Late 2013 finally saw Blockbuster Entertainment shut its doors permanently. There will be no more, ‘Bringing Entertainment Home’, no more late fees or alcohol-fuelled, late-night visits with friends to pick a film.
The once and former king of the movie rental business is officially toast. To most of us, it’s surprising that Blockbuster lasted this long -what with their out-dated business model and lacklustre move to digital, it’s no wonder they couldn’t see off Netflix, Lovefilm and On Demand services. Instead ‘they’ took their brand and squandered it -the archaic morons!
I don’t mourn the loss of Blockbuster. Speaking as a former employee, it was a company that, quite simply, stunk. A company that exploited its employees for all they could and with little in return. I’m sorry for those that lost their jobs, as they did, in the run-up to Christmas, but the writing was very much on the wall, and in big, bold, yellow capitals -BLOCKBUSTER IS FUCKED!
I’m not a bitter ex-employee looking to vent while gaining a few more followers on Twitter; I made some of my best friends working at Blockbuster and I cherish the moments we shared.
Whether it was hiding in the drop box to scare customers, watching your accidentally returned, awkward amateur pornos, vandalising those stupid standee things, chatting to ‘regulars’ about their favourite horror films or just being stinkingly hung-over and hanging out with my best friend. Working at Blockbuster was the ultimate slacker job and for a time I loved it. However, like I said, I don’t mourn the loss of Blocky, because the Blockbuster I ‘loved’ passed away about the same time that VHS died.
Cinema has always been my favourite medium. As a child I was a dreamer and I loved the escapism that came from watching a film, reading a book or playing Sonic the Hedgehog for eight hours straight in my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle PJs on Christmas Day. I still love the escapism that these mediums provide but none more so than cinema. I’m a self-confessed film nerd, with a particular penchant for Keanu Reeves movies.
However, with the death of Blocky, what I have been mourning -and for quite some time -is the loss of the ‘rental experience’. Now I know there are still a few ‘independents’ out there, with knowledgeable and well-looked-after employees, but ‘rental’ was at its peak when Blockbuster Entertainment was called Blockbuster Video -’cause, you know, it was like where you rented videos!
I’m sure this is all down to nostalgia, but what the hell. I loved visiting my local ‘Mr. Video’, ‘Vine and Video’ and any other pop-up video shop -video stores were ‘pop-up’ before the liberal Guardian readership made it ‘trendy’. I loved perusing all the glorious videos. My parents would often leave me in the shop while they went and did grown-up shopping, ie for groceries -BORING!
I loved scanning the covers, the feel of the extra large cassette cases and the countless -well it felt that way at the time -fantastical tales that lay in wait. This was before the advent of the internet, so there was no definitive guide to follow. Sure there was film journalism, and that was great for new releases, but it was in the video shop where I got my history of cinema, or rather an alternative history of cinema -it wasn’t until years later that I learned about cinema’s actual origins and its ‘masters’. The video shop was always my favourite place to visit as a child -nothing came close to that wonderment.
And then one day, shortly after starting secondary school, Blockbuster Video arrived in my home town, with its gaudy yellow and blue logo and purposefully created shelving -the ones that held the videos in small units as if they were cocooned in the walls, like victims of Giger’s xenomorph but without the carnage.
I adored it. No, I absolutely loved it. It became the go-to place after school and at weekends. I was one of those kids, like the ones you see now in the Apple stores playing with the iPads. I soaked up and revelled in the atmosphere. Quite simply, it was my Mecca.
Now, it’s true that ‘Mr. Video’ and ‘Vine and Video’ quickly disappeared once Blocky arrived in town but at the time I didn’t care or barely even register that fact. Retail globalisation was of little concern to me and in reality I had far more choice than ever before. I even used to dream about working at Blockbuster and what a fantastic job that would be. What can I say, I was young, but heck, for a while there it was a great job.
I miss perusing the shelves, finding those unknown gems and the disappointment when the film wasn’t as spectacular as the cover suggested. I miss picking up the latest ex-rentals to add to my ever-expanding collection and I even miss that smell -you know the one I mean, that sickly sweet odour that lingers due to all the popcorn. Only now, years later, can I actually enjoy popcorn, although it does have to be one of those lovely savoury lines that are oh-so-popular. Who doesn’t love popcorn that tastes of Bacon and Maple Syrup or Wasabi?
The internet and DVD have completely changed how we consume cinema and information about films. They are all (for the most part) at our fingertips, for our instant gratification (in one way or another). And in an odd turn of events, my collection has stopped expanding. In fact, year on year, it actually decreases -I see little point in ‘owning’ the physical media anymore, not when it’s so readily available online. There are, of course, exceptions but more and more these are few and far between.
But I digress. I never loved Blockbuster Video itself, not really. Blockbuster was just another corporate whore desperate for my pocket money. No, what I loved was the ‘rental experience’ and the films themselves, whether that was Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (Hewitt, 1991) or JAWS (Spielberg, 1975). I might be older but some things never change. Not even my taste in pyjamas.