What going to Scarecrow Video looks like now.
This is what going to Scarecrow Video looks like now. Chase Burns
Rejoice! The pandemic currently threatening the health, safety, and stability of every country in the world does not stop you from making your way through Claire Denis's entire body of work. At least, not as long as Scarecrow Video is around. That's because, over the past couple of months, the world's largest video archive has opened up their new rent-by-mail (RBM) program to the masses. For the first time, everyone in the country now has access to the obscure (and mainstream) goodies in Scarecrow's collection.

The program got its start late last year. But, to gauge interest and feasibility of service, the store only made it available to a small set of customers. They were, in part, also trying to test the ability of their old point-of-sales system, which doesn't allow for real-time inventory updates that connect to the web. However, as the worldwide lockdown started to become more of a reality, Scarecrow decided to open RBM up to all.

The service is pretty straightforward. After being approved to join the program, customers get a link to an online catalog where they can request what they want. The prices are the same as in-person sales, with a flat $12 delivery fee for up to six physical DVDs. There are certain limits as to what can be rented by mail; namely, no porn, no "rental by approval only" titles, no new releases, and no formats other than DVD, PAL, or Blu-ray. So that leaves you with about 120,000 films to peruse for your pleasure.

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When I first spoke to Scarecrow's director of development, John O'Connor, about the program just before the stay-home orders went out, they had recently expanded RBM to the general public, with about 100 people participating. When we spoke yesterday, 400 people are now renting from Scarecrow by mail in about ten different states. They've even received requests from other countries, though they are unable to accommodate international orders at the moment. This explosion of interest is obviously great for the video store, but the limits of their digital system still ensures that an employee remains behind every order to make sure the title is available to rent.

Scarecrow is ultimately aiming to fundraise enough money so that they can revamp the system, making the process easier for both their customers and employees to interact with. But the homespun nature of the system as it stands is still quite straightforward and easy to deal with. Stranger digital editor Chase Burns and I both participated in the program for the first time recently, and were able to get our grubby little hands on Scarecrow's wares pretty easily. Plus there's a thrill of getting something in the mail.

O'Connor tells me that once people are allowed outside again, they will certainly continue the program for people across the country (even those living on the Eastside) to experience the joys of physical media. Check out the specifics of the program here, and go watch something weird.

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