In the “before times,” people would actually leave their homes to purchase things. Allegedly, some of them even liked it when they had to interact with other humans in the same remote vicinity. Two recent documentaries—three if you count The Booksellers, which you should, don’t be rude—serve as quaint little time capsules of an era when cultural exchanges took place IRL. As charming as they are individually, when considered together, these films are, quite frankly, depressing as all living shit. We’ll get there.
Other Music is a look at an indie record shop of the same name in New York City. Well, it was in New York City. As we are all increasingly aware, all good things must be smooshed under the billionaire boots of capitalism. Directors Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch-Miller undeniably capture the atmosphere and importance of a small store that launched many mighty music careers. With employees that were less clerks and more taste makers, Other Music was a labor of love that fostered a beautiful community. The last half hour is basically an economic snuff film, as the bones of the shop are picked at by the vultures of the free market.
Director Rachel Mason’s Circus of Books is about the hardcore gay pornography store of the same name that her relatively conservative Jewish mom and dad ran. If Other Music was where people’s love of music blossomed, Circus of Books was where some people’s love of love bloomed. The Masons may have accidentally stumbled into the porn business, eventually producing many films themselves, but they intentionally made their brick-and-mortar establishment into a safe haven for so many. The narrative spine provided by the unusual family dynamic along with the nimble presentation and surprisingly powerful emotional insights make for the kind of uniquely engaging documentary you can’t wait to recommend.
Watching both in a relatively short span is absolutely demoralizing and awful. Do not do it.
Right now, we are pendulously swinging precariously above a cultural abyss. Those who have made their living white-knuckle gripping the fringes of art and entertainment are gonna have a real, real hard time surviving post-COVID. If you squint when you watch Circus of Books or Other Music, you can see a documentary filmed 5-10 years from now, acting as a poignant eulogy for a playhouse, an art gallery, or a music venue. The thought of watching a pithy, talking-head indie shovel dirt on a beloved, now-dead movie theater is wretched and likely inevitable.
If music is your love language, Old Music will be your jam. What feels claustrophobic, repetitive, and self-congratulatory to those of us with other primary areas of interest will likely feel immersive and beautiful to you. Have fun.
If you heard “mom and pop gay porn store” and didn’t immediately send Jerry Falwell a check, watch Circus of Books. It’s genuinely moving and impeccably made.
And whatever piece of culture you care about, whatever your emotional and mental bandwidth is, start fighting now for its survival however you can.
Circus of Books Grade = A
Other Music Grade = B