Saturday, March 20, 2021

The Last Blockbuster (2020)

Watched this doc on Netflix last night, about the last remaining Blockbuster video store franchise in Bend, OR. Just a few years ago there were three remaining stores in Alaska, but now the Oregon store is the last one standing. The format of the doc follows those VH1 "I Love the '80s"-type specials, with a lineup of celebrity commentators offering their memories of the video store experience, about the value of in-person browsing at the video store and the kinds of organic, word-of-mouth recommendations that can occur as a result. The thing is, the experience they describe seems to be true of the smaller, independent video stores, but not so much the large corporate experience offered by Blockbuster. 

I can't say I share the affection for Blockbuster. Unless you were looking for recent Hollywood hits, it was unlikely you were going to find what you were looking for. I do remember one local Blockbuster had a selection of foreign films, where I found movies like Fritz Lang's M, Fellini's The Clowns, and The Private Life of Henry VIII for the first time, but they later did away with these titles. It seemed like, at some point, they ditched a lot of the videos, probably those that weren't renting out regularly. I also remember finding Buster Keaton's The Cameraman there when I was first discovering his films. I also remember talking with a clerk at another Blockbuster who expressed his own disappointment that they didn't carry more of Chaplin's films, after I asked about those.

Still, if Blockbuster was your only option in your area, then it served a good purpose. I've read several comments from librarians, in response to this doc, pointing out that DVDs are still available to rent from your local library, often for free and from a greater selection than Blockbuster ever offered. And that's to say nothing of the selection of films now available through streaming. I remember that several video stores used to carry a selection of old public domain titles, on labels like Madacy, Hollywood Classics, etc. Now, of course, all of those can be found online for free. I imagine what it must be like being a young film fan today, having all of those films easily accessible to explore at no cost.

Although I like the idea of the in-person interaction that video stores could provide, I can't say the doc really made me miss the video store experience. Sure, there's a nostalgia factor to them, but at the end of the day, I'm glad that we have greater access to films than ever before.

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