Welcome to Blockrusters...
Something mortifying has been happening to me lately. The way I experience time has drastically changed since I started drowning in the deep end of my twenties. Days are so fucking fast. That’s far from a new thought. Blink and your life passes you by, the saying goes. But my mind has become borderline OCD obsessed with it. As each day is immediately relegated to the past tense, each worry becomes solved, each anticipated event finishes; I’m reading them all as constant reminders that one day that grave awaits me. Sorry to get morbid for my first blog post but that’s just where my head’s been at. Now, the usual route of numbing this pain with drugs, alcohol, entertainment or distraction hasn’t been too fruitful. I find these attempts at placation just as fleeting. Except for one nostalgic thought...
Remember family movie night?
“Everybody jump in the car. We’re off to the video store,” Dad would holler up the stairways. I’d elbow my sisters while we were amassing down the steps, arguing with my older sister Emma over who would sit in the front seat whilst, Aylce, the youngest would get no say about being slumped in the back. The ride over was lit with the ping-pong debates of pre-rental decisions.
“We’re not getting that stupid Mermaid movie,” Emma would tell the baby-faced cinephile in the back.
“Let’s get Toxic Avenger! You know that one? You’d like it, it’s like a horror superhero,” I’d attempt to convince Emma.
“You’re not getting any M 15+ movies,” Dad would chuckle while pawing the steering wheel. “We’ll see what they have when we get there.”
We’d pull up out the front, warm amber lights bathing the street. As I tore through the front door a distant TV in the corner would be blaring the sounds of upcoming attractions. I’d burst over the turnstile nearly knocking my little sister to the ground and appear in front of the Overnight section as Dad’s voice berating me faded into the background.
I'd scan the entire wall, from A to Z, scaling the whole building before moving onto the Weekly section by Genre. I’d always start out at the front of the store and then shelf hop along. Comedy to Action to Drama to Thriller to Horror to Sci-Fi to Family. Sometimes I’d pick the same movies I’d seen a hundred times already. For me it was anything with Bruce Willis, Arnie, Sly or Wesley Snipes. I’d race over to Emma and see what she had, poo-pooing at her choices and then all three of us would race to the gatekeeper of the money, Dad, who was standing underneath the Prices board scrutinising the daily specials.
“What’s this one about?” Dad would ask as I lunged the case forward, hiding the MA 15+ sticker with my thumb, to which Dad would happily brush aside and give me the raised eyebrow look, a smirk creeping onto his face.
“Can we get this one?” somebody would ask holding forward an Overnighter for the whopping cost of $5.00.
“Absolutely not,” Dad would say. “We never return those on time and the overdue fees are ridiculous. We’re getting seven weeklies for seven dollars.” He’d point to the sign. “You can all pick two each and I’ll pick one for me and your Mum.”
I’d be somewhat dismayed, but not for long as Dad had a habit of renting M 15 + or MA 15+ action movies which I’d either sneakily wake up during twilight hours to watch or he’d crack and let me watch it as long as I was with him. I think I was six years old when I saw Braveheart with Dad and my uncle...
Upon the decree that we were only allowed to choose two each, my indecisive streak would annoy my sisters mercilessly. “This one has Bruce Willis shooting guns but this one has Wesley Snipes as a vampire ninja and this one has Arnie in it!” I’d whimper. That last go-to tricked me a few times. You’ve never seen someone get quite upset about a movie as the first time I watched Junior or Twins expecting an action flick.
With my selections in hand, but my eye creeping back on the aisle wondering what might have been, I’d hop up on tippy-toes and place my movies on the counter. Dad would glaze over them with a finger, giving them one last classification check, nod, and then hand over the membership card to the clerk, who was always barely a teenager, watching a movie from behind the desk while waiting for closing time. That looked like pure heaven to me.
Before we’d leave though was my sisters’ favourite part. The pick and mix. We were all allowed to pick two scoops of our desired candy and then Dad would fill the remainder of the bag with his (and my) favourite: liquorice bullets.
On the way out the door, movies and lolly bag in tow, I’d peruse the coming soon schedule, next to the return slot with the words, “Please Rewind”, and I’d hope our next trip would coincide with the newest movies coming out. The trip back would be spent furiously reading the back of the cover until we got home.
My particular obsession with video stores, while not being unique, holds a special place in my heart as forming part of my identity. As some may know about me (and I’m sorry if it appears I’m always bringing it up) I grew up with a hearing condition and disease in my left ear which saw me undertake 6 operations before my 10th birthday. A large portion of my childhood was spent in hospitals and then healing in bed for weeks after. During these bouts of ill health, my warmest solace was the escape of movies. And while the pain and the discomfort was immense, it couldn’t help but feel like candy land because during those post-opp blues weeks my parents would bring home 7 weekly rentals just for me until I healed up. And they’d even lift the M 15 + or MA 15+ rule on occasion...
Con Air. Face Off. Roadhouse. Universal Soldier. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Big Trouble In Little China. Air Force One. A great deal of my young life was spent in front of a television set. I’m certain it’s where my love of storytelling and artistic expression became a widespread disease with no hope for a cure.
As I approach 30 years of age and those days are further and further out of reach, my current wrestling with mortality and morbidity see me returning to that feeling of being hopeful and immersed in worlds of commandos, superheroes, ninjas and monsters. Standing between aisles and aisles of video cassettes, in a beautiful limbo of colour and sound.
When I first moved out of home into a city apartment with my partner I found the nearest Blockbuster in our first week and immediately signed up. When we moved to our current house we were nearby an independent rental store which had a never-ending sale of soon to be liquidated stock which I would find any excuse to drive past for a quick stop.
Then as my days began to feel shorter and shorter, and I found myself browsing hours away on Netflix for a movie to watch, weeks would go by then all of a sudden I’d notice that that rental place closed down and replaced by a supermarket. And that that Blockbuster was replaced by a $2 store.
It’s not that the convenience of Google Play and Netflix and iTunes isn’t an inexhaustible resource. It’s just that I miss the magic. Much like I miss that wonder of youth. And I’ve realised that every time I see a video store closing down it feels like burying another part of my younger self. Video rental stores have become the tombstones of the mourning of my childhood.
There’s still hope though. Any time I browse my own DVD shelf, alphabetised of course, and see the Action or Weekly sticker on an old DVD I bought during a closing down sale...
Which brings me to the reason for this blog. As a writer and a musician, I felt it was about time I regularly write for just me on all the topics I choose without the pressure of seeking publication or validation. And as the first entry, this also serves as somewhat of an announcement...
To coincide with my new blog, soon I will also be starting my very own podcast entitled... Blockrusters, dun dundundun dun dun dun duuuuuuuuuun! The premise will be me and special guests visiting classic movies you’d have watched for the first time from a rental place. We’ll perform unofficial commentary tracks, all wrapped up in the theme of nostalgia and fighting the racing of the clock before we become another dishevelled old video rental store rusting on the block.