It destroyed independent video stores, and censored movies
Instead of focusing on the lost magnificence of video stores as a whole, and the range of choices they offered to both the weirdoes and the normies at a time when viewing options were severely limited for everyone, the documentary The Last Blockbuster laments the demise of the most soulless facet of the home rental business, Blockbuster Video. Once there were over 9000 stores, and now, just one remains, and it’s in Bend, Oregon. The doc, streaming on Netflix, glorifies the Goliath of the industry that gobbled up or stomped out all the competition, when it probably should curse the giant instead.
As the film opens, Sandi, the manager of the world’s only remaining Blockbuster, readies for the day. She hurriedly deactivates the alarm and flicks on the lights, illuminating the store’s rows upon rows of inventory. She’s a delightful human, and her love for her job and desire to keep this chain alive shows in everything she does. Each week, she hits Walmart and Target to scoop up new releases, and uses her Costco membership to stock up on drinks and candy for the store. She Frankensteins computers salvaged from defunct locations to keep the shop’s outmoded POS running, treats her employees like family, and takes each day in stride. Holding fort at the last outlet of its kind seems to amuse and please her.
Sandi represents the unsung retail workers out there who truly take pride in their work, and tirelessly serve both their customers and corporation. And what a corporation she chose. Blockbuster was never the passion project of a lucky cinephile who leaned in at the right time; it was merely the whim of a database nerd who liked the idea of tracking VHS inventory, and wanted his video store to be blue and yellow. After opening a few locations, he built a distribution center to better roll out more stores. His success attracted the attention of the owner of Waste Management, a garbage company that took over the operation and expanded the company via both new stores and acquisitions.
In fact, the Blockbuster in Bend started its life as part of Pacific Video, a chain local to Oregon, which subsumed itself to become a Blockbuster franchisee. Despite the slate of talking heads rhapsodizing about the wondrousness this particular chain offered the world, the fact is—this retail behemoth muscled into a town, absorbed or destroyed the little guys, and left renters with no other option. Anyone hoping to watch an NC-17 film, or seeking an array of independent movies was sent out to pasture with the moms and pops who once owned their own business. Listening to indie stalwart Kevin Smith wax philosophical about the glory of Blockbuster feels like some sort of hollow, ironic prank. Hopefully, it is.
No one in the movie speaks a foul word about Blockbuster, except Troma Entertainment icon Lloyd Kaufman. He calls out the corporation’s bullshit, and The Last Blockbuster reponds by treating him like a crazy old coot. Maybe so, but he’s not wrong, either. Comedians lament the lost days of browsing for titles, and yearn for that distinct smell of media and the sound of a snapping case, but The Last Blockbuster would be so much better if it weren’t about Blockbuster, but about video stores as a whole. They’re just as rare now, largely because of the ramifications of Blockbuster. We should also note that anyone hoping to roam through physical rows of tangible movies to borrow for the night can actually still do this from almost any town in America. You don’t need The Last Blockbuster if you simply visit the public library.