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Hollywood Nights

Membership. Xennial. Huw Alden Davies. 2019

Already a success in many parts of the world,  the VCR by the mid eighties was in contest in one of the world’s first recognised format wars. And, while Sony Betamax, JVC VHS, and Phillips 2000 battled it out to take the winning spot. We were getting to grips with wiring up our TV’s, pushing buttons, and recording everything that hit the box. Because we could. Because until now we never could. We no longer had to worry about catching our favorite shows, or wait for re-runs. Now, we could watch everything on loop, and we did. We taped what we wanted, both night and day, just as Scotch suggested. Re-record not fade away. Re-record, not fade away.

As soon as that video player landed in our house. That was it. Film after film after film. I remember my mother kept small notepads right next to the VCR, those A6 Silverine lined memo-pads with a red cover. And inside, were lists of videos that we had seen. Hundreds of them. Never would we rent the same film twice, ever. Well, that was the intention of this log. However on review,  we had indeed, on occasion, rented the same film twice. Although we didn’t need a book to remind us. It would normally be my father announcing that we had ‘seen this shit before’. I can’t imagine how many videos we had rented towards the end of that era, but I’m sure, had we logged every single one, we would have been single handedly responsible for keeping Silvrine in business. Huw Davies (Xennial ‘78)

Although it did fade, eventually. But by the time we noticed or cared, in most cases, it didn’t even matter. Unless of course you were the hundredth in line for the latest title at the Video store. Another one of the greatest phenomenons of the nineteen-eighties/nineties. Video shops started to appear everywhere. Soon there was an official outlet in Upper Tumble, Mid-Tumble and Lower Tumble, with a number of ‘not-so-official” outlets (should we say) dotted around the village. These, specialised in copy to copy and adult entertainment. Normally operating from the confines of an unassuming living area and distributed through the pubs. And if you couldn’t get what you wanted from either of these providers you could always catch the ‘Video Van’ once a week, which came knocking direct on your door. It was small, and limited, but almost always had a title you had never seen. 

Amongst all of these video providers however, for miles around, there was but one that stood above them all. With close to a thousand titles, double of the latest and many of the best, this shop changed everything. It was bigger. Better. And, when the skies went dark, it shone like a star. Hollywood Nights. Or as many of us would remember, we simply called it Stan’s (after its owner, of course). Who split his hardware store into two parts. This was the only store to go all out ‘American-Styley’. And in a small village where little changed, it did not go unnoticed. With its art deco cinema signage, and a lightning bolt that reached the sky, it was a dream. An electric dream, that glowed above the rooftops, like a dragon breathing fire into the imagination of all those that came too close. It was a spectacle of which the likes of us kids had never seen, and kept us wanting more.

While the world readied itself in a shift of technological advance. Hollywood Nights was ready and waiting. Like a beacon. A signal of hope to all those who sought escape from the silence of its sleepy relm. Here it stood, unassuming, a library of adventure waiting to be discovered, to be embraced, experienced. A doorway to other worlds, and guarded by just one man.  Colin, Son of Stan. The librarian. The gatekeeper of the Imaginarium, and provider of dreams. And, although now this seems a stretch too far. To a child born of an era rattled only by political drudgery, with little to be inspired, this could not have been closer to the truth. 

Here you could be a part of something, like a club. A fellowship of movie misfits. And its badge of honor, a membership card with a unique ID number, boasting a bolt of lightning like that of ‘The Flash’. We were like ‘video store’ superheroes, with super powers such as endlessly accessible and ‘useful’ movie knowledge (long before IMDB), video cover flash memory, and the ability to quote every film ever, with added impersonations. This shop was our hub, our cave, where we would all return for more and discuss our experience, and likely to Stan’s dismay that’s exactly what we did. Every single day. 

Hollywood Nights (Video Still). Provided by Lisa Lewis.

Lisa, Wayne and I always used to rent the Break Dance videos, ‘Breakin’. Practically every weekend. We knew those films like the back of our hands. Stan would just stand there and tell us that there were other films in the shop, mind”. Sian James (Xennial ‘83)

With access to hundreds of video titles, it had brand-new films, some only a year or so after they had left the cinema. Yes things took a little longer to turn around back then. There were slightly older films. Much much older films, the type that could be likened to the experience of a lucky dip. For-Sale films, another lucky dip with much greater risk. And then there were the Adult films. But not the eighteen-rated films as this might suggest, but the ones that were reported to exist behind the counter. These were rarely witnessed it would seem. But, although only speculation, whatever operation Colin deemed fit to run behind the scene, it could still be agreed that he did so for the greater good. And we have no reason to believe otherwise, he was after all, the agent and provider .      

I remember the war on posters. This was an actual thing. We would fight over posters, see who could get to the video shop and book them first. We would walk past the window sometimes and I’d say I’m having that poster. Then Huw would say, “Ah, I’ve already asked for that”. Or I would go into the video shop and ask Colin if I could have this poster, or that poster. And he’ be like, “No sorry Huw’s booked that”. Arrrr, I hate Huw. I’ve often wondered if this was something that happened everywhere, around the country, or whether it was just here. Only one poster I ever remember having, and that was ‘Dirty Dancing’. Eirian Roberts (Xennial ‘77)

But whatever your desire, this was a time where the supply could never keep up with the demand, so you had to be quick, or you simply had to wait your turn. If there was a new title on your radar, it became an operation. Before the internet, before film mags. You had to get hold of the official new release publication, obtained only by the owner of such outlets. And you had to make a list of all the best films. And book them way in advance. 

Stan’s Shop, was amazing. I remember it opening in the eighties. I used to rent all the ‘older’ films. Rambo, Cobra, Over the Top, Commando, Karate Kid. It was always so busy, you could never get anything brand new. Although it could be worse in other shops. I remember booking ‘Flight of the Navigator the week it came out. I had read it was coming out that week. But when I went to collect it. Colin said, ‘Oh, it hasn’t come back yet, come back in an hour’. So I did, I went back in an hour, and it still hadn’t come back. It was nearly shutting-time at this point. So I told him I’d be back before he closes. And I did. Two minutes before. It still wasn’t there. ‘Right OK, I’ll have to charge you for another day, do you want to book it for tomorrow?’ said Colin. I said no, don’t bother. I ran as fast as I could up the road. Straight into Howell’s shop, asked if he had Flight of the Navigator. Yes, I couldn’t believe it. I Paid for it. Brilliant. Went home and I watched it that day. That might have taken a month in Stan’s shop. But I loved that place.  Gavin Thomas (Xennial ‘78)

If you did not know this. If you were not an astute member who paid full attention to the rules of the game, you could be faced with the Red-Tab for weeks. For those who have never experienced the tag system, it was a relatively simple concept to grasp. If there was no tab, your film was free for the picking. The Red Tab however,  this was the ‘out on loan’ tab, the tab of uncertainty, the tab of ‘not today my friend, come back tomorrow’. In such an event your only chance was a White-Tab. The tab of hope. This tab signaled that this title was to be returned that very day, and if you were quick it could be yours. Unless of course someone had forgotten to change the tab, which was often a possibility, or heaven forbid, someone forgot to return it. The most heinous of crimes.  

Stocks, Jonesy, Karl Necke, and I got a film out from Stan’s, one Sunday. We watched it in Stock’s Grandmother’s house. Best of the Best 2. Brand new out that weekend. Stan’s had all the good shit, anything that you were into. The cheesier the better. We loved all those fighting films.  Well after the film finished, I offered to take it back on my way home to save anyone going tomorrow. But Stocks, said that Lill, his Gran, would take it back in the morning. No worries I said, I asked if he was sure and he insisted that it would be fine. So, I left it at that, went home and didn’t think any more about it.  Monday past. Tuesday past. Wednesday. Thursday. Then out of the blue. I can see it now, I was sitting in Mr. Watkins’ class, when he shouted from the cloakroom outside. “YOU” he shouted. Pointing at me, Karl Necke, and Jonsey. He looked like a tomato. Get out here now he said. What on earth could we have done to make him so mad, I wondered.  It turned out, Lill had forgotten to return the video tape.  Forcing Colin to go out in search of the culprits who had not brought it back. Every customer who had pre-booked this film were waiting to get their hands on this new tape, and were not happy with Colin’s excuses. So he had to take action. How it happened to get back to Mr. Watkins I forget. But he lost his shit that day I can tell you. And just to make matters even worse, he marched us to the headmaster, which did not go down too well. I don’t think we ever returned a tape late after that. Richard ‘Guv’ Jones (Xennial ‘82)

In the beginning, brand new titles were One-Pound-Fifty, per night / per title, rising to Three-Pounds towards the end. Older titles started at Fifty-pence to a Pound. Popular titles could be booked for days ahead, and by the time you got to see some of these they were already wonky older titles.  Each title was presented as empty boxes across four walls including a rack in the center of the room. And when you were presented with a rental copy, this was emblazoned with the very same bolt of lightning as on the card which you carried in your pocket. Along with the name we will never forget.  

I Remember getting out horror films ( despite being too young ) waiting till our parents were out and closing curtains for full dramatic effect. Still haven’t recovered from watching Evil Dead. Estelle Mills (X-Gen ‘74)

Looking back, For all the ‘Blockbuster’ franchise that came after. For all the downloads, and views on demands. There has never been an experience quite like Stan’s. For nowhere has there been a place that was so close to home, as it was to your heart. At least, never one that rented you videos, while also selling you materials to make a den in the same transaction. Never one that inspired, entertained, and filled your life with so much adventure. That gave you the comforts of home while making you feel connected to something greater, somewhere else. It was everything. It had everything. Except sweets of course, but that was a necessity fulfilled by many others so close to home, and this was never a problem. It even had a gift shop. Posters, cut outs, stickers and ex-displays. A little something to remember it by.

Now, in a world where everything is available through the touch of a button, through smart phones, tablets, internet TV where we wait for very little. With Netflix, Prime, Apple TV, and Xbox Live, the video store is nothing but a distant memory. And already, for many a concept that never was. But when I stop to cast my mind back to that simpler time. It is here I feel the gentle wisp of nostalgia raising through my stomach, peaking in a burst of enchantment that triggers that sense of wonder, that excitement. And here I remember ‘Hollywood Nights’. The Electric Dream.

Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t, but keep on dreamin’ — this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin. Abdul Salaam El Razzac: Happy Man. Pretty Woman (1990).