Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The library steps up its game

I've sung the praises of renting from the library before. Not only is it free, but it exposes you to movies you might not otherwise choose. It refines your selection from the thousands in the video store and the tens of thousands online, down to just a couple hundred. You never know what you might come away with.

But in the old days, getting videos from the library felt a little like going to school. You expected to have to pick up a classic, when all you wanted was a popcorn movie. If you got a movie from the last five years, you'd feel like you hit the jackpot.

Well, this is not your father's library.

I can't speak for your library, wherever you may be, but in Los Angeles, it really is a decent substitute for the video store.

I've been accustomed to getting relatively new releases at the library for some time now, but it wasn't until this week that the Los Angeles Public Library really knocked my socks off. I didn't choose to rent it, but had I, I could have walked away with My Bloody Valentine (or My Bloody Valentine 3D, as it is sometimes listed) -- a movie released in theaters on January 16th, just five months ago. It became available for sale and rental less than a month ago, on May 19th.

What I did walk away with -- as the accompanying artwork probably suggests -- was Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, almost as impressive for having been released in theaters on October 3rd, DVD on February 3rd. That was just one of three movies, of course, the others being Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (4/25/08 theatrical release), and the "old man" of the group, Shutter, which came out way back in March of 2008, and which I'm reviewing.

(To insert an otherwise irrelevant comment about Nick & Norah, which I watched last night: Meh.)

I used to think library movie collections were comprised of the donations of kindly old ladies, and therefore would consist primarily of gentle, inoffensive selections, like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins. But the LAPL doesn't discriminate, at least not in any way I can see. Not only did I see the supposedly gruesome My Bloody Valentine available for rental (loaning/borrowing), but in the past I even noticed that execrable exercise in misogyny and torture porn known as Captivity.

So where do these movies come from?

Well, chalk another one up for the library. I went on the website to see if I could find an answer, but quickly decided that this information wouldn't be all that likely to be publicized. But I realized I had the option to "chat with a librarian," and promptly did so. The librarian on-call wasn't an actual Los Angeles librarian -- she's part of some national organization -- but she said that the library usually buys new releases, and fills in the gaps with donations.

Consider me even more amazed. So the library is actually paying to help rot our brains with movies, rather than encouraging us to nourish them with books? I'm being facetious, of course, because movies don't rot our brains nearly as much as TV. But you'd still think they wouldn't put actual budgetary resources into making themselves the best video store alternative they can be. I mean, even with potential discounted prices, someone still had to decide to spend $10 on a copy of My Bloody Valentine.

Well, library, you've done it. You've convinced me of your relevance. And you've made me a very happy customer.

Now, if you can just get me to read, I will be even more impressed.

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