Monday, July 30, 2007

How I Spent My Weekend (Part 1)

Even though I've spent almost my entire life in the Northwest, I have had pitifully few excursions to Seattle. Some of this can be blamed on my adapting of a common Portland mindset of trying to pretend Seattle doesn't exist ('You want coffee? We've got coffee! You want water, look over there! You want less rain, hell yeah we've got that too!'). This thinking started to cultivate in the mid-90s when national praise started to be regularly thrown Portland's way in the form of those Best Cities to... lists, many of which put the City of Roses near the top. Well this weekend ending my extended absence from the Emerald City and put an end to any anti-Seattle snobbery I may have had from living in Portland for so long.

I haven't seen much written about it, but Seattle seems to be in the midst of some golden age. It's always had some well-known attractions (Experience Music Project, Pike Place Market, Starbucks), but recent projects have put the city into another plane of modern cool: a city hall, sculpture park and library from the year 2099, not to mention the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, which contains many views of what the year 2099 may look like. But to me, all that is in the background to a pair of Seattle destinations I had been hoping to visit for years, and as soon as I made plans to attend a cousin's wedding outside Seattle, they were at the top of my to-do list. Scarecrow Video and The Maltese Falcon have both intrigued me since the moment I heard about them, and until this weekend I considered myself a lesser-Northwest film fan for not having any experience with them. Join me and my (crappy) camera as I take you through my maiden voyage with these two pantheon video stores.

Scarecrow Video: 72,000 movies can't be wrong

My knowledge of Scarecrow started when I picked up The Scarecrow Video Movie Guide a couple years ago. It's a very entertaining and well put-together 800-page guide book, with fun takes on movies brilliant and awful. More than anything it gives you a look into what the video store's credo is, showing you that Scarecrow is the Video Mecca created by and for movie fans. Getting off the bus in Seattle's beautiful University District, I didn't have to look far to find Scarecrow, as its large yellow sign was peeking through some of the city's trademark tall trees. I had this image in my head of Scarecrow being a huge warehouse, but it really doesn't stick out as much as any other business in the area, and when you walk in you know you've found the right place.

Despite the fact that every square foot of Scarecrow seems to be either covered by a movie case or a poster, it's easy to navigate and never seems very cramped. Wandering through the shelves, it's a bit like the scene in Willy Wonka where the kids are invited into the candy room, there's so much stuff everywhere that you really don't know where to start. The ground floor is devoted to DVD sales, new releases, foreign movies (they have movies from Martinique, so I'm pretty sure they have everything) and movies by director. Upstairs movies are broken down into different rooms, which have genre wall that are broken down even further by subgenres on the shelves (for example, if you wanted to find the 1974 television movie Bad Ronald you would enter the Psychotronic room, find the Horror Walls and then the Stalker shelves).

Pricey on eBay, unavailable on DVD, Bad Ronald lives
at Scarecrow Video. Someday I'll see it!

The Pyschotronic room is an easy place to spend an hour, because that's the genre where Scarecrow was born. In the early 80s, founder George "Doctor of Video Pleasures" Latsios had a famously large collection of horror, cannibal and women-in-prison videos that he lent to a local rental shop with his reviews on the covers, and from there the idea was hatched for the ultimate movie haven. That spirit lives on with a thorough cache of hard-to-find and hard-to-believe horror movies, from Fred Dekker's Night of the Creeps (not on DVD) to Deafula.

Box reads: "The World's Only Film in Sign-Scope

Ha! Okay, I can take a hint, I'll look for
Michael Jordan's Playground elsewhere.

Whatever your expectations are, chances are Scarecrow will exceed them. They have a Redneck section, a vast collection of television series, Jesus Franco's reshaping of Welles' unfinished Don Quixote project and a comprehensive and easy-to-use computer kiosks that break the news to you that yes they have Pretty Maids All in a Row -- but it's out! To maintain their unprecedented collection of movie rentals, Scarecrow has a disciplined rental policy: some are labeled "rental by approval" and require a deposit of $150 to rent (some as high as $1,000) and late fees are instantly charged to your credit card.

Scarecrow is a true treasure to Seattle and now I'm even more jealous of my cousin who lives within walking distance of it! Stay tuned for my post about The Maltese Falcon, another legendary Seattle video store that has a completely different philosophy than Scarecrow.

"Re-elect John Carpenter sheriff" -- where can I get this sticker,
and where do I cast my vote?!?


TALKING MOVIEzzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Well, they finally have a video stop almost as cool as Movie Madness up there. ;) Great post, Adam.

Adam Ross said...

It's great that Movie Madness has found such a great niche to occupy, because you need more than two hands to count the number of quality East Side video stores that were eaten up by Blockbuster and Hollywood: Broadway Video, Off-Broadway Video and Video Mania, to name three of my faves.