ARTICLE ALESSANDRO MAGANIA

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FROM V TO ALLAN'S ALLEY

TEXT ALESSANDRO MAGANIA

ACTOR AND FILMMAKER ALESSANDRO MAGANIA WAS ONE OF V MAGAZINE'S FIRST EDITORS-AT-LARGE, AND HE HAS GENEROUSLY KEPT IN TOUCH WITH US SINCE. HIS TIME WITH THE V FAMILY OBVIOUSLY SHAPED THE WAY HE VIEWED THE WORLD, AND HE STILL CAN'T HELP BUT DOCUMENT OTHER UNCONVENTIONAL UNITS, LIKE THE STAFF AT SURVIVING NEW YORK VHS RENTAL SPOT ALLAN'S ALLEY. HERE'S WHAT HE HAD TO SAY ABOUT THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN US... AND THEM 

In the beginning years of V, when I was an editor at large of the magazine, we kind of learned the logistics of how to put a magazine together as we went.  Instead of cunningly attempt to satisfy a certain market, we let our individual instincts and obsessions go for a joyride. That's how, for example, the "Heros" section (which is still part of the magazine) came to be—how can we profile artists that we love, outside the orbit of press releases and newsy items? The first "Power House" feature (which also turned into a recurring series in the magazine) simply spurred out of wondering who else, like V and Visionaire, had a creative nucleus that extended beyond staff, more like a family. It comprised such a random mix of "families"—from indie production company Killer Films to nightclub "The Cock"—that I can't fathom what denominator we possibly came up with to introduce it. There was a good amount of naiveté involved, and I must say that the focus and tad of strategy that has since been infused in the magazine looks nothing but great on it. But I think there was also a trust that what made sense to us would make sense to others. At least some others. That for however many with whom it missed the mark, there would be those glad to have found a bunch of likeminded folks pouring their hearts into an inconveniently oversized, beautifully incoherent magazine.   

In some inspired cases that same naiveté morphs into savvy survival strategy, as I discovered some 12 years later, making a short documentary about Allan's Alley, one of the last, and certainly oldest, video stores in New York City, together with my friend, filmmaker and musician Max Tannone. The movie is called "There Were Always Dogs, Never Kids" (streaming for free on our website www.AlwaysDogsNeverKids.com).    Video rental stores are in themselves a rarity by now; Alan's Alley—hordes of VHS movies, hand written tags (lots of them on the floor), dusty armchairs, a lopsided foosball table, and the staple wacky-quota spiker, a wandering cat—seems plainly out of its time. We approached Alan with the idea of a documentary intrigued at first by the odds of the store's survival, planning to mainly focus on capturing the cabinet-of-wonders atmosphere of the place. In that regard I should mention that we originally thought of just shooting the cat wandering around the store (and for my taste, there is enough visual marvelousness in the place to support a full length movie of that alone). Luckily, we started by interviewing Alan, which turned our idea of the store—consecutively of what we wanted to capture—from relic to a perfectly contemporary, royal example of New York anarchism. Nostalgia doesn't pay rent in residential Chelsea, a few blocks from some of the art world's most coveted real estate. Alan's Alley survives on his owner's passion for sharing his own passion, movies, on his diverse collection of 40,000-plus titles, and, in contrast to other surviving video stores, mainly catering to a cinephile clique, on the unpretentiousness of his taste.    We knew the store to be used a lot by TV and film industry professionals for research and content: these guys are able to email or call in a list of topics and scenarios, and rely on Alan and his staff's knowledge to put together a pile of material. For us, the real revelation was the continuous flux of everyday customers (yes, movie renting customers), the role of salon that the store plays for so many, and the community it has come to create. What brings all these people together is some degree of dissatisfaction with the practicality of progress, a lack of trust in having what you want when you want it, without the possible intervention of chance, interaction, challenge. And for the record, Alan has nothing against Netflix or VOD. He understands the undeniable convenience and reach that technology has brought to the medium. That's probably what helped him reconcile his business into such a perfect alternative.   

I think that providing the basis for that sense of trust is one of the great advantages of living in a city like New York, where one can witness firsthand the health and benefits of not conforming. Where for all cringe-inducing examples of homogenization, a cat can still slink around a store through rows and rows of DVD and VHS tapes, knock down tags for categories such as "Romola Garai, Alan's muse" or "stalkers," jump on a drop box held together by gaffer's tape, and wonder what on earth a man holding a video camera and being pushed around the store, crouched cross-legged on a skateboard, is doing (yes, that would be Max and I). 

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