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DVD Review: I Need That Record!: The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store

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Before even watching this documentary about the decline of the local record store, I completely identified with the title of the film. I am an avid music store shopper/sifter/thumber/dweller. Every time I end up in a city I make sure to look up ahead of time what record stores I should visit. In fact, I have taken to writing reviews on Yelp for the stores that still exist. This documentary addresses a concern that I’ve had since a few old favorite spots have been closing over the past decade here in Boston. I imagine there are many like me who feel the same frustration in the places they live.

Brendan Toller put together 77 minutes of film that discusses the past few decades of how the music industry has changed. These changes are usually shown through statistics that Toller has researched. The statistics show the rise and fall of certain mediums that people have listened to as well as the number of record stores in the country as the decades wear on. None of these statistics come with a notation of where you can find them on your own, but hey, this is a movie not a research paper. Just absorb it.

Like other influential documentaries that dish out one depressing fact after another, this one also makes you want to get out there and start buying up expensive CDs just to keep mom and pop in business a little longer. Toller also includes a few quotes from music business executives that, uh, sound rather humorous in hindsight. Thankfully, the facts and information that Toller squeezes into his documentary never feel overdone or at too high a level; anyone can come into this movie cold and be able to follow the timelines easily enough.

The interviews are what give the documentary its character. Toller talks to at least 20 people for this film, many of which are record store owners and customers. These people give their testimonies about why record stores are important not only in terms of their music tastes but also for their sense of community. I particularly enjoyed the film’s dedication to seeing how Ian, a former music store owner, tries to find life after his loss.

Other interview subjects are from the music industry and tend to appreciate the value of records stores past and present. Thurston Moore quietly talks about why shopping online for music lacks any of the enjoyment or curiosity that comes with shopping in person, while the animated Glenn Branca thinks that the time has come to accept the changes to daily life and be thankful one doesn’t have to smell music shoppers anymore. Interview subjects get frustrated, speak resignedly, or offer anecdotes on how life used to be back when it wasn’t so easy to get that new release. If the snippets of insight aren’t enough, the extras included on the DVD provide more than two hours of nearly unedited interviews with certain subjects.

One might think that a lot of statistics and interviews would make for a dull documentary, but thankfully the creative presentation makes the time go by very easily. Matt Newman’s stop-motion animation sequences, usually using cut outs of colorful people and objects, provide some creative visual interest to what otherwise might be a slow moment. Toller also includes some goofy old film footage to illustrate certain points, as well as showing people interacting in music stores. Some of these stores look so interesting that it makes one want to get on out there and shop along with these folk onscreen. Unfortunately, some of the interesting shops that are shown are already years defunct. Indeed, yet another sad moment of realization for the viewer.

I highly recommend that anyone who is wondering if there will be any record stores left 10 years from now check out this documentary. With the digital age in full, expanding force, the ultimate message one gets from this film is that one should support their local independent retailers, including the ones with dusty vinyl and eclectic clerks.

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About Evan Mauser