Sunday, May 9, 2021

Doc Watch: The Last Blockbuster (2020)

Watched:  05/08/2021
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's

This one was kind of weird.  And this post is mostly about how much I hated Blockbuster and didn't care when it folded.

Look, by the time Blockbuster Video went out of business, I'd intentionally not gone of my own free will into a Blockbuster in 10 years and had pretty much broken with Blockbuster as far back as the mid 1990's.  

So, a feature length doc talking about the death of Blockbuster as some sort of tragedy that was just an accident but something we all loved?  I was pausing the movie and making Jamie listen to me as I debated the film's non-stop nostalgia and love of the corporate behemoth, which - starting in the summer of 1994, I saw as actually very bad for movies when I tried to rent Breakfast at Tiffany's and (a) the clerk had never heard of it, and (b) looked it up and explained to me they used to have it, but they got rid of it.  But they did have 45 copies of Pauly Shore in Son In Law.  

Like, you don't have to be a snob to find that a little sad.

Blockbuster's other cool behaviors included adding late charges to any video you didn't put in someone's hand and watch them check it in, including a very loose definition of what "2 days" meant (in Blockbuster land, that meant just under 25 hours).  And, of course, editing movies to Blockbuster standards, which drifted increasingly family-friendly over the years.  

Anyhoo, as soon as Hollywood Video opened, I started going there.  As well as having memberships at both I Luv Video and Vulcan Video.

The movie performs three functions - 1) telling the tale of how Blockbuster died and not being remotely objective or cutting into the veracity of what they're told.  2) the aforementioned love-fest for Blockbuster nostalgia, and 3) celebrating the one hold out Blockbuster franchise left, which is up in Bend, Oregon.  

And, that third part is kinda sweet and kinda weird.  Essentially, it really IS the last Blockbuster.  They still use the Blockbuster PC's from the 90's (complete with floppy drives) and have to maintain those, because no one is writing video-store management software or web apps in 2020.  As one of the franchises it's actually an indie video store using the Blockbuster name, which they license from Dish Network (itself no longer the player it once was).  

The store would have gone out of business years ago were it not for the fact they lucked into one of those people who don't care about the money - they now have a place of their own and a mission, and she works herself silly making up for all of the obvious deficits in what was supposed to be a large-scale corporate operation.  But they're also able to accommodate customer needs in a way the chain store never could - and so... they survive.  

I'm not sure I buy all the talk of Blockbuster as a community center.  And I don't know that in the decade I was using Blockbuster that I ever asked a clerk their opinion of a movie.  But browsing shelves of a Blockbuster was not something that made me feel kumbaya with my fellow humans.  

The movie is mostly interviews with a random assortment of people faking that they care about Blockbuster Video, most of whom kind of admit that they don't.  Kevin Smith, Doug Benson, and others.  And, I am here to report that Ione Skye looks great as of 2020.  But it all has a weird "Remember the 90's?" sort of vibe that Paul Scheer has somehow made a career out of participating in.*

What I absolutely do miss about any video store is something librarians call "serendipitous discovery".  This isn't covered at all in the doc as the primary benefit of actually hitting the video store, but there's an actual term for wandering the stacks of a library and finding something you want to use/ read/ etc...  just because you were in the stacks.  And that was 99% of what video stores offered that Netflix in particular does not want you doing.  Netflix's un-turn-offable feature to just start playing content at you is a fucking nightmare, and I hate it, and it's why I use Amazon Streaming or other services at every opportunity and avoid Netflix 9 out of 10 times unless I already browsed elsewhere and am certain Netflix will have the movie/ show.  

And, hey, I can't tell you how many times I was walking to get a movie and saw something I'd briefly pondered watching and grabbed that, too, en route in a completely different section.  

An algorithm can kind of fake serendipitous discovery - I mean, if I'm looking for a book on Frankenstein the novel and find one on James Whale, the director of Frankenstein, that's serendipitous.  But "because you watched Godzilla, we will force kaiju movies ad infinitum into your line of vision" is not quite the same.  And if you do click on one of those kaiju movies - good luck ever getting anything pushed to you that isn't "unrelated garbage your neighbors are watching".

Anyway - the doc is shallow and silly and kind of fun, but paints a very weird picture of a company I remember literally no one mourning when it passed, especially as my movie watching needs were far better met by other video stores and then other options.

It's very sloppy doc making - and I kinda don't blame them, but then they do things like bring in Lloyd Kaufman from Troma, who I would guess was there to point out that Blockbuster did a super shitty job of carrying anything remotely off-beat in that he couldn't get his stuff on their shelves, the doc makers treat him like an insane old crank who hates Blockbuster for no reason.  Look, that's bullshit, and I'm gonna turn on your doc.  Sure, Kaufman is a personality, and I get it (kind of) but the relentless propaganda'ing for a company that did a lot of bad things and ran a monopoly on the video industry dictating what people could and couldn't see is something I'd argue we're still grappling with as the kids who came of age going only to Blockbuster are now adults and seem shocked by anything that doesn't fit a Blockbuster cone of safe viewing.

*somehow in the past 5 years Scheer has positioned himself as a film expert, which is a weird position for a guy who is in movies and somehow doesn't seem to know anything about them.  Peter Bogdanovich, he is not.  

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