15 January 2013

RIP HMV


As a lover of film in the UK I am very familiar with the brand HMV; a high-street retailer that has been serving lovers of media for just shy of 100 years. Yesterday, word broke that the company had fallen into administration, gift-cards would no longer be honoured and most stock now set to be reduced by as much as 25%. All of these are bad omens for the company, suggesting that the end may very well be nigh for HMV, unless of course, a late, third party buyer swoops in to revive the flailing behemoth. Obviously thousands of jobs are now at risk, and I’m the first to admit the nostalgic musings of this article pale in comparison to the fret employees of HMV must be suffering. I genuinely wish them all the best with their professional futures.

However as a lover of film, it’s the hole that HMV leaves on the high-street which worries me most. Several years ago Virgin Megastores and Zavvi were still big players in the selling of physical media, but both outlets eventually went the way of the dodo, leading HMV as the only mass entertainment specialist around. Of course new releases and a limited selection of classic films and albums have been available at supermarkets for years, but observing the limited titles in an Asda or Tesco doesn’t offer nearly the same appeal as perusing the aisles upon aisles of titles found in stores like HMV. I don’t consider myself a gross consumer, but as a film obsessive having physical copies of movies has always been a crux of mine, and for indulging that whim there were few places more pleasurable than HMV. The HMV in Belfast (a moderately sized outlet and the one with which I’m most familiar) boasted wonderful genre specific stock, encapsulating a wide selection of world cinema, obscure horror and TV to go along with the plethora of more typical fare. They had a well arranged Blu-Ray area well before Hi-Def discs were as mainstream as DVDs, and whilst pricing has always been erratic (I once encountered a copy of Roland Emmerich’s “Anonymous” for £28 on Blu-Ray!), there were always a few bargains to savour. For current and new releases the store was also pretty competitive with its pricing, HMV often just as cheap as its supermarket opposition in this department.

The thing that perturbs me most about its demise is that it signals a serious move in the direction of physical media’s extinction, and the death of casual browsing. Physically being able to rifle through stacks of DVDs has always been more invigorating than simply searching for them online, the surprises and shocks you might uncover playing a large part in the recreational process. When in town or during a lunch break I would often parade into HMV, and roughly half the time I’d guess I bought at least something small to add to my collections of movies, music or books. Of late their impressive Blu-Ray sale had been a particular thorn in my wallet’s side, but over the years I’ve spent a considerable amount of time and money in the store. I did this because I find it fun but also because I’m a believer in the appeal of physical media; the aesthetic pleasure from seeing shelves stacked with things providing a certain geekish delight. Friends and family can inspect your collection, criticising and praising it in equal measure, stimulating mass movie love as a result. I don’t imagine people are going to be quite so open about the content on their hard drives, yet it appears that’s the direction commercial art and culture is headed.

In won’t blather on much longer, but I feel that HMV has played such a large part in my growth as a film lover that commenting on its current dire state would be remiss. I hope the company finds some sort of future (chiefly for the security of its employees), so that film lovers the UK over don’t lose the communal appeal of buying and browsing movies together. Unfortunately for films fans, it seems our days of doing so may now be numbered.
 
An article by Daniel Kelly, 2013

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