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Photoplay- Michael Sayers

September 12, 2011

Photoplay-Michael Sayers

928 Manhattan Avenue

Greenpoint, NY, 11222

When I walk into Michael Sayer’s video store, Photoplay, the first sentence to form on this customer’s lips begins with (but is not restricted to) a question, usually regarding a recommendation for a movie.

My questions are always met with informed, yet opinionated, advice, reflecting the film tastes and knowledge of Michael Sayers or whoever is the film expert, working the counter that day. And, at the same time, the workers at Photoplay manage to be attuned to the individual customer’s interests and tastes.

 While it is by no means a requirement to love movies in order to rent from Photoplay, where movies are closer to religion than to hobby, it doesn’t hurt, as the surrounding conversation is especially satisfying for those customers who are cinephiles. Michael Sayers loves films and I have never met anyone behind the counter of Photoplay who was not similarly devoted.

Sometimes, the returned rental, the dvd itself, provides segue, not unlike a transitional sentence in a new paragraph, the dvd acting as a conversational vehicle, a kind of piggy-back leading towards larger and smaller, related and unrelated topics, such as, books based on movies, or movies we are about to see. We speak of beloved movies and those not so beloved. We talk as if still in the grip of a favorite scene, with a responsibility for recreating it and getting it just right, in words, as if it really matters and it does, because, we are, after all, only trying to do some small, measure of due justice to what was done on the big screen. And, then there are the actors we try to conjure: our modern day gods and goddesses. We cannot possibly say with words what they mean to us, so their names alone do this for us.

Then, again, it’s back to book talk. We talk of books just read, or ones about to be read. And then we return to the movies; the ones up for consideration, whose mere mention suffices to send shivers down our spine. But, it’s only later, after renting the dvd, at home, with no intermediary, are we charmed, enthralled, and if lucky, hypnotized by these moving images.

I tell Michael, “This is like a book club, but for movies.” And indeed, it is the equivalent of a spontaneous and unstructured book club.

And, because, it is an enclosed, physical space, Photoplay facilitates and contains conversation, representing a cross-section of the Greenpoint community, providing plenty of room for airing of various points of view. It is the ultimate safe-space, where the comfort food is the flipping through all manner of genres of dvds, rare and not-so-rare; communing with others and gaining informed wisdom, inspiration and even developing tastes in movies you never had before entering Photoplay. Sometimes you go, like you go to a museum, to visit old friends. Sometimes, just from perusing the stacks of dvds, you feel you have learned something new.

I am often at Photoplay longer than necessary. And, when I am not conversing with Michael or with another Photoplay, film expert, I am trying really hard to catch useful, tidbits of information on a rental just returned, or I am eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation with Michael (or a Photoplay person) regarding the most useful of advice: film rental suggestions for that evening. When I say to my daughter, “ I’m going to Photoplay,” I might as well preface it with the equivalent of, “ Don’t wait up for me.”

The other unrelated, non-movie topics, include: things that have inspired me, conversations about teaching, my students, our own educational past and how it  has colored the present, goings-on-about Greenpoint and even discussions on the economy. In fact, the documentary, Inside Job, about the financial crisis of the late 2000’s, directed by Charles Ferguson, provided fodder for shared rage. This was followed by Michael Sayer’s suggestion that I watch a comedy afterwards, as a kind of antidote to the toxic and emotional after-taste the movie was sure to leave. It did and as usual, I followed his advice.

But mostly, the movie represented in the object of the dvd, contained in its brittle, plastic case, enclosed in Photoplay’s protective, signature, quilted, grey cover, is the very centerpiece of conversation. The actors, the directors and, the cinematographer, of for example, A Place in the Sun, the one who made Elizabeth Taylor appear with skin so white, that it made the fellow working, the night I rented the movie, say, “ In the movie, her skin is so milky white,” and the living movie, represented by the dvd, inside the plastic case, enclosed in the quilted, grey, protective cover, are what matter most.

One final thing: the smell of the place is old wood, possibly of books and some old-fashioned tonic, or perhaps it is old aroma of a perfume created by time and what transpired before. In fact, every time I bring my out-of-town guests to Photoplay, prior to entering, I tell them: “Breathe, breathe the air; it’s like nothing you’ve ever smelled before!”

Photoplay-Michael Sayers

928 Manhattan Avenue

Greenpoint, NY, 11222

On a sultry, summer day, at dusk, I walked into Photoplay and spoke with owner, Michael Sayers, in his office surrounded by boxes of dvd’s.

 Below, is part of that conversation

  G.L.R.  Where are you from?

 M.S.  Outside of Hartford, Connecticut

 G.L.R. How long have you lived in Greenpoint? Do you like it?

 M.S.  12 years. I love it.

G.L.R. How did you end up in Greenpoint?

 M.S.  I was living in Wiliamsburg and in the ’90’s the building I was living in was bought, so I looked here. I was working at Film Forum for 12 years and I was already in Greenpoint, but felt Greenpoint needed a good video store and that was around 2000. Made sense, I was here, seemed like a good idea.

G.L.R.  What changes have you noticed since you have been here?

 M.S.  I don’t see them as drastic. I always see new people, it’s a constant. The other changes-there’s so much construction. A few years ago, new condominiums were going up. But, I don’t find the changes so dramatic. I don’t think it’s been transformed from one thing to another. Most homes are Polish. It (Greenpoint) holds onto its identity as a Polish neighborhood. … I’m not conscious of restaurants, shops and bars. I don’t frequent them as much, so I’m not to conscious of the changes.

 G.L.R. Do you watch movies frequently?

 M.S. Every night. I try to keep up with new releases. But also, as you look at stacks, they’re all coming in … (here are) crime films from the thirties.

G.L.R. What is the last movie you’ve seen?

 M.S.  It was a crime film called, The System, an organized gambling film. Takes place in an old town. A tough crime drama, very enjoyable. The films a real obscurity. It’s never been on film or tape before (now).There’s a lot of stuff, out-of-print or hard to find, as well as new releases here.

 G.L.R. What trends in movie viewing have you noticed?

 M.S. People are watching more screwball comedies from the ’30’s and 40’s- more than ever. Documentaries, a few years ago were popular, it was all about documentaries. Certain genres go in and out of fashion.

G.L.R. How’s business?

 M.S. Very stable. There’s always new people. We signed up six new customers and on a Monday night.

G.L.R. What’s a stand-out memory for you?

 M.S. I love having boxes of movies. All these titles of movies ( as Michael says this, we are in the back room and he waves at boxes upon boxes of opened and unopened dvds). It’s like Christmas. just today, two dozen titles came in and just looking at them is so much fun. There’s stuff never seen before. That’s the most exciting part, there are things never issued before. It’s a good time (for rentals), the studios are issuing back catalogs. There’s a great opportunity to see older films previously out of circulation and this is a trend. They’re opening up vaults and putting hundreds of film on dvd’s, so that is exciting. They’re catching up on a lot of titles considered lost.

G.L.R. I’m having my own Elizabeth Taylor retrospective at home. When she died I was inspired to write a letter to the editor, something I have never done before. It did not get printed and the surprising thing was that I did not see one letter about her to the editor. The other day, I rented, A Place in the Sun upon the recommendation of the fellow working here that day ( I can’t recall his name) and he said, ” In the movie, her  skin is so white.” (referring to Elizabeth Taylor).That, like so much that is said here, at Photoplay, in terms of recommendations and general commentary will always stand out for me. What is your favorite Elizabeth Taylor movie?

 M.S.  My top five are, that one (referring to A Place in the Sun) and Suddenly Last Summer , Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and, Boom – one of her great performances.  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, is a brave, terrifying performance.


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