List them and they will come. At least that's what the American Film Institute and the home-video departments of the major studios helping to hype its ranking of America's 100 greatest movies are hoping. Behind the AFI's 100 Years . . . 100 Films list is a marketing campaign of banners, stickers, commemorative booklets and cross-promotional TV advertising aimed at getting consumers in stores and squeezing a few more bucks out of High Noon, Wuthering Heights and Forrest Gump. So has the viewing public caught 100 Fever? In an informal survey, the Weekly put this question to employees at a handful of local video stores.
Lon Shima, manager of Videocentre in Beverly Hills, reports that not only has Citizen Kane, which topped the AFI list, been renting better than before, it's being rented by first-time viewers. Several customers, he adds, have also been arriving with the AFI list in hand – Shima also has a copy posted in the store – to rent those titles they haven't seen. Chalk one up for the AFI. But most of Videocentre's clientele are already pretty film-literate, says Shima, so he hasn't seen any real increase in the number of classics going out the door.
At other stores, some of which have really gotten into the spirit of the thing, the reactions have been no less mixed. The staff at Video West in West Hollywood have created a special section for the select 100 at the front of the store under an AFI-supplied banner that reads, “Take Home a Winner.” “Those titles are doing very well,” says sales clerk Jason Ronquillo, with Jaws, American Graffiti, The Graduate, Chinatown and Vertigo the most popular selections. Across town in Silver Lake, Stephen Vara at Videoactive set aside the list's Top 10 titles the day they were announced and even made his own labels for them. Unfortunately, the homegrown touch was a wash. “I didn't notice any real interest in them,” he admits.
Of course, renting a movie, whether it's on a list or otherwise, is only part of the video-store experience. Videocentre's Shima feels the best thing about the AFI ranking is the in-store discussions it has sparked. He's still got customers debating the inclusion of Tootsie. At other stores, some employees have expressed their dismay with the list. “We had it posted in the window after it came out, but then we decided to take it down,” says Phil Cobb, assistant manager of 20/20 Video on Beverly Boulevard. “[We] would have chosen differently.” Other video-store employees won't comment at all. When we called the Blockbuster near Sunset and Fairfax – the company is a leading supporter of the 100 campaign – the manager referred us to the corporate office, which didn't return our call.
For the record, the L.A. Weekly chose differently as well, publishing its alternative 101 American films a few weeks ago. Marupong Chuladul, assistant manager at Vidiots in Santa Monica, says he's seen customers come in with the AFI list, but so far the Weekly's has gone missing. We should've made up some stickers.