The news that Blockbuster Video is in serious trouble is no surprise. I last stepped foot in my neighborhood store in spring 2009 to rent “The Wire: Season Two” again; the store closed three months later.  Like most everyone else, the prospect of acquiring a foreign classic or just-released Otto Preminger film the next day made Netflix the only serious option (my habit for years has been to follow Dave Kehr’s recommendations in The New York Times‘ Tuesday DVD review page).

I started thinking about the early days of Blockbuster Video — before stores in the late nineties grew into bloated “superstores” in which Starbucks actually proffered its wares  (why anyone would want to sit at a table a few feet from a door sensor is lost to the ages). Their malnourished foreign film and classics selection had the unfortunate effect of fetishizing the other Renoir or Bunuel films not in stock; and since Blockbuster inexplicably never developed a kind of interstore loan whereby another store would send a requested title in your name, I developed more contempt for their business model. Unlike a library membership, I paid for these videos; why couldn’t the company have charged a nominal fee to transfer a video? What a depressing experience to browse the foreign section for the forty-seventh time since 1988 and avoid Gerard Depardieu’s Cyrano De Bergerac and Pelle the Conqueror trying to catch your eye; more depressing to remind yourself that you were the last person to check them out.

Let’s call this foreign film tokenism. Were you to visit a Blockbuster in Boise, you would likely spot the same titles (Barnes  & Noble is also fond of carrying the same Henry James novels in every store). Examples: The 400 Blows, La Dolce Vita, Au Revoir Les Enfants, Jean de Florette, The Double Life of Veronique, Shirley Valentine, Madame Bovary (the Chabrol version) My Mother’s Castle and My Father’s Glory (adaptations of Pagnol novels were hot shit in the late eighties/early nineties), Kolya, Before The Rain, and Like Water For Chocolate.

Any other examples?

3 thoughts on “Blockbusted

  1. Your Blockbuster had “La Dolce Vita”?!? Mine had “8 1/2”.
    I have a logical, non-embarrassing explanation for the fetishizing of the foreign movies (which I share)- they come with more of an element of surprise, since presumably most Americans don’t follow, say, German entertainment magazines that can spoil a movie several months in advance.

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