Pittsburgher’s film of famed record store makes local debut
If you are old enough — or young enough — to remember radio in the ’70s and ’80s, the name Dr. Demento might ring a bell.
The good doctor had a nationally broadcast radio show originating from under the “smogberry trees” in Los Angeles, playing rare and mostly bizarre songs from artists way outside the mainstream. It was from Dr. D. that many a teenager — including Squirrel Hill native, filmmaker Keith Shapiro —first learned of the store Rhino Records.
“When I was 12 or 13 years old, I would listen to Dr. Demento with my friends religiously,” Shapiro, 36, recalled. “He would talk about Rhino Records, because Rhino was responsible for some of the offbeat stuff he would play. At the time, it didn’t mean a whole lot.”
Rhino means a whole lot to Shapiro these days, though, as he works to complete his award-winning documentary, “Rhino Resurrected: The Incredibly Strange Story of the World’s Most Famous Record Store.” The film will be screened Tuesday, Aug. 7, at the Pittsburgh Filmmakers Classroom Theater, 477 Melwood Ave., at 6:30 p.m. The screening is free to the public, and will be followed by a question and answer session.
When Shapiro, the son of Sybil Lieberman and Bill Shapiro, moved to Los Angeles in 1998, he was excited when he found that the legendary Rhino Records of which Demento spoke actually existed as a brick and mortar shop on Westwood Boulevard. He patronized the store until it closed in 2005, a victim of the digital music age.
Five years later, when Shapiro heard that Rhino’s founder, former Pittsburgher Richard Foos, was opening a Rhino pop-up store for a two-week period in 2010, “[I] immediately could feel that something interesting was happening.”
Shapiro knew he wanted to capture on film what was sure to be a celebration of a music culture that is disappearing along with the vinyl records on which it was built.
“I borrowed a camera, and started shooting the heck out of everything,” he said.
The result is a film full of unearthed archive footage, live performances, and interviews from colorful record collectors, musicians and other Rhino enthusiasts, including Dr. Demento, Richard Thompson, Nels Cline, William Stout, Peter Case, Little Willie G and the Midniters, and Temple City Kazoo Orchestra.
“The film definitely captures the spirit of what was going on in the store,” said Dan Perloff, a former Rhino customer, then employee, who appears in the film. “It was a vibe.”
Perloff began traveling to Westwood to shop at Rhino when he was 13 years old, even though there was a record store closer to his home in Culver City, because Rhino sold bootleg albums. He noted that part of the charm of the store was the music snobbery of its employees.
“The employees had a certain edge to them,” Perloff said. “It wasn’t all about customer service. They weren’t interested in mall shoppers. Those guys had a certain expertise. They were intimidating, but it was a place where I learned a lot. These guys could be snobby or downright rude.”
Shapiro financed his film on a shoestring budget, and is now in the process of raising additional funds to ensure it can be released.
“I have a deal to release the film, but I need a budget to pay for the remaining music and footage, original score, mix and color correct or it can’t come out,” Shapiro said. He is using the kickstarter.com website to receive donations to complete the film.
“Rhino Resurrected” was well received at Allison Anders’ Don’t Knock the Rock! Festival, the 2012 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and won best feature documentary at the 2012 Oxford Film Festival.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)