Part media studies, part cultural history, part ethnography, Daniel Herbert’s Videoland: Movie Culture at the American Video Store is an unusual and often unusually compelling study of the emergence and disappearance of American movie-rental stores. Unusual, because Herbert’s work is primarily derived from empirical research conducted at video stores across the country, as he observed locations and interviewed employees and customers for a deeper, almost phenomenological sense of the video store as lived experience, from both sides of the video counter.
Herbert’s writing also comes from personal experience, as he worked at Alphaville Video in Albuquerque from 1999 to 2002—information which he openly shares in the book’s introduction. His admission speaks directly to a nostalgia for a culture which has largely disappeared, almost as a means of legitimating himself within cinephilic culture. Working at a video store, for Herbert and several of those interviewed, constitutes something of a right of passage into a specific kind of cinematic education, perhaps one of saturation and immersion. Specifically, Herbert discusses how the employees at Scarecrow Video in Seattle, WA view their jobs as “like playing a game of trivia all day,” since they’re surrounded by like-minded cinephiles.