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Last Shop Standing - Documentary Review

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.


Records Collecting Dust was a personal survey of record collections, and Vinylmania was a global survey of the different ways in which vinyl obsession manifests itself.  The 2012 documentary Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of the Independent Record Shop, which could be seen to form a sort of trilogy with the other two, takes a look at the history of record stores.  It’s a UK-focused film that looks at how shops in that country weathered the changes of the recording industry.  The film is based on the 2009 book of the same name by Graham Jones, a record distributor who witnessed the changes first-hand as he visited hundreds of shops on the job.

Across a fast-paced 48-minutes, director Pip Piper primarily tells the story through the eyes of various shop owners around the country.  Famous landmark stores are featured, such as London’s Rough Trade East and Chesterfield’s recently shuttered, 105-year old Hudson’s Record and Tape Centre.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper vinyl documentary without at least a few notable musicians on hand to praise vinyl and the place independent records stores have in their lives.  In the case of Last Shop Standing, we get to hear from UK icons Paul Weller, Johnny Marr, Billy Bragg, and others.

While the doc has a fair dose of nostalgia and romanticism for the authenticity and superiority of vinyl, and the sense of community that a record store can provide, Last Shop Standing is more interested in the industry story.  In that way, it also makes an interesting companion to the recently released All Things Must Pass, which essentially tells the same tale but from the perspective of mega-chain Tower Records.

The first act of the film (the "rise" of the title) covers the explosion of recorded music in the 60's and the rise of the 45, and the boom that followed throughout the 70s and 80s.  Piper and Jones also touch upon some of the less savory practices that many shops took part in, including record companies' regular practice of influencing the charts by giving away loads of free records to mom-and-pop shops to sell.  

The movie's second act - the "fall" - focuses on reasons stores ran into trouble in recent decades. For a U.S. audience, this section may be the most interesting, as some the reasons the film gives are specific to the UK: discounted CD sales in supermarkets, and a legal loophole that made online CD sales there tax-free.  Other reasons will be more familiar—the rise of downloading, escalating rents on main commercial streets, and record companies' attempt to kill off vinyl in favor of the CD for the sake of increasing profit margins and getting fans to re-purchase their collections.  

The last third of the doc covers the "rebirth” of record stores in recent years—the film especially gives big credit to Record Store Day—is somewhat tempered by the fact that shops in the UK have gone from 2,200 to 280 in number by the time the film was made.  The film ends appropriately on a simple plea to support your local record stores, and avoids sentimentality.

Last Shop Standing is currently available for purchase on the film’s website, rental from various digital providers, and streaming on Amazon Prime.

This piece was written by Matt Scott and is part of a documentary review series. 

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