It’s the absolute last of its kind. What was once part of a company that numbered in the thousands, is now the last representative of a once thriving business. Located in Bend, Oregon on 211 NE Revere Avenue is the last Blockbuster. The video store is not just operating with older movies for rent, but includes the newest releases. If it’s an older film, however, that a customer is interested in, and it’s not part of the store’s inventory, the owner, Sandi Harding, will order it. Even if it’s only one person interested in watching the movie. (As an aside: Prior to the store in Bend being the last, three other Blockbusters in Fairbanks, Alaska and two stores in Anchorage, Alaska held out until July 16, 2018, before closing).
Harding is the self described Blockbuster mom. In addition to every member of her immediate family, through interviews, a viewer learns that she’s responsible for giving many of Bend’s teenagers their first job. While she is the first to admit that business is not what it once was, her store is still competing with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and the other various streaming services.
The film takes a viewer through Harding’s daily routine. Furthermore, it delves into the history of the video store business, beginning with the formation of mom and pop stores and the way Blockbuster was eventually able to put them out of business with relative ease. For example, when an independent video store bought a movie, it used to cost upwards of $100. If a store wanted to purchase several copies of a new release, the cost was exorbitant. Blockbuster cut a deal with the places that the films were sold from and set up a revenue sharing system, which mom and pop stores simply couldn’t afford to do. The film also explains the reasons for Blockbuster’s demise.
There are interviews throughout the documentary. They include, among others: Actor, writer, producer, and mega comic book enthusiast Kevin Smith (Clerks); Jamie Kennedy (Scream), who along with Emmy winner Jim Gaffigan and two other people, got his start in acting as a member of the Blockbuster Entertainment Squad. The group performed in commercials and did public appearances. For example, the opening of a new Blockbuster; Comedian and Emmy nominee Brian Posehn (Mr. Show with Bob and David); and former Blockbuster CFO Tom Casey. While most people who were interviewed talked positively about their memories of Blockbuster there was one dissenting voice. Lloyd Kaufman, who along with Michael Herz in 1974, founded Troma Entertainment, a low budget film company responsible for the Toxic Avenger series among others, he couldn’t stand Blockbuster. He didn’t like the organization because many of the stores refused to rent films produced by Troma.
“The Last Blockbuster” was directed by Taylor Morden (Pick It Up) and written by Zeke Kamm (The Powerpuff Girls). Emmy nominee Lauren Lapkus (The Earliest Show) narrates the film. The movie was released on Netflix on December 15, 2020. The documentary has an 86 minute runtime.
I viewed this film through a bit of a nostalgic lens. When I was in college, I began working at my local video store. I started as a clerk, and approximately a year before it went out of business, thanks to a Blockbuster that moved in down the street, I had worked my way up to manager. I remember opening up in the morning, and gathering the tapes that had been returned through the drop box over night. Walking into the store I would turn on the electric, check in returned tapes, make sure the shelves were neat and the candy was stocked. Was it glamorous work? No, of course not, but it was fun. I got to watch unlimited movies for free, and interact with film fans – all while getting paid.
For those of you who remember with fondness going to your local video store, this film should appeal to you. Those of you who were children or the parents of children who remember the experience that going to the video store entailed, such as searching the different genre sections for movies for yourself and one for your child or children, loading up on candy, popcorn and soda, this might be something you’ll enjoy. In closing, this is a film which doesn’t overstay its welcome and should make you smile at its outcome.