Rick Brough, who has this week’s Friday Film Review, looks back on a bygone era depicted in the documentary, “The Last Blockbuster.”
Today, they’re on the verge of extinction. But once, not long ago, they thrived in numbers too vast to be counted.
Am I talking about polar bears? Buffalo? Bigfoot? No, I mean your neighborhood video store.
A new film directed by Taylor Morden looks at a store in Bend, Oregon, which in 2018 became the last Blockbuster on the planet—that, after a few ragged survivors in Alaska closed.
It may seem like a silly topic, but this is how a generation went to the movies. Those of us who are Boomers have similar memories of the Drive-In.
The film shows how manager Sandi Harding and her store have survived so far—because it’s a community gathering spot, one of those places where all the kids in the neighborhood grew up shopping there, or working there. (The Wasatch Front has its own lone survivor, Top Hat Video in Bountiful.)
At the Bend location, the old customs are still practiced---asking the employees, still dressed in khaki pants and blue polo shirts, what’s new, that’s available, that’s good; wandering the aisles, haggling with your date or your family members about which flicks to take home; and making sure to return the tape—I mean disc—into the Drop Box by Monday morning.
The film also looks back on the history of the video store. In the Eighties , the stores were Mom and Pop independents, often with that room off to the side with the beaded curtain that led to the adult section.
The story of Blockbuster’s rise and fall includes its dominance in the Nineties. One segment has a lot of corporate history (though one business meeting is re-created with Muppets.)
After the turn of the century, rivals like Netflix and Redbox appeared. Blockbuster’s announcement of ‘No Late Fees” turned out to be the worst business decision since New Coke. And then came 2008.
The film includes a gaggle of nostalgia-prone celebrities, including, of course, Kevin Smith, whose breakout hit at Sundance, “Clerks” included an apathetic video employee. Actor Jamie Kennedy got his first job in a Blockbuster TV ad—and became most famous as the slasher-trivia expert in the "Scream" movies. And for some reason, they talk to Lloyd Kaufman, the sleaze-movie mogul behind “Toxic Avenger” who is just cranky.
The movie is pretty ragged, and manages to be both too long and too short. The history skips on several topics, and yet after an hour of a 90 minute film, it seems to have finished the story it wanted to tell.
But the movie is fun if the topic appeals to you. Me? I still have some dusty paraphernalia from the Park City Blockbuster liquidation sale.
And I ask you—wouldn’t the world be better off if we all remembered to “Be Kind, Rewind”?
“The Last Blockbuster” is streaming on Netflix. If I posted it on the wall of Employee Picks, I’d give it a three out of five. For the Friday Film Review, I’m Rick Brough.