Hobby to Obsession to Place of Worship ('Bleeder' (1999) dir. Nicholas Winding Refn)

Ive never been to a proper old fashioned video shop with stacks and stacks of vhs tapes and a secret porno backroom like the one in Bleeder. One opened up sometime last year close to me as a promotional stunt by Netflix to promote the Fear Street franchise, but I never went in. The closest thing to a vhs shop where I live in the UK would be a good, old-fashioned CeX. There are rows of used DVDs, little facets of peoples previous passions, or short-lived attempts at the new, or outward dislikes.

Bleeders Lenny is a very lucky man to be able to combine his foremost passion of film with his work. He can make money surrounded by the thing he is obsessed with. He goes to work and can watch whatever takes his fancy on the personal TV behind the counter. His character isnt much to talk about, but it is improved by where he works in the film, and the set design of the video shop. Its like when people in horror movies say they cant move because all their money is tied up in the house. All of Lennys personality is tied up in the visual cues of the vhs shop.

He is framed by the shelves of vhs tapes, they arc over his head like bcklighting from a stained glass window. Behind the counter, he is boxed in but not trapped. He recites the names of directors and genres to a customer like gospel. How often do you go into a dvd shop and hope to strike up a conversation with whoever is behind the counter, the priest. Would he gain sainthood for years of service? Lenny has dedicated so many years of his life to his passion, and the labyrinth of shelves which he can traverse with ease become his place of worship. Actually, I love that there are a few scenes in the vhs shop where a copy of Scream is on display- Randy Meeks would approve.

In Bleeder, the settings in which other characters frequent also show so much of their personalities. Lea in her bookshop. I have been in a bookshop like this, with haphazard displays, wall to wall stacks. A layout that makes you anxious to take a book out lest the whole shop topple over. In a scene, she sits surrounded by books, completely composed.

Characters in Bleeder with smaller altars to their obsessions include the violent Leo, who has one or two shelves in his cramped flat to contain his stuff. When his girlfriend Louise moves the stuff around in order to make space for the baby they have on the way, he views this act almost as a desecration, flying off the handle and beating her.

I think about scenes in film and tv that show the mind palace. Theres a part of Doctor Sleep where Rose the Hat brags that hers is like a cathedral, while the much younger Abra has a mind palace that resembles her bedroom. I like the idea of building a holy place in the mind that resembles all facets of previous and current obsessions, a combination of everywhere youve been. For Lenny and Lea, these are real places, not a retreat into the psyche. For Leo, a character hopping from characteristic to characteristic as his life becomes more frantic, he only has a shelf, no distinct personality, which is possibly when when it is threatened he loses all semblance of morality.

What Im really trying to say is that more films should take the Bleeder approach in set design, make characteristsics visual locations, show shortcomings and conflict through a lack of these spaces. If the Grand Budapest could be analysed to be a diagram of Gustave Hs inner workings, we need more films that center characters and their domains, places they have absolute power over.