I think the title pretty much covers what this movie is about.
Dir. Brendan Toller, 2008, 77 min, Viewed via Netflix Instant
Not being a music guy, I don’t know much about collecting records. However, I do understand how analog styles and brick and mortar stores must vie desperately for attention in the modern world. The digital age has transmogrified all forms of entertainment into a weightless ether, and millions of people have been raised not to value good art. I Need that Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store is more than just a documentary with an obscenely long name – it’s about this new paradigm, and how the old ways, which are not obsolete, may endure.
While the movie focuses on the music industry, its themes could apply to any business, even those which don’t push entertainment. Every sector of business has been affected by the steady decrease of regulation over the years. In music, this evolution manifests first in payola, then in media consolidation following the Telecommunications Act, and finally in recent developments in aggressive copyright protection. No matter what the case, there’s a clear pattern of the quality of art suffering once the concerns of shareholders take over the priorities of companies.
And what’s the result? Thousands of record stores closed last decade. Independent businesses can’t survive in an environment where Walmart can undersell them without breaking a sweat. Again, this applies for everything that can be sold. You don’t bring on Noam Chomsky just to talk about records (By the way, it is now extremely apparent that Chomsky will appear in absolutely anything with an anti-corporate bent, no matter how low-profile. It’s kind of admirable).
Weirdly, the way the movie plays out, it actually might focus too much on the wider social issues at hand and not enough on its stated subject. There’s not really all that much about what makes record store culture unique, the community that’s built up around buying vinyl. This is pretty much the opposite of the majority of docs that I’ve seen, which usually make for good explorations of their topics, but fail to properly expand to look at the broader themes that those topics encompass. It’s a problem so unique that I almost want to applaud the movie for it.
I Need That Record! is a good look at how rampant corporatism smothers capitalism in its sleep. It’s not much of a good look at record stores, and won’t tell you anything about the music business that you don’t already know. But it’s fun, and quite well-produced for such a small film. It makes good use of graphics that look like album covers in motion, with a sensibility reminiscent of MTV back when it wasn’t a soulless monster. The doc is a cheeky good time, if relatively unmemorable.