For 27 years, Southeast Portland’s Movie Madness has been an iconic destination for film lovers. As its owner prepares to retire, an ambitious Kickstarter campaign aims to save the store — and one of the biggest film collections in the country — from being closed and liquidated.
Eschewing the standard categories of drama, comedy and action, the store is a maze of some 84,000 movies and TV shows organized by directors, actors and every possible genre (see the cult section for “Rampaging Teenagers,” “Childhood Icons Gone Terribly Wrong,” and “Problems With Rodents”).
Mixed in with the movies is a museum’s worth of memorabilia proudly displayed in cases and frames, including the knife from “Psycho,” the soap from “Fight Club,” and the dress Julie Andrews wore while singing “Do-Re-Mi” in “The Sound of Music.”
It’s no surprise that renters continue to flock to the store from around the metro region, including some of the very directors in its collection.
“There’s something about walking into Movie Madness, where you feel guided by such a sheer obsession for movies,” said filmmaker Todd Haynes, whose shelf includes his many award-winning films, including “Carol” and “Far From Heaven.”
“There’s every conceivable pleasure and curiosity to be satisfied at a place like Movie Madness,” Haynes said.
But wait, isn’t the video store a thing of the past?
In most cases, they are. Thanks to the ubiquity of streaming services and rental kiosks like Redbox, there are many cities that no longer have a single rental shop. But on Wednesday, the Hollywood Theatre launched a campaign to buy Movie Madness and convert it into a nonprofit in a growing national effort to preserve the history of cinema.
Owner Mike Clark started Movie Madness in 1991 with 2,000 VHS tapes, after working in the industry himself in Hollywood. He grew the collection and the business year after year until 2010, when he grossed more than $1 million, thanks in part to the closing of the major movie store chains Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. Along the way, he became a regular at major memorabilia auctions to build up his collection.
“When I first opened up, there were 50 video stores within a 5-mile radius,” he recalled. Now he knows of one, the fellow family-owned Clinton Street Video.
When the 71-year-old decided it was time to retire last year, he wasn’t willing to let his life’s work to go up in eBay smoke. So he approached the Hollywood Theatre, a scrappy nonprofit that has transformed the historic Portland cinema into a cutting-edge film center.
Clark asked the theater if it wanted to buy the film collection and business for $250,000, less than half its appraised value. As part of the deal, Clark will retain the memorabilia, but continue to house it in the store.
For the Hollywood program director, Dan Halsted, who rents regularly at Movie Madness, they simply couldn’t say no.
“It’s more than just a video store; it’s a film archive — it’s the history of cinema in there,” he said. “I think there’s a misconception right now that movies are all available online, and that isn’t the truth at all. There’s actually a very small number of movies that are available.”
For example, various reports have placed Netflix’s collection at less than 10,000 and shrinking (“Variety” found it had 4,563 movies and 2,445 series in 2016 — Hulu had a little more and Amazon nearly 20,000). You won’t find a single film directed by Alfred Hitchcock or Orson Welles or starring Faye Dunaway on the seminal streaming service.
But at Movie Madness, not only can you rent their most obscure movies, you can see the Fu Dog statue from “Citizen Kane” or the see-through dress Dunaway wore in “Bonnie and Clyde” that shocked the industry.
Local filmmakers like Haynes and Gus Van Sant regularly use the collection for research, like the time Haynes had searched everywhere — including New York City’s most renowned video stores — for a super rare Bob Dylan documentary.
“And I walked into Movie Madness, and I said, ‘You guys wouldn’t have this movie, ‘Eat The Document?’” he told the Hollywood Theatre during an interview it shared with OPB. “‘Oh yeah, it’s in the Dylan section around the back,’ [they said]. And I’m like, ‘You’re kidding me.’”
The Hollywood Theatre team looked to an increasing number of nonprofit rental stores in Seattle, Los Angeles, New Haven and elsewhere for models. Most followed in the footsteps of Seattle’s Scarecrow Video, where a group of employees crowdsourced $100,000 in 2014 to take over the commercial store and turn it into a nonprofit.
“Once we did the Kickstarter, we started getting calls every month from all over country,” said Kate Barr, Scarecrow’s president.
Most recently, a film collective in Baltimore — a city whose last video store closed in 2014 — raised $30,000 to start a collection from scratch, with plans to open a new store, Beyond Video, later this year.
“We believe there’s probably room in each city for at least one really good video store that becomes a nonprofit,” said Doug Whyte, the Hollywood’s executive director.
He said he sees taking over Movie Madness as a natural pairing.
“That’s what we been pitching the other funders: It’s like program expansion,” Whyte added.
The Hollywood team is still developing the best way to fold the organizations together, but plans include combining the membership programs with discounts and perks like being able to return movies at the theater, mining the Movie Madness vault for an ongoing film series at the Hollywood, building a screening room in the video store where community groups can hold viewings — like a film noir club or a sci-fi meetup — and adding an employee to further integrate the two.
They also plan to partner with the computer nonprofit Free Geek to sell cheap, refurbished DVD and VHS players for viewers who no longer have them.
“Right now, it’s not losing a ton of money, but it’s not making money,” Whyte said. “First, I think we can improve the business model. So taking our experience, what we’ve done at the Hollywood, and streamlining it, making it more efficient.”
The Hollywood plans to build on the memorabilia collection and add interactive features, hoping that their nonprofit status will lead to donations instead of competing at the auction block. Their nonprofit status will also allow them to complement rental and membership fees with possible foundation and corporate support, grants and donations, plus the ability to bring in volunteers.
The heart of the matter for the Hollywood team, as well as the other nonprofits across the country, is re-imagining what a video store can be.
“It’s probably going to be some sort of film library community center,” Whyte said. “It’s about giving access to this amazing collection of films.”
With incentives including T-shirts and private theater screenings, the Hollywood Theatre has until Nov. 10 to meet its Kickstarter goal. The campaign launches with a screening of “Strangers on a Train” on Oct. 11 at 7pm at the theater with Mike Clark in attendance, and, of course, the glasses Kasey Rogers wore in the film.