By Patrick Milligan
Could it be, I dream, that a resurgence in local video shops is in the cards, like the vinyl record stores that are popping up everywhere now?
The Last Blockbuster, directed by Taylor Morden. Streaming on Netflix.
Tony Soprano once said that “Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.” Usually, I make it a point not to disagree with fictional antiheroes, but he is on solid ground here. ‘Remember when’ usually adds little more than regret for what used to be. Time, energy, and thought would be better served by paying attention to something useful in the present. However, given the year we’ve just gone through, thinking about a happier time — particularly celebrating the once universal act of renting a movie on a Friday night — becomes downright inspirational. So let’s call this documentary a guilty pleasure. The Last Blockbuster is 86 minutes of “Remember when’, a love letter to one of my favorite activities when I was a kid. And, seeing that Tony’s cashing in on the old nostalgia himself with a prequel series, I’m sure he won’t begrudge us a bit of reminiscing about those blue and gold walls.
Directed by Taylor Morden, the film contains various interviews with C and D list celebrities, many of whom are known to have a deep affinity for video. They even wheeled out the bloated corpse of Jaime Kennedy to wax philosophical about video rental, which sadly reminded us of the fact that he is not actually the dude he played in the Scream franchise. Kevin Smith was at home serving as the elder statesman, discussing his time working at RST video in New Jersey. Some of these conversations worked well with the film’s vision of looking back fondly. Doug Benson’s joy as we watched him walk through the last Blockbuster is infectious. (I’m sure some of his enthusiasm might be credited to the copious amounts of weed he likely consumed prior to taping, but I digress.) However, other interviewees were pretty much shoehorned in. Do any of us really need to know what the hell Ione Skye thinks what the loss of video stores means to society?
One thing that really worked for me was the various conversations I had with people that regularly frequent the chain. Could it be, I dream, that a resurgence in local video shops is in the cards, like the vinyl record stores that are popping up everywhere now? There are aging hipsters who are clearly spending more time picking through albums than is healthy. I am 100% certain that I would be one of those aging free spirits if one of these refurbished video stores opened up near me. This film reminds us what a community hub these places were, their irreplaceable cultural value. Nothing made me happier as a teenager working at West Coast Video in Somerville, Ma. than to be drawn into a passionate discussion over the merits of the Gremlins sequel with a group of total strangers. (Grandpa Munster plays a significant role. If that’s not worth the price of admission to you then you don’t deserve him.)
In order to manufacture some sense of present-tense drama the filmmakers have added in conversations with the owners and operators of The Last Blockbuster (which is located in Bend, Oregon by the way.) Apparently, there is a chance they might lose the rights to the name. Oh no! How will they ever be able to go on without the symbol for corporate excellence that was and is the Blockbuster brand? The determined protagonist is the manager of the store, Sandi Harding. We are supposed to believe it is Sandi who is negotiating these tricky rights issues with the high-priced suits at Viacom. She seems like a super sweet woman, but I can smell a false premise when I am served it. That doesn’t mean Sandi’s story shouldn’t be told. It’s quite possible that without this lady and her weirdly obsessed family the store would close. But that’s not why we’re coming by.
The truth is, The Last Blockbuster hasn’t a whole hell of a lot to say. It’s needlessly melodramatic. It could have spent more time with Lloyd Kaufman. But so what? It answers the siren call of ‘Remember when.’
Patrick Milligan is a special education teacher from Salem Massachusetts. He lives with his wife, daughter, two dogs, and a cat. He is by no means a professional writer.