Since 1995, Trash has been the proud purveyor of everything beyond the flow of cinema’s mainstream. Shock, schlock, art, grunge, indie, cult, foreign, rare, grotesque or sublime—if it exists outside the realm of casual moviegoing, Trash is the place to find it. Burning to take in Microwave Massacre, the self-declared worst horror movie ever made? It’s in the Trash stash. Can’t track down Leni Reifenstahl’s 1930s Nazi propaganda Triumph of the Will for that modern history essay? Pick it out of the Trash. And while you’re there, why not indulge some nostalgia and plump for the Twin Peaks Season Three double-VHS pack? Yes indeed, Trash is everything the modern video shop isn’t: cluttered with obscurity, disorganised, and bursting with character.
“Basically this was an idea that I had when I was ten,” Leavold says. It’s a July afternoon and we’re talking over the counter of Trash’s current store in Brisbane’s West End. To the left sit neat piles of rental DVDs stacked thirty and forty high; to the right the store computer is near-buried under posters and VHS and other bric-a-brac your local Civic would’ve sold off by now. There’s a touch of gloom in the air, but we’ll get to that later—for now there’s only Leavold in a Coney Island T-shirt, with his errant blonde hair framing a wild-eyed face, telling Trash’s tale. It is, he says, “a story of childhood obsession taken to ludicrous extremes.”
But it was too late for little Andrew: an idea had taken root. “All the time, I kept dreaming about having a video shop that had all these movies that I loved in it. This kind of anal obsession as a ten-year-old to control culture.”
And what a decade it’s been. Trash’s stock has swollen to a horde of more than 16,000; a silent partner has come on-board as co-owner; a 2003 documentary — Escape From the Planet of the Tapes — has been made about the store and about Leavold; and a loyal, close-knit community of renters has entered Trash’s orbit. In the few hours I’m here, Leavold greets every walk-in with a smile, easy conversation or a few flicks reserved just for them: “Have I got something for you?” is a regular refrain. No clinical efficiency here; just a shared love of the movies, a gentle reminder of how unifying a force cinema can be.
2003’s Lesbo-A-Go-Go, Leavold’s no-budget homage to 60s sexploitation icon Doris Wishman (a woman oft-referred to as the female Ed Wood) is “porn without porn”, a cheap, tawdry faux-morality play that propels hapless heroine Sugar from one hideous travail—cemetery rape, drug addiction, rape-during-abortion—to the next before having her stabbed with a syringe and condemned by a priest as she’s dying on the footpath. Shot in grainy black and white and featuring no sync sound, Lesbo is as trashy in its delivery as it is vile in its content, and leaves you in need of a shower and a good stiff drink—right on the money, in other words. It’s elevated by a soundtrack just this side of kick-ass and a frankly awesome psychadelic colour sequence, and is a tremendously fun, sustained in-joke for Wishman fans.
The girls may be no strangers to the sex industry, but they’re no strangers to credible emotion, either; Bluebirds’ documentary aesthetic is complimented by engaging naturalistic performances from its lead actresses—friends of Leavold’s then and still—and a fantastically foreboding score. Assembled with taut editing, it’s a snappy, authentic and brutally effective ride into Brisbane’s seamy underworld.
Leavold’s time in the Philippines also seeded the idea for a fittingly spun-out feature film, which is now at second draft stage and has secured partial funding. “It’s about an Australian who goes to the Philippines to try and make a dwarf kung fu remake of The Harder They Come, the Jamaican Spaghetti Western. Ends up losing his fucking shit, you know, Francis Ford Coppola-style.”
Ah. Remember the touch of gloom in the air we were speaking about earlier? Here it is. According to Andrew Leavold, digital’s killed the video shop. After fifteen years as Brisbane’s—and Australia’s—largest cult video store, Trash Video is closing its doors against the harsh light of a changing media landscape, in which the likes of Foxtel IQ, Netflix and Bigpond Movies are rendering quaint local video stores, with their physical constraints and limited stock, all but obsolete.