on DVD you have the directors cut, but the VHS is the way it was seen in movie theatres & that’s how people want to see it. Surprisingly, in about 90% of cases, they will rent the VHS (unless they don’t have a VCR, in which case they go with DVD because they have no choice). A lot of people nowadays have combo units, so you can be flexible these days. I have 3 VCR’s at home and 2 at the store, so 5 all together. I have 2 DVD players, one home & one here. I wish I had a top-loading VCR – those are totally vintage now. I have one wood finish Toshiba at home but it’s front loading . . .
Judging by the films you carry, you clearly cater to the horror genre & obscure cinema. What are your thoughts on the mainstream output of these films & the re-mastered DVD versions of them?There are some advantages & disadvantages to DVD, same with VHS. Aspect ratio makes a big difference – most of the VHS are nice looking & still preserve the grain, which DVD sometimes lacks, but they are full screen – DVD is usually wide screen: bottom line is people want to see it like they would in the theatre. Also, DVD has some extras which are really cool. But if the mastering is done the wrong way, you lose the grain & it’s almost too perfect – it looks more like a TV show or a video game – when it lacks the grain, you lose the momentum of the film. Looking at the market, there are still thousands of titles that haven’t made it to DVD yet, so I see a future for VHS no matter what. VHS is already becoming collectible, regardless of quality, and will have a following the same way vinyl does. Record labels seem to be abandoning DVD & experimenting with vinyl again; even cassette tapes are making a comeback. If someone tells me VHS is dying, I say absolutely not!
What are your top movies of all time?#1 of all time will definitely be Pale Flower, a Japanese noir from 1964 directed by Masahiro Shinoda. And #2 would be Le Cercle Rouge (aka The Red Square) (1970, a French film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville). Total film noir – the essence & the mood – all the elements are there: the cinematography, almost no dialogue. I wouldn’t really call them motion pictures – I would call them motion paintings – the whole story is told with the work of the camera. They are true masterpieces of film noir!
What about your favorite director?One of my favorite directors is Luis Bunuel: he had a few periods in his cinema – the early period, Mexican period, and when he was back in Europe his last period was called the surrealistic period. Most of his films were released on Criterion, a company based in NY that specializes mostly in releasing classic movies – not necessarily mainstream, but they had an impact on others – you learn about these in film school, they are really important films, mostly European, some American & Japanese. They have over 500 titles; in my store I have about 470 of them. They released a lot of film noir, a few horrors, and they specialized in VHS before they became Criterion.