Heads Together | Program Notes
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Monday, February 23, 2009

Heads Together

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 2:37 PM

I doubt whether I can bear to drag myself to this venerable video shop's liquidation sale, which continues through this Sat., Feb. 28. I moved to Pittsburgh in 1991, and the place quickly became one of my cultural way stations -- then as much for its used-book annex (called the Bookworm), quality magazine rack and little vinyl-record selection as for its VHS rentals. (OK, also for its proximity to the Squirrel Cage -- but I digress.)

It was then still in its original location, in the basement of the Squirrel Hill building by Gullifty's where it had once also sold water pipes. I remember descending those steep stairs into that sizable lair, packed with shelving and all the foreign-language and cult titles you could imagine. The counter was on your right as you entered, the videos on the left, books in back.

I had actually rented my last VHS tapes from Heads not long ago, maybe only a month before owner Dee Sias announced that she was closing up shop. The store, for the past couple years, has occupied a second-floor walkup space further down Forbes it shares with Jerry's Records. The picks were two groundbreaking documentaries of their respective days, Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line and Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North.

Heads' departure reminds me of other unique video stores that disappeared in recent years: Oakland's Classic Video, whose selection of classics and art films was unparalled (I still don't know how they fit it all in that little Craig Street storefront) and Incredibly Strange Video, your cult-film source in Dormont. Both were as much victims of their long histories -- which came complete with giant VHS stockpiles, quickly obsolescing in a DVD world -- as they were of Netflix or downloads. (It's no coincidence that the city's lone remaining indie video shop, Dreaming Ant, is young enough to be all-DVD.) I can't imagine either that it helped Heads to have virtually no streetface presence ... though I guess it didn't have much when it lived in a basement, either.

It all makes me feel like I did when Homestead's legendary Chiodo's Bar closed a few years back, combined with how I felt in the late '80s, when it became almost impossible to find new music on vinyl: wistful at the passing of an era; angry at the public's lemming-like embrace of new technology; vaguely guilty that I can't do anything to stop it.

In my own miniscule way, I do share blame for Heads' demise: I patronize video stores way less than I did a few years ago. But it's not because I'm mail-ordering or downloading. I just don't watch movies at home much these days, except stuff I'm writing about for CP and for which I therefore get press screeners. And of the handful of titles I am interested in, many are available free from the Carnegie Library.

So dwindles the census of physical locations where humans of like mind once congregated. Now Squirrel Hill acquires another empty space where you won't see certain heads together any more.

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