The Curtain Falls on Video Journeys, a Sacred Space for L.A. Cinephiles
The Silver Lake institution — where Kyle Chandler once tried to get a job and Keanu Reeves made off with a rare DVD — is closing after 31 years.
You know the drill: The once-ubiquitous video store has gone the way of the woolly mammoth, a casualty of the streaming revolution, which siphoned away consumers with its instant gratification, its push recommendations, its zero late fees.
Yet there persists a faction of devotees who find themselves left utterly cold by the Netflixes and Amazons of the world. None are more passionate than the patrons of Video Journeys, a Silver Lake DVD emporium which for three decades has served as a de facto neighborhood movie salon. There, customers are encouraged to linger, discuss and debate cinema, in the understanding that the road to discovering an overlooked gem is frequently as important as the movie itself.
By the end of July, however, Video Journeys will be no more. The store, which has occupied a space above a dry cleaners since 1984, quietly began informing its customers several weeks ago that it would be closing shop. A party on July 25 will serve as the final send-off.
Among the luminaries who have passed through the doors over the years: Patrick Stewart, Steven Soderbergh and Kyle Chandler, who tried to get a job there shortly after moving to Los Angeles. (Sadly, they weren't hiring.) Keanu Reeves once came in search of a rare copy of William Wyler's 1939 adaptation of Wuthering Heights. He found it, rented it — and never brought it back.
But unlike Vidiots in Santa Monica, another neighborhood favorite which skirted closure last January thanks to the generosity of Megan Ellison, Video Journeys will not be getting a fairy-tale ending. The vibe in the place these days is akin to an Irish wake. Longtime employees — all of them seasoned cinema gurus, each with their own area of expertise — console and kibbitz with longtime patrons, many of whom have been browsing the aisles since childhood.
"This is where I knew I belonged in L.A., once I came here," says Kafia Haile, 35, a former military worker who relocated from Washington, D.C., to attend USC's screenwriting program. "It was like, 'This is where there are other people like you.'" Haile's sentiments were echoed by film consultant Thomas Ethan Harris, 49, another Video Journeys die-hard, who, as programmer for the American Cinematheque, relied heavily on its stacks for research. "It's about sharing," Harris says. "It's about a film community."
Observing from behind the register is Hayley Nahmias, 51, the store's founder and owner. Nahmias opened Video Journeys back in 1984 with $50,000 in seed money from her parents. Locals began trickling in, many of whom worked below-the-line jobs in Hollywood and possessed an expansive knowledge of film history. "They would say, 'Bring in cult, bring in foreign, bring in classics," recalls Nahmias.
She listened, and it wasn't long before Video Journeys outgrew its 800-square-foot space, eventually expanding at its peak to 5,000 square feet. As business dwindled, that pattern reversed — but the collection, considered by local aficionados to be one of the best in the business, continued to swell. Nahmias estimates there are between 20,000 and 25,000 films in the library, many of which are unavailable to stream or purchase anywhere.
Until now, that is: The entire stock is up for sale, and movie buffs have been taking advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, making off with shopping bags full of everything from New Wave gems to kung fu classics. They've picked clean sections dedicated to legendary filmmakers like John Waters, John Cassavetes and Stanley Kubrick.
"Ever see The Treasure of the Sierra Madre?" asks Paul Body, 67, who worked behind the counter from 1994 to 2010. "Remember how it ended, with the gold blowing back into the mountain? That's what's happening. The movies are blowing back into the mountain."