She rushes to find the DVD amid haphazard stacks of movies. “Yes, here it is!” she calls out. “You see, it’s about this broken man with no will to live. He creates these amazing replicas of an imaginary French community during World War II. It’s just so moving.”
A small group of customers and young clerks — cineastes, all — swarms around Annie, who, at 60, has long, wizardly gray hair, pink cheeks and a gentle, motherly manner. She starts to brainstorm a possible double feature.
“Maybe ‘Crumb,’ about the cartoonist,” she suggests. “They’re both about taking your issues and working through them with art.”
This sort of film-school moment is a regular occurrence at Video Americain, which stocks everything from “La Dolce Vita” to “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.” Here, the movies are organized by director, and sections are devoted to everything from “Silent” to “Film Noir” to “British Kitchen Sink” (in which, explains Barry Solan, “the main character — a working-class antihero — usually gets sick in the sink at some point”).
But this is Video Americain, and it’s 2012. Last week, to no one’s surprise, the Solans announced that they will close their doors at the end of next month. The store recently rented its final video and is now focused on selling off inventory. A committee of longtime customers is organizing a party Jan. 11 in the store’s honor. Takoma Park TV will be on hand to record customers’ memories.
In the heyday of video rental — the 1990s — the video store was one of six owned by the Solans. There is a surviving store in Baltimore’s Roland Park neighborhood, but it, too, will soon have to move or close, Barry, 61, says. “I’ve run a lot of businesses that have failed spectacularly, and I’ve always been a buy-high-and-sell-low guy who’s never had an interest in making a lot of money,” he says.
On a recent afternoon, the couple collapse onto the lumpy sofa in the middle of the store for a chat. Beneath their feet is a worn carpet sprinkled with stray pistachio shells and crumbs from the mini-pretzels that Barry offers to customers. In front of them is a chipped coffee table piled high with movie catalogues, and above them is an aging flat-screen TV playing an episode of the 2003 BBC drama “The Lost Prince.” They commute to the store from their home in Newark, Del.; a local couple often lets them sleep over in Takoma Park to save them the commute. And there’s always that lumpy sofa.
Annie says the first movie she saw by herself was Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” (1968). She was 16, and she loved the film so much that she called her mother from a pay phone to ask if she could see it again. Barry says that he saw that same movie on one of his first dates.