Etienne George Photo Courtesy of Paradis Films
Gaspard Ulliel as Henri de Guise in The Princess of Montpensier, directed by Bertrand Tavernier
I've always been a bad-news-first kind of guy, so let's just get this out of the way now: Pleasant Street Video is closing. The Northampton landmark, a fixture on the corner of Pleasant and Armory streets for over two decades, has fallen in the face of online rentals and computer culture in general—what co-owner Dana Gentes called "the march of technology" in a recent radio interview. The shop will close in July; when it does, Northampton will find itself without a video store for the first time in generations.
Of course, PSTV has never been an ordinary video store. In fact, I'd venture to say that of all the things I've seen go on there, renting videos would have to be pretty far down the list. (I was a projectionist and manager at neighboring Pleasant Street Theater for 10 years, before leaving in 2008.) It was much more likely that one would stumble upon a lively discussion of town politics—longtime worker Bill Dwight being a fixture in city government circles—or a doctoral-level dissection of an obscure Czech filmmaker's animation technique. Or you might simply walk in on a group of friends catching up—PSTV was in so many ways a community hub first and a store second, a place where locals could (and did) while away a day standing at the counter watching a Red Sox game.
All that will be gone soon, and if it sounds like mere nostalgia, then you were never a customer.
Amid all the laments and well wishes, one might forget to question the fate of the store's beating heart: its massive, carefully curated collection of films. Luckily, there is good news on this front. A grassroots effort to save the film library sprang up following the announcement of the closing, with film lovers buying up the rights to donate their favorite films (or even the full works of their favorite directors) to Northampton's Forbes Library. While far from finished, the effort is well underway, and if it's completely successful, the 8,000 titles will triple the library's DVD collection and keep the diverse PSTV archive—including many rare and out-of-print films—available to the community free of charge.
To donate a favorite film—every $8 contribution gets you naming rights to a DVD—visit pleasantstvideo.com or simply drop by the Forbes or the video store in person over the next couple of weeks to make a donation to the cause. It offers, at least, a way to lessen the loss. As Dwight responded to a saddened fan on the store's Facebook page: "Don't despair. Stay engaged. Find some inspiration and dazzle the shit out of us."
Also this week: As of this writing it appears that Humphrey Bogart's films are still up for grabs in the donation game. Someone should tell Amherst Cinema, which kicks off its summer Bogart festival this week with the 1941 film noir The Maltese Falcon. The first in an 11-film series, the John Huston classic is the movie that made Bogart's name with American filmgoers. In it he plays Sam Spade, a hard-boiled detective caught up in the search for a treasured statue.
Iconic in the best way—not simply handsome but striking and magnetic—Bogart has wormed into our collective subconscious, appearing in everything from Looney Tunes cartoons to medical journals, where a vocal condition—Bogart-Bacall syndrome—is named for him and his most famous co-star. The films in this series, however, go beyond the well-known detective stories to include darker fare such as the magnificent In a Lonely Place. If you only know the Bogie of Casablanca, be sure to take a closer look.
And finally this week, two new films have set up shop at Pleasant Street Theater, with The Princess of Montpensier starting things off. Filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier ('Round Midnight) directs this period drama about a 16th-century aristocrat (Melanie Thierry) struggling in an unhappy marriage. Also out this week is Buck, a documentary look at Buck Brannaman, a real-life "horse whisperer" whose innovative style of training focuses on sensitivity and empathy instead of punishment and correction. Wildly successful, his methods have inspired many followers but no real equals."
Jack Brown can be reached at email@example.com.