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September 24, 2010

Bye Bye, Blockbuster

Old Cell Phone Douglas Back in March, I asked on this blog, Is It Too Soon to Be Nostalgic for Video Stores?

If Blockbuster is your store of choice, the answer could be yes, as the company just filed for bankruptcy. Many of its stores are likely to go the way of the gigantic cellphone that Michael Douglas showed off in Wall Street (1987).

I mention Wall Street because yesterday I was in Burlington's Waterfront Video picking up a copy. I wanted to see the original Oliver Stone movie, which I missed the first time around, before reviewing the sequel that hits theaters today.

You'd think Wall Street would be easy to grab, being so old it features a gigantic cellphone and outrageously decadent '80s interior decor. But both DVDs (original and special edition) were checked out the first time I stopped by.

That's anecdotal evidence to say the least. But I'm gonna go out on a limb and say people in Burlington are still renting DVDs. Sure, most frequent movie watchers subscribe to Netflix or something similar. But when you can't get a new disc in the mail because you have four episodes of "The Wire" sitting around waiting to be watched, and the movie you want isn't instantly downloadable, and you aren't tech-savvy enough for illegal file-sharing ... well, if you're me, you will be happy you have a video store.

Plus, it's just fun to browse after work and grab a movie on the spur of the moment.

Over in Montpelier, the Savoy's Downstairs Video is still around, though it's no longer downstairs -- Terry Youk, who bought the theater from long-time owners Rick Winston and Andrea Serota, has moved the store to 7 East State St.

Youk has refurbished the Savoy's basement with a new screen, and he's starting a Cine Club down there. It kicks off this Friday, Saturday and Sunday with showings of Casablanca at 7 and 9 p.m. Call 802-229-0598 to reserve seats.

Oh, and that's another sign we may not want to confine our entertainment procurement entirely to the privacy of our own homes: the sudden reappearance of old-fashioned film series. I wrote about two in this week's State of the Arts. One's at UVM, the other at CVU.

Plus, if you're anywhere near Dartmouth and the Hop, you can see The King's Speech, Never Let Me Go, Tamara Drewe and other buzzed-about festival movies this weekend, well before they hit local theaters, thanks to a series called Telluride at Dartmouth. You lucky dogs of the Upper Valley, you...

By the way, I learned the proper wording of the quote that probably launched thousands of unscrupulous careers in finance: "Greed, for want of a better word, is good." Which won't offer much comfort to Blockbuster's rank-and-file employees.

I'm anonymous because I'm technically not supposed to talk about this with the media, but the bankruptcy is actually very possibly a good thing for blockbuster! Despite media rumors, blockbuster claims that they will not be shitting any stores down at the moment and strongly feels that the chapter 11 bankruptcy they are filing will give them a chance to build a stronger company much in the way sears/kmart did them they files chapter 11.

You have to remember, they just eliminated $1 billion in debt, but are being allowed to continue to opporate their stores as normal. They do not need to shut down any stores to pay back the debt, and they have $125 million in capital to work with.

Sorry about the typo. That was "shutting". (typing on my phone)

Wow, I had more typos than I noticed. Very sorry for what sounds like broken English, but it's hard to do this on a cell phone.

You aren't using a giant cellphone?


Thanks for commenting, Anony Moose. Since all I know about business comes from movies like Wall St., I often forget that for a big company, bankruptcy can be a tactic rather than a last resort. Still, is it really in Blockbuster's interest to keep all those stores open? Seems like the number of video stores will keep shrinking nationwide, even if they don't go the way of the dinosaur (I hope).

But back to the giant cellphone. I saw the movie last night, and there's a gag at the beginning (also in the trailer) where Michael Douglas leaves prison and gets his possessions back, among them that phone from 1987. ("One mobile phone," says the guard, smirking.) But ... we later learn that Gekko appealed his case and didn't enter prison till the early '90s, which certainly makes more sense than a 23-year sentence for insider trading. Wouldn't he have upgraded his phone by then? I didn't have a cellphone in '92, but I remember Mulder and Scully sporting Nokias that were nowhere near that big.

What, you say I've overthought this?

Margo, it's time to get a tivo with Netflix built in. The world is passing you by.

Netflix streaming rules. Now that we have highspeed Internet in the hinterlands, it has saved us from darkness.

Instant viewing doesn't have all titles, but lots of very good and popular movies and series. Two thumbs up.

But Tivo isn't cheap. I wouldn't even have cable if my provider didn't bundle the basic package cheap with Internet service, which I need. I'd love to get a Netflix/Pandora-capable BluRay player, but I can't afford to set up WiFi, either ... well, you get the picture. I'm sure there are a lot of Vermonters with less disposable income to spend on entertainment than I have. Or who live where they can't get broadband service. And that's why video stores survive here.

But also, more importantly, I like going to an actual place, seeing what other people are browsing, maybe checking out the cheesy covers of old VHS tapes from the '80s, maybe talking with the staff about what they've been watching. It's fun. I don't share the "Be Kind, Rewind" nostalgia for everything outdated, but I would miss public, nonvirtual places to talk about movies if they disappeared. Same goes for movie theaters. I like feeling the energy in the theater and observing how other people react.

"But Tivo isn't cheap."

Wait a minute - you review movies for 7D, and they won't even pay for your Netflix/Tivo? Seriously? We're only talking a couple hundred for the box and what, $15/mo for the service?

I review movies that are currently in theaters. The paper has no reason to provide for my home entertainment needs.

It's a question of priorities. If I had more time for TV, I might shell out for Tivo and a huge cable package, and I would see those great HBO shows right away instead of waiting for them to come out on DVD. But I don't.

Funny, most Vermonters ask me to explain why I even have a television.

Most professional movie reviewers occasionally watch an older movie for context, to check out a director or actor's earlier work, etc., as you mention doing for Wall Street. If you want to cover work expenses out of pocket that's your business, though, I was just curious.

"Funny, most Vermonters ask me to explain why I even have a television."

Why in the world would anyone ever ask someone why they choose to have something? That's just bizarre.

Sorry to feed the troll, but why do you even bother posting here Jimmy? All of your posts are just incessant criticisms of Seven Days and its staff. It's really childish and pretty pathetic. If you don't like 7D, simply don't read it and don't comment on it.

I personally canceled my Netflix account and opted to rent at Waterfront video. They are a local business, which employs a full staff. They always have a great selection of independent movies and documentaries as well as the latest Hollywood movies. When I need movies for longer rental periods, they always accommodate my needs - just ask!

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