Saturday, June 30, 2012
Friday, June 29, 2012
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Monday, June 18, 2012
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Thursday, June 14, 2012
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Thursday, June 07, 2012
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
R.I.P. Ray Bradbury, Age 91.
The late author's grandson, Danny Karapetian
Tuesday, June 05, 2012
R.I.P. Blockbuster: A Belated Eulogy to the Video Store
Not a week has passed without me thinking about Blockbuster, now that they are gone. Our local store closed in late October in 2011. At the time, I probably never thought about the place as much as I do now, but at least once a week, maybe twice, there would be a trip to Blockbuster to rent a movie and maybe a game. Just a mention that was where I was going would get Saffron off the couch and away from whatever she was doing.
Now, at least a few times a week I'll catch myself talking about movies and saying "We'll have to rent that," only to immediately remember that now there is no convenient place to go and rent a movie. Well, that's not entirely true, because there is the local variety store which has a small selection of movies, fading and forlorn in their small corner of the store near the pornography.
I remember the first time I went to a video store, back in 1983. I can't recall the stores name, but it was in a plaza on St. Anne's Road in Winnipeg. It carried what were the original movie laser disks; large LP-sized disks encased in plastic sheath that protected the disk surface from greasy fingers and scratches. The cases were go for displaying the artwork for the movie, and the store had them propped up against the walls on these little 3-inch shelves that ran around the store. A friend's mom rented a player one weekend, and we watched a couple movies... "American Gigolo" was one of them, and I can't remember the other. We didn't frequent that place much, as I had more interest in seeing movies in the theatre then (the Metropolitan was still open at the time, and glorious). VHS and Betamax players had shown up on the scene, but were too expensive to own. Our school had these large clunky VHS machines which seem almost laughable to imagine now... I wonder if you can still find them anywhere...
In 1984 my family would move out to Brampton, Ontario and there I would discover the joy of having my own video store membership and renting movies and becoming versed in film culture. My first membership was at Video 88 in Bramalea City Centre. Stopping by would become a regular activity, exploring their selection. The Monty Python movies, Pink Floyd's "The Wall." "2001: A Space Odyssey" and Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange;" when I was returning that one, the woman who was the clerk that day asked me what I thought of it. I said it was good, a fine adaptation of the book. She told me she had never read the book, but the movie was smut and filth. Despite my adolescent shyness I was not embarrassed so much as shocked. I think I actually felt a little emboldened even.
The video store business exploded around this time. Large video store chains Jumbo Video, Circus Video and Video99 would emerge. I had a membership with Jumbo video. They used to give free popcorn, and for a time were even open almost around the clock. I vaguely recall a few occasions where friends and I would stagger by on our way back from the bar late a night and grab a bag of popcorn before heading home. Once, the night staff were watching the movie Jaws on the store overhead screens. It was just starting as we walked in, and I saw the horrifying first death, and it seemed so much more vivid than I recalled from when I saw the movie. The realization hit me that I had only ever seen Jaws on network television, so I was probably only familiar with a sanitized, edited version.
Jumbo video was a favorite of mine, but I can't say I was sad when they disappeared. I'm not even sure when it happened, and yet I can still picture the set-up of the stores and even remember specific movies that I always saw on the shelves. Fantastic Planet is the best example... For some reason that movie always caught my eye as I walked past it.
Rogers video was the next video store chain I had a membership with. My local store was in the plaza at the corner of Lisa and Queen Streets in Brampton. Actually, I lie: there was briefly a mom and pop video store in that plaza that I rented from until they got out if the business. When they sold off their movies I purchased VHS copies of Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon" and "The Last Temptation of Christ" with William Dafoe. I still have these, even though I am unable to watching them because I no longer have a VHS player.
I reluctantly started renting from Rogers once they were the only game in the neighborhood. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of their selection; they had a copy of Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, although I struggled with some personal angst over whether I should rent and view it (in the end, my desire to see this work won out over my unease with the subject of the film).
When I moved from Brampton eventually, I found myself situated on Eglinton Avenue, about midway between a Blockbuster and a Roger's Video, with memberships at both. (Coincidentally, one of the clerks at the Roger's was a guy I had appeared with on-stage in a community theatre version of Macbeth). I still tended to go to the Blockbuster more though because it was closer, and I think I preferred the atmosphere more.
Every Roger's video I ever went to had a dark or shaded ambiance to the store. This gave them a relaxing feel, and in my memory, they appear almost as black caves. In contrast, Blockbuster had bright lighting and lighter colored walls and fixtures that gave an airy, almost cheerful feel to their locations. This was probably by design, and went with their mandated "greeting as you enter the store." I never minded the greeting, and always responded in kind. Some people I know disdained it as insincere and forced. Of the two styles, I preferred Blockbusters.
Despite these two chains attempts to dominate the market, I would end up having memberships to two more independent video rental outlets. When we lived in Etobicoke in 2001, I would frequent "The Film Buff" outlet located on Roncesvales Ave. In Toronto. They have one other location, but this was the closest one to us, although it was still a little out of the way. There was a Blockbuster that was closer to us that we sometimes used, but The Film Buff had a more exotic selection of foreign films, like "The Bicycle Thief" which I was finally able to see. As of 2011, they were still operating, although they became an untenable option for us to use when we moved to Burlington at the end of 2002.
Sometime in the next few years, I would discover Film Fest Video operating near Yonge and Eglinton. Also specializing in foreign amd exotic films that you most likely couldn't find at a chain, I would use them occasionally because they were close enough to my work that I could rent and drop off movies during the week. Unfortunately, they would succumb sometime in 2011 to a lack of business, probably coupled with a high rent considering the locale.
It occurs to me that for the first time in almost three decades, I have no membership at a video rental outlet.
There is the option of Netflix, but the time I tried their one-month free promotion I found very little in the way of selection that I was interested in; apparently their Canadian licensing is slowly catching up to the number of titles available in the US. Even so, during our one month my daughter managed to pick up an addiction to an animated show called "The Last Airbender," which drove her to watch the entire series in the span of a week or so, and causing our internet usage bill to spike dramatically.
When I heard that Blockbuster was in danger of going under I didn't give it much thought. The chain in Canada was surviving, and a cull had recently removed stores that (I think) were perhaps less profitable. Our local Blockbuster survived. But the end came quick. The chain couldn't find a buyer, partly because the Canadian operation which had the temerity to hang on for dear life wasn't going to be allowed to continue using the name "Blockbuster."
The closing dates were announced, more like general time lines, and the sales began. I wandered around the store in a bit of a daze, the shelves already noticeably bare from the scavenging of DVD's and games being sold off. I picked up a few movies, some Harry Potter for Saffron, the Matrix for Anj, and Blade Runner for myself. And then it was closed.
We occasionally can get movies from the flea market bootleggers, but when we do I am reminded of how we have contributed to the demise of the video store, and I get a little sad, despite the cheap versions of new movies.
I get the tiniest bit melancholy, the way I do with such signs of the passage of time. This is how my parents must have felt when the things from their youth disappeared. Thing they enjoyed, and took for granted would always be around. The end of an era.