Video Vortex

One of the most serendipitous occurrences of Domains19 was running into Skip Elsheimer of A/V Geeks fame who is a media archivist with a stunning collection of 24,000 16mm films. Skid joined a friend of his from college to the arcade evening after day 1 of Domains19, and thanks to Tom Woodward and the VCU crew we chatted. Turns out Skip was instrumental in bringing the Alamo Draft House to Raleigh, North Carolina, which I heard about when they were planning the lobby as an 80s VHS store (be still my heart). Well after chatting with Skip and realizing I had a day between Domains19 and the Wake Forest workshop, I decided to route over to the Alama Draft House in Raleigh and visit the VHS store myself, damn was it amazing!

It was kinda wild to pull into the parking lot of the theater because the only other Alamo Draft House I had been to before was the one in Austin which s right in the city. This one was a bit outside of Raleigh in a strip mall that has obviously converted an old grocery store into a cinema. I was impressed immediately, this was similar what Tim and I stumbled upon with CoWork and Reclaim Video (and soon to be Reclaim Arcade)  in Fredericksburg. A strip mall that was somewhat forlorn but the space is ample with low rent, all of which I’m imagining allowed them to get the space at a bargain, and then  work their magic. And oh did they ever! The lobby is a VHS store, as I mentioned before, and the whole aesthetic is so brilliant. It is called Video Vortex and everything screams VHS revival. 

From the VHS designed shelves to the genre-based labelled tapes, to the new arrival display wall:

It is masterfully designed and laid out. towards the back of the lobby is a huge bar with a mural and neon Video Vortex sign that is stunning. And the bar facade is lined with PAL VHS tape covers for an just a bit more of “we thought of everything.”

They rent VCRs for $9.99aweek

And the colletion is chock full of rare and off beat titles that bare the tell tale marks of a coleltor:

I think Big Foot, Eurotrash, and Kerouac would have been my first 3 rentals if I was a member:

The shelves, tables, and various VHS -designed table-TVs were inspired:

They had the requisite VHS tape dropbox, and you have to remember all this was simply the lobby to a full blown Alamo Draft Movie house with several theaters that plaid current releases as well as gems from Skip’s extensive personal 16mm collection.

I was also impressed at how strong the Italian b-movie poster campaign in the hallway leading to the theaters was. So many obscure films documented and shared in the grandeur they deserve. It was as much a museum and art collection as it was a theater.

Fact is, which Video Vortex and the Alamo Draft House Raleigh has a real unique cultural venue that is one of the things I miss most about America. These crazy folks with a passion, some vision, and a bit of money share their cultural obsessions with others in cool, creatives ways like this place. When I got talking to Skip at the arcade in Durham, before I had the pleasure of visiting Video Vortex, he reminded me of the fact that Kim’s Mondo Video on St. Mark’s Place in NYC had been sold to the town of Salemi in Sicily, Italy:

In September 2008, Kim announced he would be closing Mondo Kim’s and giving away the film collection to anyone who could fulfill certain criteria, stipulating that the entire collection was to be taken intact and that Kim’s members would continue to have access to the collection wherever it resided. In December 2008, it was reported that Salemi, Sicily had made a successful bid for the collection, as part of a village restoration effort.[7][8][9] In 2012, a Village Voice article entitled “The Strange Fate of Kim’s Video” reported that the collection, though remaining intact, had essentially disappeared from public view after arriving in Salemi, and that the initiatives promised by Kim and the government of Salemi remained unfulfilled. [10]

Looks like there was big trouble in little Salemi and  the collection has since been warehoused. One of the things Skip was discussing was have a VHSestival  in North Carolina this Fall to bring folks together the VHS community around a number of concerns as well as seeing whether there is interest in saving the Kim’s collection of movies—how crazy would that be? The other thing they are interested in is custom software for checking out VHS tapes, which we discussed briefly and both thought might be easy enough in WordPress, so I may be trying to build a VHS check-out SPLOT here soon 🙂

This was the second time in less than a month I had been to an awesome VHS store besides Reclaim Video, the other being Naro Video in Norfolk. And I guess the VHS resurgence is in full swing, I mean I got this picture just the other day from a colleague o the West Coast:

Which i think is exhibit A that the VHS explosion is going mainstream.  say what you will about me, but I do know how to big my nostalgic cultural revivals, and I am riding this one straight down the line to the very end.

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7 Responses to Video Vortex

  1. Tom says:

    That was a weird coincidence. Glad it led to good things.

    After seeing those pictures I want to build giant VCR tape tables.

    • Reverend says:

      It was really cool it came together, so thanks for the nudge Tom, the fact that one of the best video collections from the USA is in Sicily is definitely a sign from God 🙂

      • Michael Smith says:

        The story of Kim’s Video is crazy. I read the Village Voice article and one of the interesting proposals was to have a 24/7 “Never-ending festival” projecting at all times ten films at once. Reminds me of the current Reclaim Video VHS stream. And it appears they were trying to digitize the collection…

        Looks like Centro Kim in Salemi was a dog kennel and now home of the new city council after a ton of bad city management? Would be quite the pilgrimage if you could make it down there!

        And really hope the VHS festival happens, want to be part of that!

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