Blockbuster Video has shelved its last title.
The video-rental giant opened its first outlet in Dallas, Texas in 1985. The chain reached its peak in 2004 with 60,000 employees in more than 9000 stores. By 2010, the number of stores had dwindled to 1700. It came as no surprise when Blockbuster announced earlier this month that all remaining 300 company-owned stores would be shuttered.
My Blockbuster card expired sometime in the early '90s when word leaked that what at the time was the world’s largest chain of video stores had a nasty habit of re-editing certain more objectionable, sexually pernicious titles — filth like Last Tango in Paris. To make matters worse, the weaselly ecumenical bigots flat-out refused to stock The Last Temptation of Christ.
Taking on a pair of made men like Scorsese and Bertolucci in a cavalier manner such as this, it’s a wonder several of the chain’s store windows weren’t blown out.
If you show tits, it’s rated NC-17. Cut ‘em off with a chainsaw and the MPAA will call it an R. Every slasher film featuring Jason, Freddy, and Leatherface was yours for the renting at Blockbuster, but Tango went against the company’s strict refusal to stock any NC-17 titles.
In the eyes of the money men, the only thing more damaging to the American psyche (and business) than sex is the questioning of spirituality. A fear of consumer boycotts is credited with keeping Godfellas from their inventory.
Viacom purchased the company in 1994 and while Temptation did eventually find a home in one of their video cupboards, the die had already been cast. There was no turning back. What with all the mom and pop video store my hometown of Chicago had to offer (and the world-class Facets Multimedia), Blockbuster had taken its last dime from my pockets.
Physical media is going the way of the mechanical bull. Within years every story that’s been committed to celluloid and pixels will be but a mouse click away. Today’s bookcase filled with DVDs is tomorrow’s 750 billion gigabyte hard drive.
With the exception of Fry’s Electronics, Big!Lots, and a few select pawn shops, it’s pert-near impossible to find a decent DVD retailer in San Diego. Blockbuster’s addition of DVD-by-mail, streaming, and video on demand arrived too late to combat the renter’s shift to Netflix.
Why borrow for three nights when you can steal, that’s my motto! For years I pirated thousands of VHS bootlegs that couldn’t be found on TCM or AMC, when the latter still lived up to the ‘C’ in its name. You should see how the old tapes look when compared to what’s currently being pressed on Blu-ray. There are more creases than my backside after a hot bath. Other than stocking my personal collection, the allure of a video store has never much appealed to me. I watched, and continue to watch, the majority of movies on a big screen. At the time, 90 percent of the obscure titles that I longed to have a look at were not yet made available, and 90 percent of what was available wasn’t worth a second look.
Blockbuster was able to guarantee that popular new releases would be in store and waiting for you through a practice known as “deep and narrow” purchasing. Rather than shelving 50 different titles, the company would limit the variety by stocking 50 copies of one picture.
Taking a Blockbuster employee’s advice on what titles to rent was tantamount to walking up to the box office cold and asking the attendant, “What’s good?” I’m not about to turn over my evening’s entertainment dollar to some kid who doesn’t know Sam Fuller from a Fuller brush. The one question I heard time and again when asking a Blockbustarian for a more arcane selection was, “How do you spell that?”
Then there was the awkward final step. Instead of handing over the rental copy at point of purchase, patrons had to walk through something akin to a metal detector before taking possession so as not to trigger an alarm. It was a freaking video tape, not a safety deposit box.
For San Diegans crestfallen by the loss, I offer two words of consolation that will forever degauss from your mind all traces of Blockbuster: Kensington Video.