Train of Thought Productions

Close Up: 20th Century Flicks

Go West- film loving visitors to Bristol should include in any trip to the city a visit to what has become a Bristol institution – the very wonderful 20th Century Flicks. We spoke to Tara Judah a Co-Director at Flicks.

Flicks Staff

Flicks is a Bristol treasure that has one foot in the past and at least one pinky in the present... maybe a hangnail in the future. From humble beginnings and aided by the VHS home entertainment boom of the 1980s the shop was off to a strong start. Things continued to flourish through the '90s and even fared what I would call very well in the early 2000s. Obviously, what with the increasing availability of online content (that pesky internet just won't go away), things started to quieten down a little on the rental side. After the shop changed hands - when Nigel sold up lock, stock and two smoking debts - a rethink had to take place. Thanks to the visionary Dave Taylor, a much needed move to Christmas Steps and an expansion of activity - we now have a tiny 11 seater cinema modeled on Twin Peaks' red room - we now have a shop that's something like a video store and something like the living room of a collective of film fanatics. The Kino pretty much accounts for 50% of the 'keep Flicks above the bread line' fund, and the rental contributes as best it can - there's no point in being down about that, it's just the way of things in our contemporary attention economy.

Flicks Cat

The idea for the Kino happened in our old shop in Clifton but we didn't have a designated space for it there - Dave sort of converted the comedy room into a cinema (to be clear, it was pretty bloody good, just not quite as frickin' awesome good as it is now), so when the shop picked up sticks it seemed like a no-brainer to create a dedicated space in the shop into a screening room. And that's exactly what happened. Complete with half naked statue. And it's going great guns.

Flicks Exterior

Despite its inferiority as a medium (magnetic?tape is not exactly renowned as an inherently quality or as a long term preservation format), we also have a couple of thousand VHS for rent. The videos we do keep are the ones that we can't yet replace on DVD - there are still loads of films that haven't had a DVD release in this country, including cult classics like Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles and John Waters' Pink Flamingos, as well as other more arty titles like John Sayles' Lone Star. Migrating formats in a commercial way doesn't necessarily mean pulling across all content and, as such, many great and much loved titles simply aren't available on DVD, Bluray or streaming platforms. Of our VHS collection, I'd say a couple go out on hire each week on average. They do tend to be the sorts of things that the more well versed cinephile takes out, but they don't have to be - we even a couple of shop VCRs (and corresponding scart leads) that we can lend folks who want to watch 'em. (Please note: we can't connect them to your macbook, xbox, etc - they do require a tv screen with scart output!) Keeping the VHS is largely, for us, a commitment to providing a wide range of titles - but there may also be a wee element of nostalgia thrown in for good measure! 

In terms of customers, it'd be great if I could say that they're changing over time, because that'd mean that we're getting loads of new people walking through the door - of course, in reality, the majority of our customer base are regulars; people who have been frequenting the shop for years. And in some instances, decades. That's not to say that we don't get new member - we do, and probably it's around 2-3 every day, which is healthy-ish. But most of our newer customers rent conservatively (I'm referring to the number of titles taken out, not necessarily their tastes in film!) What we've just launched, in a bid to both make things easier and more affordable for customers but also to help encourage a commitment to the shop that will in turn help keep us in business is a subscription service. The idea here is that you set up a monthly direct debit/paypal payment that means you have access to renting a reflective number of titles. Details of this can be found on our website:

Removing barriers is a thing that we have to keep doing - as is examining, squeezing and constantly improving our general approach to rental. For example, after a very long time of being overnight rentals, our new release titles are all three day rentals, and over the summer last year we dropped the price of our back catalogue rental to £2 a week instead of £3.20. It's not making millions of pounds worth of difference (be a while till we get that much needed jacuzzi) but it's definitely increasing the number of films that people rent from us, and that's a good thing.

I guess, then, the thing that I'd say is truly unique about Flicks - and its not just that we have a wood burner, two guys named Dave, an Australian feminist and two kick ass cats - is that we categorically don't run our business with a 'make money' ethos. I mean, obviously we have bills to pay and it's nice when we can pay 'em on time. We also like to eat cheese and drink wine so if we can keep ourselves in those things then we're pretty darn happy. But mostly it's about doing something that we all love and that isn't evil. When it comes down to it, when I wake up in the morning I don't ever dread going to work. Quite the contrary, sometimes I come in on my day off (mad I know) because I like to talk shit about movies, sit by a fire, pat a cat and drink tea. Also, so far as I'm aware, doing what I do doesn't contribute to the exploitation or deaths of other humans in the world. And that means that when I do go home I can sleep good. Speaking of which, it's getting kinda close to 10pm now, so I might turn off the lights and go do that.


Photography Becky Hardy

Kino Competition! competition

Kino Competition!  Open to staff, students, film lovers everywhere! You, 10 of your closest friends enjoying a movie of your choice in the atmospheric 20thCentury Flicks. If this sounds like your cup of tea just answer this question;



Sorry. This competition is closed

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