The real video nasties

Why is it that I can't find Double Indemnity at my local video shop, but there are racks filled with straight-to-DVD knockoffs?

That's criminal... Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity

Up for some Dangerous Seduction? Fancy a Deadly Betrayal? Searching for Sinful Intrigue? You'd better be, because it's all you're going to get.

Let's say you wander into the local video shop looking for a crime thriller with a hint of eroticism. What you won't find is Double Indemnity or Blood Simple. Instead, as far as the eye can see, will be rack after rack of low-budget, straight-to-DVD knockoffs like the above. And the mysterious thing is that people must actually rent them, or they wouldn't be there.

My adolescence is behind me, so I no longer take it as a personal insult when others claim to enjoy what I consider to be the most noxious waste products of late capitalism. When people rent, say, The Da Vinci Code over The Third Man, I can understand it. That is not my complaint. After, all The Da Vinci Code had an enormous promotional budget and recognisable stars. Black-and-white film noirs are an acquired taste. Not everyone is as determined as I am to impress the bloke at the till with my cinephile sophistication.

But I am genuinely baffled by this underclass of films. They don't even deserve to be called B-movies - that would imply charm and ingenuity. More importantly, there is no chance whatsoever that you will have heard of them (or any of their cast) before you enter the video shop. And yet somehow they must be more in demand than the immortal classics of 20th-century cinema, which are withdrawn from the shelves as fast as these mediocrities multiply. What is their secret? It can't just be about sleaze: there are dozens of wonderful films out there with generous helpings of sex and gore.

The answer might be that there's something a bit too confrontational about today's cinema culture. I came across a book recently with the representatively strident title of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. The notion of films as homework used to be confined to student acolytes of Truffaut and Goddard, but these days it seems like even your postman won't talk to you if you haven't seen Raging Bull. Perhaps people rent films that they know are going to be awful because they're sick of feeling obliged to rent films that they're told are good.


Ned Beauman

The GuardianTramp

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