Over the past few days I’ve started writing a few different posts for today’s Film Friday feature. One was about up and coming Oscar nominee Ellen Page, who I love. Then, in response to Megan’s blog piece about the lack of women directors, I started a little data compendium of the Oscar nominees broken down according to gender, Guerilla Grrrls style. Then I found someone had already done that here. So check it out.
However, I’m not really a big movie person. I don’t watch or care about the Oscars. I am much more interested in smaller documentaries, indie films, and my local community. And one pathway to those cherished things is now no longer: Suspect Video.
Many of you have seen the nation-wide coverage of a six-alarm fire at the corner of Queen and Bathurst. About 10 different stores were totally burned out and many people living in the apartments above were lucky to escape alive.
It was only two short blocks from my home. Yesterday I finally got a chance to walk through my neighborhood and finally got a look at the smoking wreckage. I was surprised by the intensity of my reaction seeing such devastation. I was holding back tears.
I watched coverage on the teevee news on Tuesday night and it focused on Duke’s, a bicycle shop that I also frequent, which had been a family business in that exact location for 80+ years. While I do mourn the loss of the bike shop (I just bought a new Ulock there last week), what I’m really going to miss is Suspect Video.
Now I don’t suppose that a national teevee news show could talk about what kind of stuff Suspect Video did for this community of freaks, geeks and punks and queers. Suspect Video probably couldn’t be described as an upstanding community member. Their windows were always full of garish and freaky figurines with cobwebs hanging all around, both real and fake for effect. When you went in the store, no salesperson greeted you. Instead the guy or girl munched on their pizza and watched some cheesy zombie flick on the screens above the merchandise turned at ultra high volume, shrieks and moans galore. I admit that many times I went into Suspect to just be treated with disdain and humanness. No perky falsity around getting my dollars here.
Suspect’s selection includes foreign films, a huge documentary section, and the worst B movies in the zombie, kungfu and anime genres you can imagine. All of it was up there on the walls, with no separation. You could always find the best flyers for small-scale theatre shows there, and their hallway from the front door announced many a festival and concert to me.
Their extensive magazine collection, which included Bitch and Bust mags, was also home to pervy nudie and S&M mags, fashion and photography mags, and queer sex materials.
Their pornographic material was some of the stuff you can’t find anywhere in the city – twisted and wonderful and strange and oppressive and liberatory all in one. For anyone who ever experienced the alone-ness of a strange desire, Suspect Video was the place to find community.
Their snarky signs, on everything from the door outside, to the return box, to the stickers announcing staff opinions on the video boxes, were hilarious. All very DIY and bitchy and full of wonderment, too. Many times I would go in to rent and video and come back out shaking with laughter, not having rented anything. (Don’t tell their boss.) Reading those yellow stickers marked with Black sharpies was enough entertainment for me. These opinions were repeatedly a much more trusted source than any online film ratings site.
The Bathurst & Queen intersection feeds my love for the city of Toronto. For me, Suspect Video really defined the character of those few blocks, along with Shanti Baba’s, Herbie’s Herbs, Funhaus and a few others. It is full of homeless men at St. Christopher’s House, tall swaying indifferent goths, squeegee punks parked at the Reverb, fashionable queers at Coupe Bizarre, down and outs at the 5Q bar, and every type of cheap pizza and falafel you can imagine.
As the smoke clears, I’m afraid we won’t have time to mourn before the gentrifying forces move into that blackened hole. Yes, we lost heritage buildings and long-running family businesses, but we also lost pervy liberation and bad zombie flicks and grumpy moods to match our own nasty days and nights. And you sure won’t see that at the Oscars.