Arts, Movies, Column

Bye Bye Blockbuster

Overjoyed, I hopped in the car right away. These occasions proved too infrequent to be taken lightly. As I buckled myself in, my brother and sister joined me, exuding an excitement equal to mine. By the time my parents got the car started, all I could think about was what I was going to get. We were going to Blockbuster. There were so many choices, lining the walls on all sides, stocked on the shelves high and low. Meandering the aisles as a child never failed to evoke a sense of adventure. As we pulled up to the parking lot, I was ready to begin my search. I was dead-set on finding something. That was the fun of it. I did not have any clue what I was looking for, and yet I set about my search with an unwavering determination.

That kind of enthusiasm was imbued in me every time the family ventured to rent a couple of movies. When I was younger, I’m sure I was just as excited to get out the house as I was to find a movie to watch. Blockbuster represented as much of an escape from the house while we were there as an escape that would continue to free us when we popped in the DVDs and tapes in blue cases back home. As an adolescent, those trips evolved into a challenge, another way in which competition would manifest itself in my siblings and me. We knew the stakes. And so it became a battleground to test our abilities. Who could find the best movie? In the limited time we were there, I had to ask whether I would put faith in Battlefield Earth or Jurassic Park III.

We would judge the character of films at face value—a book by its cover. Turning over the boxes, scanning text, and analyzing cover art to see if the movie was worth our time. Sometimes the universe would be cruel, deceiving us with pretty cases. We all only had one shot. Bringing home our three selections, each of us vied to test his choice first.

As I became more aware of the world in my teenage years, I found myself drawn to the vibrant red cases reading “New Release.” These were the movies I had heard others talk about. Something new. Discovering movies in this relative sense, their influence over me grew. Movies had their own language. Terms like “box office,” “critical reception,” “reaction shot,” and “McGuffin” became significant additions to my diction. “Good-bad-movie” remains one of my favorites. And so movies became something you could take and experience outside of a single viewing. You could talk about them in a hyper-analytic capacity.

The short distance from my house made Blockbuster even more appealing. As age made the shelves smaller and my eye more adept at finding things that were interesting, I found there was a certain charm to the store. The shelves changed, but the game remained the same. Search for something, anything. It did not matter if it came from the New Hollywood era in the ’70s, some cerebral world-questioning ’90s trip, or even a Hong Kong action flick—it was in there for a reason. Sometimes you would think, “Who was the last person to watch this?” If I asked that, it would be coming home for sure.

And just like that, Blockbuster closed. It had fallen victim to the same fate as books, newspapers, movie theaters, television, and the sense of safety we had in our own homes—the Internet.

I miss Blockbuster, and movie stores in general. Though they overcharged for films, probably degraded the environment when they burned all their VHS tapes, and never could stock The Tigger Movie, I miss the tangible aspects, the personality of the store, and the genuine sense of Stockholm Syndrome.

As everything becomes more impersonal, I hope, in the age of Netflix, we do not lose sight of the nature of film. When you rented a disc or VHS, there was always the sense that you were sharing something with someone else. This may be due to the fact that the previous viewer did not rewind the tape, but it is also because that is the nature of movie rentals. The human element was there in the employees and the co-patrons. When you returned the movies, you did so, not because you feared the late fees, but because you would be giving someone else the opportunity to see the film too. Without Blockbuster as the intermediary, the onus is on us to share with everybody else what we know to be out there.

As a kid, running up the the small aluminum grate on the side of the building, I would begin dropping the movies back in one by one. As the last box slid into the building, out of sight, every so often the sound of a faint “thank you” would emanate from the inside.

Featured Image By Associated Press

February 14, 2016