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Last Tango in West Appleton Darkly comic, The Last Days of Video takes us deeply into the minds — and souls — of true film junkies

By Brian L ampkin


advancement always leaves the crumbled remains of a culture it has decimated. “The more humanity advances, the more it is degraded,” Flaubert wrote, and surely he was presciently thinking of the death of the VHS video when he penned it. Writer Jeremy Hawkins lived through the demise of the video store — he spent ten years working at the much-loved VisArt Video in Carrboro — and survived to write the comic novel The Last Days of Video (Soft Skull Press, 2015, $15.95). Hawkins, like most video/bookstore/record clerks, is insanely knowledgeable about his chosen line of work. One of the great pleasures of the novel is the vast display of film arcana; the reader can enjoy the use of both popular and obscure film references with confidence in the writer’s command of his subject. When the characters in Last Days carry on about the relative worth of director John Cassavetes (“Pierce thinks Cassavetes is overrated. Not visually stimulating.”), or Night of the Living Dead (“That’s Romero’s first zombie movie. Dawn of the Dead is better.”), you know that their opinions, no matter how obnoxious, are well-earned. There is of course a cliché at work here: The too smart, too hip, too drunk social outcasts who populate cafes and cultural outlets like video


Salt • March 2015

stores are common comic fodder. Hawkins knows he’s working over well-worn ground, and he walks the fields with nods of respect for the genre. Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity is the most apparent reference, and Hawkins is up-front (an early chapter is called “Why Fidelity”) about the sampling. Every chapter is a clever reworking of a movie title, and sometimes the chapters splice the storylines and motifs from the movie into the narrative of the book. When that happens effectively, like in the chapter called “The Discreet Charm of Clarissa Wheat,” the novel deepens. More often, the chapters are simply clever and fun (“Y Tu Tabitha Tambien”) or sometimes uninspired (“Jeff and Waring’s Excellent Adventure”). But fun is not to be underrated! The Last Days of Video is never less than a joy to read, probably because Hawkins’ outsized love for movies infects every page. Could I list for you every film or actor mentioned in the novel? No, I would overwhelm my limited word count before I got through the third chapter. Let me just say that this is the only novel I know in which being called “Ed Begley Jr.” works as a withering insult. Still, Hawkins’ characters are full of life or, if you will, anti-life. We’re tempted to think of them as locked in the false reality of their film world, but really they are locked in the false reality of Hawkins’ fictional world. Novels are no more “real” than films, and it’s a subtle trick that Hawkins plays on us by playing off the unreal film world against the perceived real world of West Appleton, North Carolina — a fictionalized Chapel Hill/Carrboro. Waring Wax, the owner of Star Video in downtown West Appleton, is a misanthropic know-it-all who lacks a single social grace. He’s Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces, except he adheres to classic film instead of classical philosophy. Waring makes pronouncements about film, but at least the films he hates are still loved for the fact that they are films. People The Art & Soul of Wilmington

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March Salt 2015  

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

March Salt 2015  

The Art & Soul of Wilmington