Hi, my name is Steve “Dart” Adams & I’m a film addict, I suspect that I first became addicted to movies sometime around 1981. See, back then cable as we know it didn’t exist. Instead of being consolidated under one single provider, everyone was free agents in the Pay TV game as different companies in each region provided these services. In Boston, circa 1980 there was a company called Star TV or Starcase. They transmitted a signal from the top of Prudential Tower and you could subscribe to this service, receive a transmitter box and watch uncut Hollywood movies from the comfort of your own home.
As a young child I saw movies like “Escape From New York”, “The Man Who Saw Tomorrow”, “Superman”, “The Blues Brothers”, “The Shining”, “Jaws” amongst other films that all warped my fragile little mind. I was intrigued by how movies could make you feel different things and even affect your mood from early on, but just as I’d gotten hooked on movies something began to fuck with my supply. Rampant piracy due to people in the Boston area that found various ways to descramble the signal without even needing a transmitter forced the Pay TV provider (then called Preview) to suspend business back in early 1983.
By March 1983, I was going through movie withdrawals. I needed a fix bad but my section of the South End/Lower Roxbury still wasn’t wired for cable (although many of our neighbors were). I soon found a new connect, my dad. My brothers and I would spend weekends with our father in Dorchester and he had cable. Well, not only did he have cable but he had a huge top loading VCR and several computers. My dad was a computer programmer, a music lover and a film buff. It’s from him that I learned the difference between a serious film and some mediocre movie.
I saw “Star Wars” for the first time at my dad’s house. I saw “Scarface” for the first time when I was 9 on VHS with my brothers and my dad. We watched “Billy Jack”, “A Man Called Horse”, “Westworld”, “Planet Of The Apes” (watching it with him I finally REALLY understood what “Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes” was about), “Space Is The Place” and more (including several Blaxploitation/grindhouse films from the 70’s). I was the only 4th grader I knew that had seen “The Godfather” and “The Deer Hunter” or had any interest in seeing “Once Upon A Time In America”. My friends were far more interested in seeing “Ghostbusters” (which incidentally, I was taken to see instead of “Once Upon A Time In America”). Another great thing happened in 1984, we finally got a VCR.
At the time, videostore chains began to sprout up around the city but none as prominent as local movie rental chain Videosmith. I further developed my taste in film and videos through choosing rentals and taking into account the actors, director, producers, film poster and the preview trailers I saw at the beginning of other flicks we rented. Between going to the movies with my big brother & sister, stays over my dad’s on the weekends and renting the occasional movie my film palate had become so sophisticated at a young age that I ending up hating movies that most kids my age loved like “The Goonies”. I preferred films like “Blade Runner”, “Dune” and I thought “The Empire Strikes Back” was the best part of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. I wasn’t a regular ten year old.
Right before I turned eleven, my big sister came back home from Wellesley University and one of her school books contained the history of Black cinema from the 1900’s through 1984. I read that book from cover to cover and as I was turning 11 I learned about Spike Lee’s debut film “She Gotta Have It”. This ultimately became my introduction to the world of independent film as Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch and others made film that made me more aware of movies made outside of the traditional Hollywood system. I immediately noticed how independent films seemed to be more character based, not relying on special effects, stunts or gimmicks to keep the viewer engaged.
Spike Lee, Robert Townsend and Keenan Ivory Wayans all led a new resurgence of independent Black film as in 1987 Robert Townsend entered the fray with his film “Hollywood Shuffle” followed by Keenan Ivory Wayans’ debut “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka”in 1988 which ultimately led to the so-called Black Film Explosion Of 1991 that I wrote about previously on Bastard Swordsman (Hollywood Shuffle © Robert Townsend). Another key occurrence happened that further spurned my film addiction in early 1991, I finally got cable at home.
The 90’s ushered in several other key influences to what can now be termed as a fully blown film addiction. Sure, I had access to several different movie channels 24/7 through the A & B trunks of my Cablevision subscription (back then the only thing digital about cable were those numbers that appeared on the cable box) but it was MTV that was pushing the envelope this time. Between 1991-94, MTV ran an animation themed show powered by independent directors called “Liquid Television” which was highly influential and ended up sparking many young mind and beginning several careers.
In December 1992, MTV furthered opened a Pandora’s Box by finally listing the names of video directors. By 1994, the field of excellent, young, innovative video directors was brimming over with talented individuals like Spike Jonze, Hype Williams, Malik Sayeed, Lionel C. Martin, Michael Lucero, Michel Gondry, Diane Martel, Sophie Muller, Tamra Davis, Mark Romanek, Jake Scott, Joseph Kahn, Chris Applebaum, Jonathan Glazer, Brett Ratner, Chris Cunningham, Anton Corbin, Stephane Sednaoui, Wayne Isham, Marcus Raboy and the list goes on. So many of the music videos from this era were responsible for sending cats to film school it was ridiculous.
What further pushed my film addiction was the Golden Age Of Video Directing just happened to coincide with the independent film boom that began in the 90’s. Influential films were released all throughout the 90’s like Richard Linklater’s “Slacker”, Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” & “Pulp Fiction”, Alison Anders’ “Gas, Food, Lodging” & “Mi Vida Loca”, Abel Ferrara’s “Bad Lieutenant”, Robert Rodriguez’ “El Mariachi”, Kevin Smith’s “Clerks”, “Mallrats” & “Chasing Amy”, Boaz Yakin’s “Fresh”, Larry Clark & Harmony Korine’s “Kids”, Harmony Korine’s “Gummo”, Bryan Singer & Christopher McQuarrie’s “The Usual Suspects”, Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man”, The Coen Brothers’ “Fargo”, Todd Solondz’ “Welcome To The Dollhouse” and Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson’s “Bottle Rocket” to name a few.
I had began working with a production company called MCET (it was located in Cambridge near MIT) my senior year in high school (1994-95) that created educational live television and also taped other segments to air during their live programming. It was here where I began acting, finally got my hands on my first camera and began writing treatments, scripts & screenplays. After high school, instead of attempting to enter film school or find a college that offered anything in that direction I opted to go to Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD. When I got back to Boston in the Summer of 1996, I came right back to MCET. Shortly after I turned 21, I decided to stop working with them to focus on lecturing & taking classes at Harvard Extension School.
In the Summer of 1998, I’d left school and I got a job working overnight at a Super Star Market. After only two months I left there and applied for a job at Tower Records. I originally applied for a position on the music floor but I was given an audition working on the video floor which I passed with flying colors. I was then thrown into the pit with a bunch of film experts that specialized in every possible facet and genre of film you could imagine. I learned more about movies interacting with these people on a daily basis over the next 9 months than I did over the past 3 years on my own.
Working on the Tower Records video floor allowed me the privilege of three free film rentals (but for one night only) at a time and 35% off of CD’s, VHS’ and DVD’s. I could also special order movies that weren’t currently in stock which came in quite handy at times. During this stretch, I remember myself and about 6 other employees with our mouths agape as we watched the trailer for Vincent Gallo’s “Buffalo 66” during the previews for another movie we were watching in the store. I remember helping people find movies from their childhoods that they only could recall details of key scenes or bits of dialogue from. I convinced my store that it was time to rent DVD’s like the Blockbuster Video down the street did.
After my time at Tower Records was up I spent a short stint at a Hip-Hop clothing store called Hip Zepi USA (RIP) before landing a job at a movie theater, the infamous Loews Theater Cheri. I learned so much about the film industry and it’s relationship with movie theaters while I was there. I discovered how theaters choose what to carry, how they phase out films that under perform and replace them with other movies plus I got to see a few projectionists work up close. The time I worked at movie theaters was also interesting because the industry was dealing with censorship issues post the Columbine High shooting so several film releases had been delayed.
I saw the public’s initial reaction to “Fight Club” and it wasn’t anything like the praise heaped upon it today. People walked out of the theater during it (I loved it), to put that in perspective the only movie we got as many complaints about was “Random Hearts” starring Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas. Mind you, we screened crap like “The 13th Warrior” while I was there. I was also present when DreamWorks screened “American Beauty” in my theater for the Boston premiere. I met Kevin Spacey & Thora Birch (didn’t recognize her) and I heard DreamWorks execs bitch about everything from the theater being tiny to how filthy, offensive and “indie” “American Beauty” seemed (they’d never seen it). I, of course, loved it.
Several people on staff at the movie theater either wrote or directed so we’d talk film all the time. Once we got the reel for the new Micheal Mann film “The Insider” early and we decided to stay behind after the theater closed and watch it. It was more than 2 and half hours long and while it was a good film and well written it had little to no action. We all unanimously agreed that it was going to flop hard. And it did. For the record, “Fight Club” flopped but is considered a classic, “American Beauty” was a huge hit and also considered a classic while no one remembers “The Insider” was even made. I also remember seeing Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the Joe Connelly book “Bringing Out The Dead” flop. That one hurt.
I eventually left the theater (where I was promoted to being in charge of the box office & being the closing usher/security) to work at Newbury Comics during their holiday season. They hired me with the promise that I’d become regular staff after the holiday season was over. I discovered that I wasn’t when I saw the goodbye cake before the end of my shift on January 2nd, 2000. Nice. I was pissed off but I swallowed it and instead applied for a job literally 50 feet away at CD Spins, a used CD & DVD store where my movie expertise would come in handy (The movie theater, Tower Records, Newbury Comics & CD Spins were all less than 5 minutes from each other walking). They hired me and my film addiction was about to get even deeper.
I started out my CD Spins training at the old Cambridge location in Harvard Square on Church Street. Shortly after being there, the talk turned to film and my manager Jay asked me if I’d ever seen the Guy Ritchie film “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels” yet. I shook my head no and Jay exclaimed “Dude, you gotta see that shit!”. He then trusted us to mind the store while he went to Tower Records in Harvard Square to buy the DVD. He brought it back and we watched it right there in the store. Needless to say, I’ve been a Guy Ritchie film fan ever since. I also worked at CD Spins’ South Boston warehouse amongst thousands of CD’s, CD based videogames and DVD’s that needed evaluation and pricing. I was pretty good at my job and I only got better being immersed in music and film.
Beginning in early 2000, video & DVD rental stores began to gradually lose more and more revenue due to rampant internet piracy, P2P sites, overseas film bootleggers and a mail DVD rental subscription service called Netflix. I worked at CD Spins at the warehouse and several different locations before settling at a location on Winter Street in Downtown Crossing (which was across the street from the same Hip Zepi I worked at the previous Summer) until that Fall. By then, the box stores and video stores were on a downward spiral and the dotcom bubble had burst back in March. Shortly after George W. Bush became president the shit had hit the fan. Jobs were suddenly scarce and stores were shutting down.
To feed my film addiction, I copped cheap VCD’s from Asia as I couldn’t afford to buy just one $19.99 DVD that I waited months for when I could get 4 $5 VCD’s for Asian films that wouldn’t find American distribution for another year. I copped “Battle Royale” on VCD in early 2001 after reading Quentin Tarantino rave about it in a film magazine. I was the only cat I knew with it for about 6 months before other people began catching on and copping films online from Asia either on VCD or regionless DVD’s. During this time, video stores were losing more and more revenue and they were putting a hurt on our pockets so my brother and I determined that a Netflix subscription was more cost effective.
In late 2001, we began renting films from Netflix and arranging our queue expertly so we received new releases on the Tuesday they came out. With a 5 at a time rental plan and us watching & returning DVD’s quickly we ran through a disgusting amount of movies a month. Many of these films ended up landing in my Cult Films Of The Internet Era lists during my runs on Poisonous Paragraphs and Bastard Swordsman. I would’ve done another one but Tumblr won’t allow me to resize uploaded pictures so I can’t. Once I began blogging in 2006, I had quite a sizeable list of films to share with folks.
I was putting people onto “The Ring (Ringu)” back in 1999 when I was still working at Tower Records. I was putting cats onto Korean films like “Shiri” before anyone stateside (who wasn’t Korean) knew about it. I was one of the first dudes to own a copy of “Ong Bak” back in early 2003 & I played it for people in my crib for about a year. I sold more than 50 copies of it and spread it all throughout Boston (It wasn’t available on DVD in America until Summer 2005). British crime dramas like “Essex Boys”, “Gangster No. 1” & “Layer Cake” had me for an advocate. French action films like “Brotherhood Of The Wolf”, “The Nest” & “District B13” were all on my radar early as well. It’s almost like Pokemon, but with movies instead.
I’d already been blogging for more than a year by the time I first discovered Redbox in Fall 2007. I even wrote about it on Poisonous Paragraphs that October when I declared it was the wave of the future. Now in addition to streaming Netflix in my crib I rent from Redbox and I’m part of the streaming service which is in beta. Hypebeats line up for sneakers, film junkies line up at Redboxes.
I came up with the idea to do this piece a couple of weeks ago when I saw that the film “Searching For Sugar Man” was in a Redbox about 2 miles away in a train station so I hopped a few trains before midnight just to rent it and watch it that night. I decided that it would be a good idea to get to the bottom of why I was at a Shaw’s Redbox at 3 AM getting “Zero Dark Thirty”. I guess it could be worse, I could be out purchasing drugs instead. *Scratches self repeatedly*