Rust on the silver screen

Have you been noticing that all the local video stores—chains and small stores alike—have been liquidating their product and going out of business?

Have you been noticing that all the local video stores—chains and small stores alike—have been liquidating their product and going out of business? The large, friendly stores are being replaced with “Redboxes”—cold, unloving computers that sit in the rain outside grocery stores. They preach convenience, but where did the warm, nerdy movie rental store I used to love go?

Millions of Americans go to the movies every year. We’ve created awards for movies, made gods out of movie actors and generally given in to movie worship. But, in this economy, it’s hard to shell out 10 to 12 bucks a pop for a movie in the theater—and up to 18 dollars if you want to see it in IMAX.

Over the past few decades, there has been an increasing shift towards viewing movies at home. In the beginning—the early ’80s or so—there were movie rental stores. The average “mom and pop” movie rental stores were owned by troll-like curmudgeons who hid in the back, lest the light sear their flesh. They carried movies you’d never known existed, from different countries and…in different languages. They were the first to go.

Then you had the big chains such as Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. They were well lit, clean and charged four times as much as the locally run video store. They also employed the sale of candy, popcorn, soda and other sugary treats that would only hasten your cinematic diabetic coma. Both chains have filed bankruptcy over the past few years. So of course, I showed my support for the stores I once loved: I rushed to the stores and bought up all the clearance movies I could…I never said I was perfect.

But more and more, as the shift towards these robotic movie kiosks of shame dominates, I wonder how we moved away, culturally, from the days when renting a movie was an adventure: When you and your significant other had to argue for hours over whether or not you wanted to see the new movie about the man who finds love, or the other new movie about the man who finds love that has animated kittens in it. Now, all of those bonding experiences have to be held outside, in the freezing cold rain, with much fewer movie options.

Currently, the Hollywood video website is a shell of its former self, the only information displayed being “The company is in the process of exploring new ways of delivering entertainment to you and we anticipate that this website will be under new ownership shortly. “It appears that big chains that were once considered unfaultable are now being forced into the electronic kiosk world. Blockbuster was first, with their mail-in movie program, and then eventually their Blockbuster Express sadness kiosks.

True, it’s smarter for the pocket to rent movies from a Redbox—they only cost $1 a night, and for the most part they’ll offer the big-name movies that most consumers want to see. But for the hardcore movie fan, we’ve been forced back to the indie theaters in order to see the latest in what the mainstream calls “art-house” theater, and what we call “real entertainment.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a copy of “Eraserhead” or “Old Boy” in a Redbox. So where can you go to see all of your favorite hard-to-find movies?

Netflix. Netflix takes the lack of human interaction a step farther by allowing consumers to stream movies straight on their computer and gaming device, allowing you to stay in your dark cave of an apartment and avoid any interaction with mouth-breathing homo sapiens. With over a billion videos rented from their service, Netflix shows that we love movies and hate each other.

While it’s good that movies have become cheaper an d more convenient to view, the social and economic costs just seem too great. As Blockbuster and Hollywood fell, hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost. The American goal of comfort has cost us a great period in our culture—a time when you actually had to talk to people about movies.

Movies are a mass fantasy. The experience of sitting in a theater and imagining with others, or sitting in your living room and imagining with your friends—that world is starting to fade. Without a culture than encourages this kind of shared experience, movies have turned into someone staring at a screen, forgetting for a while. Where is the imagination in that? ?