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Yearning for some rare film fare? Brighton Point store may have it

SHARE Yearning for some rare film fare? Brighton Point store may have it

Jerry Lewis fans will tell you. Some of his earliest movies have become genuine rare objects. You just can't find them.

Take "The Sad Sack" (1957), for example, or "Visit to a Small Planet" (1959), or "Don't Give Up the Ship" (1960) - three of his biggest box-office hits. You can't find them anywhere.Or how about "The Hot Rock" (1972), the caper comedy starring Robert Redford? People ask for it in rental stores all the time, but no one has it.

Ditto the Beatles' in-the-studio final movie "Let it Be" (1970). And the moody Peter Weir Australian thriller "Picnic at Hanging Rock" (1975). And David Lynch's weirdo cult yarn "Eraserhead" (1978). And the Rory Calhoun B-Western "The Gun Hawk." (1963) And Richard Burton in the six-tape British TV miniseries "Wagner" (1983) (as opposed to the abbreviated four-tape set available elsewhere).

Call around if you doubt. They're unavailable. Out of print. No one has them.

Or, simply take a trip up to Video Vern's, at 3435 E. Bengal Blvd. (Brighton Point), and you'll find each of them sitting on the shelf, ready to rent.

"These were released by Magnetic Video in the late 1970s," Jack Murray says of the Lewis titles. He holds one up to demonstrate how much heavier it is than today's videotapes.

"You can't get these anywhere in the country," Murray explains. "They're on rare (video-company) labels that have gone out of business, or they've been pulled out of circulation (by the movie studios)."

But Murray has an incredible number of them, and he and store owner John Dickman are intent on establishing Video Vern's as a "destination point" for people who want to rent something that the other guys just don't have.

"A lot of the video megastores, like Hollywood and Blockbuster, will say they've got 15,000 videos in a store," says Murray, "and their breadth of copy will actually be 5,000 titles.

"There are literally 12,000 (different titles) here."

To accomplish this, Murray has come up with a mission statement: "To have the best title selection, to educate the citizenry to the wonders of film and to offer the ultimate in customer service."

Naturally, all the new movies, like "Liar Liar" and "The Fifth Element," are here in abundance, as they are in rental stores across the country. "New releases are our main bread-and-butter," Dickman confessed.

But the emphasis is on hard-to-find titles, something that had its genesis with the arrival of Murray from San Diego two years ago. Along with his family's personal belongings, Murray packed some 14,000 videotapes, most of them rare movie titles.

"I looked at Salt Lake as the place to `nest' my collection," Murray said. "We had looked all over, from Flagstaff to Portland, and Salt Lake just had everything we wanted. I had my entire library of 14,000 films in my basement."

At that time, Murray was working with Greg Tanner at the Tower Theatre. But the Tower's lobby video store simply had no room to expand, and Murray says it was "a pain in the neck" trying to keep the videos in his home while renting them through the Tower.

And the Tower, 876 E. 900 South, specializing in cult and foreign films, along with the Avalon Video store, 3605 S. State, with its wide collection of "golden oldies," remain Video Vern's main competition. Both stores, however, have a much smaller inventory.

When Murray parted company with the Tower, he went to Video Vern's anchor store in Holladay, where he had been impressed with the size, operation and emphasis on "classic" titles. And he remembered the store from 1994, when he purchased one of his collection there - the same way he had been picking up titles across the country for nearly 15 years.

"I started in 1980 as a private collector when I was doing a lot of traveling. I'd get into a city and I'd go to the library and look up a copy of an old phone book. Then I'd see what stores were still around and I'd visit them to pick out the oldest movies and ask if they'd sell them.

"Sometimes I'd ask how long it had been since they rented. If a title had rented five times in the last year, I'd say, `Great. You made $10 on it, I'll give you $20."

At Video Vern's, Murray found the 1978 TV-movie "See How She Runs," for which Joanne Woodward won an Emmy. "I'd been looking for it forever. I asked the manager if she'd sell it. She looked it up and it hadn't been rented at all. So, she said she'd call somebody. Then she came back and said, `$10.' And I probably made $175 renting it out myself."

Now it's back at Video Vern's, in the Brighton Point store with the rest of Murray's collection.

In addition, patrons will see the original tape boxes on the store's shelves, preserved - and in some cases painstakingly restored - by Murray. He believes they are as important as the tapes themselves. "As everything goes to DVD, and as everything becomes more sophisticated, these are going to become collector's items.

"Look at the packaging for these things," Murray said, holding up the first-issue video of Elvis Presley's 1962 boxing picture "Kid Galahad." "Today they all look alike," he adds, referring to the recent re-release of Presley titles that feature glossy box art designed to look the same for each title.

"I'm doing a book on the history of home video," Murray says, as he relates anecdotes about the lack of vision movie studios had in the late 1970s. The three Jerry Lewis titles, for example, were released by a video company that was formed by three guys who just wanted to put some of their favorite movies in rental stores. When the studios that leased the titles saw how well the fledgling company was doing, however, they bought them out and formed their own video companies.

As a result, a lot of titles were withdrawn from circulation and never released again.

And you can find most of them at Video Vern's.