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One cannot talk about the New Flesh without
acknowledging the larval sac that birthed it. As much as my eye is turned to
the future, I’m of a generation that will always have one foot firmly planted
in this idyllic past we all imagine. The place we all started to learn the
language of media, the place that captured our imaginations.
The retail video outlet.
As I write this, Blockbuster, once a giant
in the retail industry, is barely clinging to life. In Canada, the very brand
name may disappear forever any day now, licensing revoked by a struggling head
office looking to bankrupt its former sister chains and scoop up their
remaining assets for pennies on the dollar. Corporate raiders trying to pick a
carcass clean before it disappears beneath the sands of time.
I once said I couldn’t wait to dance on the
grave of Blockbuster. Part of that was driven by my dislike of the monopoly
power the company managed to achieve, part of it by my opinion that we were
getting ripped off by a business whose days were numbered the minute broadband
adoption in North America climbed above 50 percent.
Most of it, though? It was because of
Bandito was the biggest video store in the
reasonably small city I grew up in. Now, I’m told they had other locations, so
it was likely some sort of small chain someone was trying to parlay into some
regional Blockbuster-style success story, but as far as I knew back then, it
was the neighborhood video store.
They had a huge selection, and stocked all
kinds of off-the-wall stuff you just didn’t see at a lot of other places.
Bandito is where I got BLACULA for the first time. CHOPPER CHICKS IN
ZOMBIETOWN. DRILLER KILLER. They had a great horror section, and I vividly recall
spending hours in there looking at those incredible VHS covers that promised
contents so lurid, so mind-blowing, you couldn’t help but take the tape home
with you. They had movies you couldn’t get at other video stores. I recall that
my first encounter with ERASERHEAD was due to a rental from Bandito.
They used to give you free popcorn to
browse the store with—like the browsing was an integral part of the rental
experience, which really, it was. Chewing through bags of popcorn as you’d
search for that one movie you’d been trying to chase down for ages, you checked
every time you went because they’d special-order stuff if you asked for it
enough, and you never knew what you’d find on the shelves sometimes.
Then one day, we heard Bandito had been
bought out by Blockbuster. The lights went out one day and the “Under
Construction” signs went up. A short time later, the place was reborn in the
blue and yellow of the world’s most successful video chain. Inside, there was
no more free popcorn, and Bandito’s stock seemed to have been totally replaced.
No more ERASERHEAD. No more SUSPIRIA.
INDEPENDENCE DAY was a Guaranteed Rental, though.
A place of imagination, of imperfection…a
patchwork quilt of hits and oddities…the smell of fresh popcorn and aisles and
aisles of mystery to trawl through were replaced with something sanitary and
static. An effective place to make money, sure, but not a place you really
wanted to spend an hour or two on a Saturday night picking out your
entertainment. No, this was fast-food video, friends. In and out with the
latest and greatest, and that was it. No soul.
We moved on to other video stores. In a
way, it drove us to even better ones way off the beaten track in our town, but
eventually they too would feel the impact of the coming of Blockbuster.
I’ve never forgiven them for taking our
place away. For taking the store that made me fall in love with movies and the
joy of the communal film experience. Going out with good friends and picking
out something that captured our imaginations. Predatory late fee structures?
Monopolistic business practices? Terrible selection? These were minor sins by
Years later now, standing in the desiccated
remains of a Blockbuster store surrounded by bins of clearance Previously
Viewed DVDs, I recognize we really are at the end of an era, and the high-water
mark of my generation’s way of doing things was that point right before they
took our video store away from us. I didn’t expect to feel sympathy for them,
but I do.
Over 100 copies of COP OUT stare me in the
face and tell me the story of where the tipping point was when the video store
stopped reflecting the tastes of people passionate about movies and started
reflecting what studios wanted to push. The aftermath of all that is on sale
now at your local Blockbuster.
I’ve browsed a video store for what might
be the last time, and even though it’s a Blockbuster, I just can’t muster any
schadenfreude. Watching the old flesh die and fall away should be cause for
celebration, and for some I guess it is.
I bet those people never held hands with a
girl they wanted to impress, though, tirelessly searching the racks for the key
to the evening. Never found an unlikely favorite that changed their life in the
back racks of unsorted tapes. It’s the joy of the search, the communal pleasure
of discovery that we still struggle with in these new times where analog
scarcity is replaced with digital plenty.
How can I stand here and call myself a
scribe of this new era when I feel so much for the past? Only someone who knows
that sense of mystery and discovery and recognizes it when they see it even now
can properly do the job.
I’ve forgiven Blockbuster, I guess, now
that I see it crumbling before me. Before I let it go entirely, however, when
it all comes down for Blockbuster and they shutter the last stores, I’m still
going to do a little dance on their grave—for Bandito Video and for the spirit
it had and that Blockbuster broke because they missed what made retail special.
In the spirit of looking back on the old through
the medium of the new, I want to introduce our film this week: design
collective MK12’s FOLLOW THE SUN. Taking an old and familiar piece of film
nostalgia, the refreshment reel, and slowly twisting it to places beyond our
comfort level and into a psychedelic paranoid alternate history. Animator TJ
Fuller gives us a vision such as Albert Hofmann might have seen had he taken
his most famous invention to the movies instead of on his fabled bicycle ride.
I was so taken with how such a short film could seem to burn so slowly and then
deliver such a punch. It’s hard to even spot the point where things go off the
rails; you just know it feels wrong and then does it ever go wrong, spiralling
into a fever dream of suburban drive-in apocalypse.
In our next installment, we’ll talk to the
creative team behind FOLLOW THE SUN as they try to create a new mythology in
the age of the meme and of infinite availability. What can the New and Old
learn from each other? If we agree the New Flesh has a heart, does it also have
a soul? All that and more next week.
Bloody Blogs -
Long Live the New Flesh
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