There’s a dinosaur living at the end of my block. No doubt there have been many sightings in the past decade or so, as it’s been pretty much declared extinct, a creature of the 20th century. But this one survives on very little, fed mostly by the enthusiastic film-lovers, and a woman named Megan Ellison and a doctor named Dr. Leonard M. Lipman.
The name of this nearly extinct animal is Vidiots. It’s…a video store. More recently, a non-profit foundation, funded primarily by a grant from Megan Ellison of Annapurna Pictures. Improbably set in the heart of Tinseltown—Santa Monica, home to many industry folk—Vidiots specializes in another relic of the past century, the DVD.
More specifically, they specialize in independent and foreign films. Entire shelves are dedicated to the work of Rohmer, Truffaut, Goddard, Fellini, Hitchcock, Renoir, Coppola, John Ford, Frank Capra…you get the idea.
Vidiots is a film lover’s paradise, although sadly not a crowded one. There are frequent screenings of indie films with directors and cast in their recently renovated, intimate screening room/lecture space. Some, like a showing of Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some” are SRO; others, less packed, still exude a sense of community with a small, passionate wedge of indie film-goers.
Not so ironically, Vidiots was on the verge of closing at the end of 2014 when it received a vital injection of support from Ms. Ellison and Dr. Leonard Lipman, a frequent local customer of the store. (See LA Times, http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-vidiots-donation-20150130-story.html). The last-minute reprieve involved a restructuring of the company as a non-profit organization, now known as the Vidiots Foundation.
As you walk in the doors, you immediately notice the stacks of shelves: too much for any one person to view in a week, a month or even a lifetime of binge-watching. And the folks at Vidiots get it, which may be why they also have shelves dedicated to each employee’s selects.
So I picked “Angela’s Recommendations” to start. And presuming that I have the stamina (and time) to persevere, I’m going to let you in on several of each employee’s selects.
First of all, I don’t personally know Angela, nor do I think she’s ever been at the store when I go. So there’s no hidden agenda in my reviews of her taste.
I picked up “Ponette,” a 1996 French film directed by Jacques Doillon and starring a young Victoire Thivisol (https://pro-labs.imdb.com/title/tt0117359/?ref_=sch_int). It won a slew of awards, including most of the top ones at the ’96 Venice Film Festival. Watching the performance of its four-year-old lead (Thivisol) reminded me of the old stage warning about children and animals. Her performance is so natural, so riveting, so un-self-conscious, that it felt like a master-class in the art of the actor. She is simply luminous, and Doillon shares equal credit for both casting her and capturing her elusive genie on camera.
I then pulled another foreign film from Angela’s selects: “Mid-August Lunch” written, directed by and starring Gianni di Gregorio https//pro-labs.imdb.com/title/tt1277728). Released in 2008, it also grabbed several awards at the 2008 Venice Film Festival. Di Gregorio plays an unemployed (or lazy, we’re not quite sure) Roman still living with, and vaguely caring for, his ancient mother. Strapped for cash, he agrees to take in (for pay, of course) another man’s mother for the day.
Once again, the screen is populated by (mostly) non-pro performers whose natural instincts in front of a camera are simply riveting. For nearly all the cast, this film is their sole credit on film. They are “amateurs” but di Gregorio captures their whimsical sense of engagement in life.
Both films tread lightly over issues of mortality (its brutal face, or its quiet imminence); both films relish a delicate dance of reality vs. art in the filmmakers’ ability to harness real emotions to show how humans find ways to re-engage with life despite age, suffering, loss.
OK, it’s embarrassing that we in the U.S. don’t get more exposure to these extraordinary films. It may not be a coincidence that both are foreign films; but I’ve picked up two more of Angela’s picks, and plan to review them for you soon. Stay tuned. And meanwhile, if you want more information about Vidiots, here are two places to find it:
P.S.thank you Angela.