Dir. by Brendan Toller - 1 hr. 18 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
Maybe you're the sort of person who has wasted more than your fair share of hours browsing through bin after bin of CDs and LPs in store after store, in search of that one elusive album you just couldn't seem to track down. Yes, I am aware of how quaint that sounds in the era of Amazon and eBay, but it's called a treasure hunt, not a treasure URL. And, if you're one of those sort of people, you may have noticed that some of your favorite haunts seem to be disappearing at an unacceptable rate over the last few years. "I Need That Record!" serves as both a eulogy and as praise to those oddball stores that always smelled a bit funny and had that record you didn't even know you needed, as well as taking a look at the changing economics of the music industry.
I'd grant you, this might not be a subject that you're interested in. Maybe music exists on the periphery of your life, and that's fine. "Nerd" is a term that's been abused and misused over the last few years, and a film like this sets the record straight. Liking something doesn't make you a nerd, being obsessed with something that most people don't care about makes you a nerd. If you've ever passed up buying a record because it was the wrong pressing, this film is for, and about, you. And it matters a lot that the places you go to indulge your obsessions are disappearing. Personally speaking, it took me about ten minutes into the film before I started to get an undeniable urge to hit up a record store right then and there, but there aren't many that are open after midnight (and certainly none close to me).
There's certainly a lot of "big corporations are big and dumb" talk in this film, but it's not unearned. The sort of person who would run their own record store certainly would take pride in their knowledge of music and having the sort of connection with their customers that allows them to earn a living swimming upstream. A couple of valid points were brought up, one being a 1996 law passed that changed the number of radio stations an individual corporation was allowed to own. In 1996, only 45 radio stations were owned by large corporations; by the time this film was made in 2008, that number had grown to over 12,000. In fact, 99.9% of radio stations were owned by these large corporations, which effectively eradicated regional differences in programming. The other main point that was made was in relation to major labels' resistance to adapting to the times, namely in regards to their attitudes towards digital music and backwards logic towards pricing physical product.
But that's more about the business of the business. The thing that I found most interesting about the film was the common lamentation of a sense of losing touch with one's community. Target or Wal-Mart might sell you things cheaper, but they aren't gathering places for obsessed weirdos to tip each other to something they might not have heard of. The digital music revolution has a lot to do with this; when your industry caters towards the whims of children (or teenagers), unintended consequences follow. You can't really explain what a sense of community means to someone who's never gone without it. Until people are out of school, they're not usually in a situation without a ready-made group of peers around them at nearly all times. At times in this film, the stores are referred to as "clubhouses," which is pretty accurate. Once you're not galvanized by hundreds of people your own age, you've got to find a place where you do fit in, and record stores are one such place people find a sense of community. And the disappearance of these places have profound effects on their proprietors; the "after closing" interviews with some of the former owners are a little heart-breaking, in the sense that you can see their sense of purpose has been taken away from them.
Like a lot of documentaries, this one caters to a niche audience. I don't think it's one of those rare documentaries that is so good that it demands to be seen, regardless of your interest-level in the subject matter, but it's very well-done. And if this is something you're into, you're going to appreciate some of the musicians that were interviewed: Mike Watt, Thurston Moore, Chris Frantz, Ian MacKaye, and more. Those are guys you know that have spent their time in the bins as well, and know what they're talking about, in a film jam-packed with guys who love music and know what they're talking about.
3.5 / 5 - Streaming