Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How I Spent My Weekend (Part 2)

The Maltese Falcon: Held to a higher standard

After my eye-opening introduction to Scarecrow Video (see Part 1), I hopped back on the bus and headed a few miles north to The Maltese Falcon. I learned about this other Seattle video store from my Scarecrow book, which mentioned it briefly as having "the 2000 best movies ever made," a phrase that intrigued me a great deal. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little less enthused about my trip to The Maltese Falcon, especially when my bus took me out of the University District and into a far less beautiful area of town. After being dropped off next to the no-frills fast food institution Burgermaster and surrounded by strip malls, I thought I may have been in the wrong neighborhood -- but a quick turn of my head proved me wrong.

One look at the sign revealed how long it has been since the folks at Scarecrow had ventured this far out of their side of the woods. Despite being in a small strip mall location, The Maltese Falcon ably accommodated the 6,000 Best Movies Ever Made, and almost all of them were VHS. There was something oddly comforting about gazing through shelf after shelf of pristine VHS cases, and a conversation with owner Alfredo convinced me the store won't be changing any time soon.

Alfredo, a friendly fellow wearing a cowboy hat and a beard, was eager to tell the inquisitive tourist about how he chose the movies in his store. Taking out three well-worn video guides, Alredo explained that he and his wife combed through the guides in the 80s to find out which movies received an average of at least three and a half stars from Roger Ebert, Leonard Maltin and others. After coming up with around 2,000 films, Alfredo and his wife started building their collection by frequenting video stores that were going out of business and other electronics outlets. Shortly after opening The Maltese Falcon in the late 80s, they found that having "only" the 2,000 best movies wasn't commercially viable since most people had heard of those films and could pick them up somewhere else.

"I found that there was a large number of movies that fell just under the three and a half star threshold," Alfredo told me.

The mantra at The Maltese Falcon is a customer could close their eyes and pick out a good movie, making it a stark contrast to Scarecrow. Alfredo knew Scarecrow founder George Latsios, and often kidded him that he had "a very good movie collection somewhere under those 50,000 casettes."

"Very good" doesn't begin to describe the quality of Alfredo's collection, which obviously includes all of history's cinematic masterpieces, but also plenty of surprises such as Trinity is Still My Name and My Name is Nobody. Alfredo claims most of his movies are out of print or unavailable on DVD, so it's easy to understand why he (and apparently his customers) has stuck with VHS. A small New Releases section contains some recent films on DVD which comply with his criteria, and he even has a large television section with many hard-to-find British and European series The television section also contains a priceless, CBS-issued VHS complete series of The Twilight Zone.

There are many signs at The Maltese Falcon that tell you it isn't your average video store, such as a hand-written sticky note on Tim Burton's Batman that reads "we have the sequels too, just ask," more than a few replicas of the store's titular movie prop and a man at the counter more than eager to chat with customers about what they want to watch and where they can find it in his store.

The Maltese Falcon has no web site, but it can be found at 9921 Aurora Avenue N and be contacted at 206-524-1940.


Neil Sarver said...

It's been quite some time since I even thought about The Maltese Falcon. We used to drive past it when I was in high school and I always wanted to go. I remember bussing there and finding something terribly underwhelming, but then I was probably - as I usually am - looking for something specific and judging it by a different standard than it asked to be... or not.

I need to go to Scarecrow again soon, though.

Joe Baker said...

Great couple of posts, Adam. Stores like this get my jones going. There's a similiar store here in Dallas called Premier Video. From the outside, it looks as cosmetic and plastic as a Blockbuster (situated right in the heart of old money Dallas called Highland Park) but once you walk inside, your pre-conceived notions slap you in the face. Walls and walls of VHS movies (labeled by director, of course) stretch forever. I can't think of one time I haven't been there looking for an old Godard or Wenders and found it. Another smaller store called Starlight Video pretty much has the market on exploitation stuff, though. Premier is your stop for foreign and art house. Both are a heavy drive for me now since I don't work close to downtown Dallas anymore, but it's always nice to know they're there.

Adam Ross said...

Neil - On first impressions, The Maltese Falcon doesn't blow you away, but after talking with the owner I gained a greater appreciation for it. If I lived near it, I would definitely be a regular customer.

Joseph - I love hearing about places like you mentioned, it's great to know they still exist all around the country.