Getting to know 20th Century Flicks with Dave Taylor

Getting to know 20th Century Flicks with Dave Taylor

Posted on: 13 Dec 2022

Last month, we sat down in 20th Century Flicks, on Christmas Steps, with Dave Taylor - finding out how the shop's doing, how exactly they're involved with the revitalised IMAX and, of course, what he'd do as mayor.


Who are you – and what’s 20th Century Flicks?


My name’s David Taylor, I’ve been working at 20th Century Flicks for just over 20 years. It’s an independent video shop that’s been running consistently since 1982 – although in three different venues. It started in Redland, then moved to Richmond Terrace in Clifton – which is kind of the heyday of the shop. We were there for about 20, 25 years, then I moved it to Christmas Steps when rent started getting out of control and video rental started getting out of control as well – in a bad way: no one was doing it anymore.



You’ve just finished the Big Scream – the Halloween edition of your “Forbidden Worlds” festival – can you tell us a bit about that?


The Forbidden Worlds thing – especially the Big Scream – I was very much a peripheral figure in that. The reason for doing Forbidden Worlds film festival, was sort of to have a party for Flicks’ 40th. But also Ti, who I’d been working with quite a lot, really wanted an excuse to have a genre film festival. So that ticked those boxes.


It went so well that Ti and Tony and Tessa and Tom – all the Ts – they love horror movies, and I’m a bit of a baby with them. I don’t know much about them – like a bit, but not like they do. So they curated that one – I think the only one Flicks had a hand in was programming Elvira, because that was a favourite of mine and Daisy’s.


It’s an amazing space – does it get used for much else?


The aquarium were using it as a hire space for corporate things but they hadn’t ever really used the screen or the sound system for about 12 or 14 years. It’d been lying dormant there – this multimillion pound setup – because IMAX left and abandoned it all. They basically wrote it off, all the kit.


The film projector is like the size of a car, it’s this huge ornament in the projection room. We bought a projector that will almost fill the screen – it looks really good. It’s a digital projector that we managed to patch through multiple Dolby devices into the existing system. Because it was all proprietorially IMAX, so we had to sort of wriggle our way round it into using the speakers and projecting on the screen despite what was already her rather than using it.


A lot of bodging. I say bodging, but we got some really nice expertise in to do the soldering for the sound system. The sound system ran directly from the 70mm film projector – which is an analogue sound system. We got some people from Omnex, they’re cinema installers, they did some amazing soldering and remapped this digital system to go into these speakers – and once we’ve figured that it was like “game on”.


The last six months has been a real learning curve for me – I literally just rent videos, but the more I got involved in the IMAX stuff, I learned so much. There’s all these weird things; like a tiny loose connection can be an absolute nightmare for the cinema. Because it hadn’t been used for so long and there were so many of these issues, we just problem-solved it one by one each screening. Now – touch wood – it’s a really robust, brilliant cinema again.


It’s been quite a ride actually, it’s well out of Flicks’ wheelhouse, running a cinema that big. We famously have got this tiny cinema that seats eight people – “the smallest cinema in the city”, or whatever, and that was our shtick for a while.


We’ve gone from that to, this year, running the IMAX. I think it’s the one of the biggest screens in the country – we can’t quite fill it, but it’s about sixteen and a half metres.


It is a very odd experience, coming to work here and doing screenings for four or five people, and then at the weekends doing screenings at the IMAX. Just the size of the kit, the wattage and the energy involved in that place compared to here.


We’ve been trying to run the IMAX with the same vibe in a way – we haven’t had very much funding, so it’s just been very much us calling in favours and working with the aquarium staff as well to just kind of pretend...It’s like we’re pretending to run a really big cinema until that’s what we actually do.



Any plans of more regular stuff than Forbidden Worlds?


It’s sort of happening. My plan for it was to just keep showing films there. I’ve worked in film – well, in a video shop...I go to the cinema a lot – for 20 years, and I had no idea that place was still there. Loads of people that I speak to didn’t, they all thought the same thing as me – that it’s full of fish now. That’s what they thought that great big round red brick building was – but it wasn’t, it was just an IMAX with a locked door.


My motivation was to keep people going there, keep watching movies there – so over the summer we programmed six movies every other Sunday – just showing old video shop favourites over the summer. The more people came to the cinema, the more they got curious – asking “how do you put movies on here?”. It’s a two step process, which is a bit odd, but you get in touch with the Aquarium, and hire the room – then you get in touch with Flicks and we sort out the projection.


The more people use it, the more they realise; “ah okay, they do know what they’re doing, and it’s reliable.” It’s a little bit dysfunctional and amateurish – everything apart from the production of the screening. The sound’s the best in any cinema I’ve ever been in, and the picture’s great. So that side is as good as we can get it. It’s an unusual setup, but it’s working insanely well. We’re in the stage now where we can pick, selfishly, movies that we just want to watch and it’s viable.


You mentioned the smaller cinema – the Kino, and you’ve got the Videodrome now. Are those getting used often?


Yeah...every day. It’s getting silly now. Before lockdown, we had a couple more staff, we were open midday ‘til 10pm pretty much every day. We’d be running a screening in the Videodrome, then we’d stagger it so an hour later we had one start in the Kino. We’d be doing about seven or eight screenings a day, which is nuts.


Then lockdown happened and mine and everyone else’s work ethic just collapsed. I was still coming in every day and doing the postal rentals – but the work that was necessary was very limited.


Then once we started up again, we were doing the ‘Rule of Six’ thing, so we had groups of six – but we didn’t want big groups of people mingling. So we had one in the Videodrome – then an hour gap – then one in the Kino – then an hour gap.


We figured out, once we started, that was enough. We didn’t need to cram them in, so we just kept it like that. As a result, we’ve got half the amount of slots we used to do, but we’re fully booked until the end of January. That’s the majority of our income.



Anyone watched anything that surprised or delighted you?


Plenty of times. We’ve never been stumped yet. We were showing one at the weekend called The Ritz which is a 1976 camp comedy that looks really really great, but I’d never heard of before. We’ve got like 21,000 movies here – and I know fairly instinctively, like if someone asks “have you got this?”, whether we do or not. They managed to score a DVD of it, and it’s a really really great film that’s totally new to me. That’s the ones I like, when I’ve never even heard of it, and I get to watch really interesting movies. It’s what curates my watching a lot.


What’s your favourite film?


I genuinely don’t have one. I was chatting about this the other day to someone. You have two relationships with film – one’s intensely personal, a lot of movies that you watch as a kid. So one film I love is Jesus Christ Superstar. Don’t know why, I didn’t have a religious upbringing, but me and my sister became obsessed with that movie.


Another one could be something like True Romance, where it had this kind of ‘forbidden’ appeal, because I was a bit young, and I became obsessed with that one. Lots of movies I became obsessed with, but favourites…


Movies I think are just adorable, in every sense, is like Paper Moon, is one I keep going back to.


You have a lot of moderns films in stock – but a big part of the appeal is the gems of the past. What do you think of modern film culture, and the films that are out at the moment?

I try to keep up to date with stuff – we get a few movies in every week. We just got in The Feast, which is a Welsh-language film. Really good, gruesome kind of horror. I started watching that, and started thinking: “I don’t think I’ve ever watched a Welsh-language film before”. Then I realised – oh god, there are hardly any.


So I kind of end up going down little rabbit holes like that – it’s always triggered by watching something new. Like there’s that film The Worst Person In The World. That’s a great movie, and it turned out it’s part of a trilogy of films – so I went back and watched them.


I always treat new films like shoots of plants – I like to dig down and find out where they came from.


There’s always exceptions – I like the exceptions a lot. I think it was Tarantino recently on - there’s a really good podcast called Video Archives - and he was mouthing off, as he does. Saying, you know, “it was a real bleak time for cinema” – the 50s, or the 80s. These times when there was a ‘film culture drought’, when there wasn’t anything new happening – and obviously there are amazing exceptions. One of my favourite films, After Hours – Scorsese film, 1985 I think. The middle of this period that Tarantino’s talking about as a real dearth of quality cinema.


Superhero movies are a strange thing that no one would have predicated would become so massive twenty years ago. They were all quite camp. The Tim Burton [Batman] is an interesting one because it’s quite dark. But it’s also very camp. I suppose the Christopher Nolan Batman movies started to push that a bit, then the Marvel movies brought it into full-on mainstream. Now they’re just dramas. If you ignore all the special effects and suits and flying around, they’re moral dramas.


So...yeah. I don’t know.


It seems like you don’t want to make a statement that’s reductive?


No, because there’s always stuff going on in the periphery that’s interesting. Especially as a video shop – cinemas traditionally handle the big stuff, and Netflix or whatever, they’ve got those bases covered. So video shops have always thrived in the periphery of these weird limbic areas between thriller and horror, all these things that escape the cinema.


As time’s gone on, video shops are not the natural home for those things now – it’s Vimeo or Mubi, these niche streaming services, and that’s where filmmakers will get their films an audience. But it used to be the whole reason of a video shop’s being – cinemas have that covered, everyone’s heard of that, we will show you these weird Hal Hartley movies or Satyajit Ray movies, things that escape the mainstream.


As much as I’m probably in denial, that’s still how I see our role. We’re fulfilling a much much smaller market than we were, but we’re still doing the same thing.



You moved to Christmas Steps just over eight years ago – any reflections? Has it gone better, worse than you were expecting?


It’s gone a hundred times better than I was expecting. I’m 43 now, so I was 33 when I took over the video shop from the old owner. To be honest, I thought it would last a couple of years then. Everyone I was working with thought it would. There were only like five of us at that point.


We thought we’d take it off the old owner, run it for a couple of years, use that time to retrain – get other jobs – because it’s just gonna die soon. Then, moving here, was just prolonging the inevitable death of the video shop. The rent was so expensive in Clifton that in a few months we would have been broke.


Whereas here, we got a deal with the council, where they give us this building for seven or eight grand a year, and it’s all rent-controlled zone as well. In Clifton it was close to twenty.


Which, for a video shop doing well, weirdly – it’s bizarre looking back - that was fine. We were taking 150-200 grand a year, in the heyday – the early 2000s. Once you’re taking like fifty, and you’re paying twenty grand in rent, and you’ve got five people on minimum wage... We were all on like eight, nine grand a year working full-time, it was pretty full on.


Moving here, we could afford to pay ourselves a bit better, but we’re still on like eleven, twelve grand a year – for full-time work. A couple years into that when our cinemas started doing really well – we only had the one when we moved here, and we rearranged everything in the shop when we realised that was where the money was.


We limited people’s space for browsing – which is a real shame, because that’s the nicest thing about a video shop – but we managed to find space for two cinemas. It was a compromise we had to make.


It just went nuts. We don’t advertise, it’s all been word of mouth – it’s a really positive relationship we have with people who come here, and as a result it spreads out. It become almost like a tradition in people’s year – they’ll do two films a year in Flicks, and there’s enough people doing that that it keeps us afloat the whole time.


Since that became a dependable income, I can’t really see what will kill this shop now – obviously if rent goes up, if the ‘leccy bills get insane… But in terms of an existential “no one’s going to rent movies anymore, there’s not making DVDs anymore, and there’s no DVD players to watch them on” – that’s what we were facing, there’s not an easy way to think yourself round that.


I can’t imagine a time when people are going to get fed up of watching films on a big screen with their friends and drinking. That’s fairly timeless. It’s harkening back to cave times – gathering round a fire, telling stories of the hunt.


There’s a really great film by Werner Herzog called Cave of Forgotten Dreams. He’s like [slipping into a Herzog impression] “vhen ve sat in the caeve around the fiyre, we wuhre engayging in a proto cine-ma”. He’s just telling the stories with the light flickering, the shadows. I’m not being pretentious – genuinely, thousands of years, it’s never going to get old, gathering round with friends to watch or listen to a story.


That was a good Werner Herzog.


[doing the Herzog impression again] Ahh, thenk yew.


Our final question as always – if you were mayor of Bristol for a day, what would you do?


This is a really easy one for me – I’d use all the power of that position to create segregated travel in the city. Get rid of shared space.


Living in the city, there’s obviously lots of things you could do – but the one thing I’d do that’s achievable I think is have blue cycle lanes, normal pedestrians, cars kept away from everyone. Instead of leading everyone in through these insanely dangerous routes in the city where they live and have come into work. Everyone wants to cycle or scoot or walk – there shouldn’t be this mad melee of chaos in the centre.


I love Bristol, and all the aggro I get – or I see – is you can just see people scared walking around the city centre, because they might get hit by a scooter or a bike. Drivers getting pissed off because they’re stuck in traffic for half an hour…


If I was mayor for, say, like four months and there was one thing I could accomplish that was vaguely, believably achievable it would be that. Then I’d say, there you go – now you can figure out the unaffordability of living in the city and all the other really thorny problems. I’d leave them to better people.

Not quite sure you heard us say "for a day" there, Dave - but a good answer nonetheless.

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Article by:

Patrick Bate

Patrick is a filmmaker with so much Bristol in his blood the white blood cells are graffiti'd. Educated at the Northern Film School in Leeds, he’s returned home to be a Videographer and Reviewer for 365Bristol and BARBI. When he’s not messing about with cameras, he enjoys playing guitar, spending far too much time on tabletop RPGs, and being an awful snob about cider. Have a look at his work here, or get in touch at