TLA closes; film buffs lament

    On Thursday one of the best video stores in Philadelphia began selling off its inventory. TLA Video closed its store in Rittenhouse Square, two years after closing its South Street store and eight months after closing the Chestnut Hill store.

    On the first day of the sale, several hundred packed the store on Locust Street to buy titles they might not find anywhere else.

    We asked some of Philadelphia’s film buffs what TLA means to them.


    Sam Katz, businessman, sometimes Mayoral candidate, documentary filmmaker

    Katz rents from TLA to see the kind of movies he can’t with his wife. He has a taste for blood.

    “Not the gore of Saw or Chainsaw Massacre — I don’t go for that,” said Katz. “But films that had a little more—when the gun went off, there was more oozing.”

    He watches documentaries too. Katz’s film company, History Making Productions, is in the midst of a multi-part documentary on the history of Philadelphia. He’s been renting documentaries to get ideas on what to do, and what not to do. PBS godhead Ken Burns is a case in point.

    “Long, ponderous comments by talking heads, traditional used in Burns films, are thing we try to avoid,” said Katz. “That’s not to denigrate Burns’ work–he’s one of the best. I think the work by his brother Rick Burns on New York City stands out as one of the great documentaries I’ve seen.”

    He admired TLA’s documentary section, but “I watched a documentary last night on my iPad that I was able to get online from PBS. It’s hard to compete with that.”


    Jennifer Higdon, Pulitzer-prize winning composer, instructor at Curtis Institute

    Higdon, who travels a lot for her work as an in-demand composer, has been to a lot of video stores around the country to grab a little distraction while staying in one city or another. In her opinion TLA is the best store in the country.

    “I’m still trying to adjust to the idea,” she said when she returned home to Philadelphia last week and found her store had closed. She doesn’t own many DVDs; she prefers discs pass fleetingly through her life and home. Nevertheless, she plans to go to the sell-off, “Even if it’s just to thank the staff for being so incredible over the years. It’s amazing how many times I’ve been in there.”

    The independent, foreign, obscure, and experimental films she has rented from TLA have made an impact on the music she writes. “My constant awareness of people doing other things in other ways makes me re-examine how I write music. Not because you’re creating movie music, but because you’re creating something that’s supposed to engage someone from point A to point B. Filmmakers do it differently, composers do it differently, but I love seeing how other people do it.”


    Kathy O’Connell, host of “Kids Corner”, WXPN

    Unlike a normally idle browse through the shelves of the video store, decisions have to happen fast at the TLA inventory sell-off. The crowds get thick, the choices are vast, and the pressure is high.

    “You really will be overwhelmed. You can make poor choices,” said O’Connell. “It’s like the candy by the checkout. You’ve got to get a little deeper and get the healthier choices.”

    Topping the list of O’Connell’s “healthier” choices are the St. Trinian’s films, a comedy series made in England in the 1960’s, about a boarding school for girls. “These are the worst, most horrible, ill-behaved girls you can imagine,” said O’Connell, who hosts a children’s radio show four days a week. “They are the daughters of criminals, and they get into all kinds of illegal shenanigans. As a child I watched these films all the time.”

    She will also be seeking a faux-documentary called “Forgotten Silver” by Peter Jackson, the punk-rock runaway fairy tale “Times Square,” and “FM,” a film about a radio station staff that goes on strike. “It’s exactly the kind of radio movie I love.”


    Hilary Jay, founder of DesignPhiladelphia

    “My dog knows her way to TLA,” said Hilary Jay, the founder of DesignPhiladelphia. “They always have biscuits in the back for her. I’m being pulled in the door, pulled into the back, and I say, ‘OK guys, it’s a Sunday night. We have family viewing tonight, what are we going to watch?'” The staff always came up with some — both age-appropriate for her teenaged daughter that also appealed to the adult tastes of herself and her husband. It’s not known if the dog’s tastes were taken into account.

    At TLA, Jay discovered documentaries about Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Frank Gehry, and counts Blue Velvet and Harold and Maude as perennial favorites. She will miss having a brick-and-mortar store in the neighborhood, but will not seek out another. “Maybe there’s another shop somewhere, but we won’t be using it,” laments Jay. “We’ll be using Netflix. Which is sad, in a way.”


    Elliott Levin, musician, poet

    Levin, who plays with Odine Pope, West Philadelphia Orchestra, and Interplay, first started renting from TLA after he saw El Topo at the TLA theater on South Street, which used to be a repertory cinema. The 1970 psychedelic freak-out in the desert by Alejandro Jodorosky got under the jazz player’s skin, and only at TLA Video could he could find it again.

    “The one thing I like about them is the people are pretty knowledgable,” said Levin. “Usually when I went there they wold know if it was available. And if it wasn’t, where I could go.”

    Like many film buffs, lately Levin has been using Netflix and the public library more than TLA. He doesn’t have cable, so he relies on season box-sets to catch up. Most recently he’s making his way through Treme. “It has a lot of great music in that,” said Levin. “I’ve seen some musicians that I know, personally, in the episodes playing musicians on the street.” 

    Your thoughts: What would you like to snatch up before TLA closes its doors for good? Tell us in the comments below.

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