Melbourne’s latest DVD rental store is in an unassuming wooden shop in Richmond, somewhere between a trendy fish and chips and a tapas bar.
Over the past 20 years, image research was directed by Derek de Vreught, an eccentric man who wears his long gray hair, loose clothes and doesn’t like interviews.
He tells me in a voice message that cuts, inexplicably, 30 seconds later.
“Yeah, hi, it’s Derek at the video store,” he begins drawling boredom.
“Uh… yeah, I keep running out of time, sorry about that.” I mean, I hate being interviewed or whatever, but come anytime and ah … “
Swan Street has been the subject of dramatic gentrification since De Vreught saw a sign in a video store window in 2000, saying “all VHS at $ 5”.
“You can’t do that,” De Vreught decided, “you can’t shut down.
“They had a good video library.”
So he made the quick decision to buy all of the VHS in the store, at roughly their retail price, and began renting the premises from Picture Search, which now owns over 35,000 DVDs.
He describes the store as it was then as an “alternative cinema”, then pauses, as if he wasn’t satisfied with that description.
“I guess with alternative cinema, you don’t know you’re in it when you are,” he says. “You just like the movies.”
“Like a little labyrinth”
Before devoting his life to researching images, De Vreught had various odd jobs, as a postman and then a bank employee.
Although he talks about it nonchalantly, his family has a remarkable past.
His father was a Dutch soldier who was imprisoned by the Germans during World War II before eventually escaping to Scandinavia. He then fought for the Dutch in the brutal struggle against Indonesian independence forces before traveling to Australia.
It was here that De Vreught’s father met his mother, who died giving birth to her younger sister. De Vreught grew up in Gisborne, Victoria, his sister in Ballarat. She was adopted by her mother’s best friend but has remained close to the family.
When De Vreught arrived in Melbourne in the 1980s, he went to the cinema at least once a week, to see foreign or arthouse films, feeling that it was “kind of what everyone did” .
It was the cinematic era of the first films of the Coen brothers, early Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley.
Tenzin Casey-Waters worked with De Vreught as a teenager and visited Picture Search with his family since he was a child.
“It wasn’t like other DVD stores,” she says. “It was like a little maze.”
When Casey-Waters worked there, De Vreught still used an old Windows desktop and a manual filing system, but knew every regular customer’s number by heart and was an expert at memorizing tastes.
“He’s a character,” she said. “Very dry, very smooth, very knowledgeable, but very generous… he wants you to make the most of the movies and connect with you.
“He once recommended Balls to the Wall to my parents,” says Casey-Waters.
“They rented him but left him there by accident and went to the supermarket, so he followed them in and across the aisle yelled, ‘Hey! You forgot Balls to the Wall! ‘ “
She says remarkably little has changed in the store. For decades, yellowing newspaper clippings hung behind the cash register, next to movie and TV figures and a large billboard from the cult ’90s movie Clerks that reads in bold rainbow lettering: “Just because we serve you doesn’t mean we love you. “
As for his own tastes, De Vreught refuses to name a favorite film, but believes he has seen less than 20% of the thousands of films he has on hand.
Before our conversation ends, a young man comes by and praises David Lynch’s cult movie, Mulholland Drive.
De Vreught begins to think – not so much about the man as himself – about the film and Lynch’s creative process, wondering if he understands the list of clues on the back of the DVD case.
‘It was kind of scary’
De Vreught always seems indifferent to making a profit.
When I leave, I try to buy him a record for $ 50, clearly at the sale price.
He looks at him, a little remorseful, and stops. “I guess you can buy it,” he said at last. “I’ve listened to it once before… but I think I have two copies… it’s okay.”
It was the recordings that kept Picture Search going, as streaming and then the pandemic made DVD research a decidedly niche experience.
In the past two years, DVD rental stores have closed in Murrumbeena, Frankston South and Sandringham.
“And that was it,” says De Vreught. “These were Melbourne’s last video clubs, besides me.
“When I spent all the money we had left to make it into a record store, it was kinda scary because, are we going to be able to pay the rent now?
“And we are – but I can say that if it weren’t for selling the records, we wouldn’t be.”
He thought about moving Picture Search to areas where rent is cheaper and DVD stores seem to last longer.
But the landlord hasn’t raised the rent yet, so he insists “we’re going to keep fighting here for another five years”, serving the movie customers who remain – people looking for alternative films, those who in principle avoid going online. , or families rooted in their habits who like the idea of a local.
It’s those regulars who say, “Man, if you shut up, there are some things that we won’t have access to.”