There was one thing I could always expect to see at my local video store: Ewan McGregor’s willie.
McGregor once held the dubious honour of doing just about more full-frontal nudity than any A-lister in Hollywood. His willie made famous cameos in such movies as Trainspotting, The Pillow Book, Velvet Goldmine and Young Adam. Nowadays, you can’t see McGregor’s willie anywhere. It has vanished from public view… along with your local video store.
It’s been relatively downhill for the industry ever since Blockbuster passed on the chance to buy Netflix for $US50 million in 2000. Today the industry has been brought low, a victim of on-demand streaming services, internet TV and the behemoth it once shunned.
“Gaze upon my unrented Adam Sandler DVDs, ye mighty, and despair!” has been metaphorically scrawled on former Blockbusters across Sydney, the ex-video emporiums turned into cafes, juice bars, 24-hour gyms, convenience stores and real-estate offices.
Even the mighty Civic Newtown shut its doors for good in July after 35 years, its remaining loyal customers paying their respects and walking out with second-hand DVDs and Yowie bars in their arms.
The day my own local video store closed remains a bittersweet memory.
I spent many a carefree hour scouring those ever-changing aisles. Over the decades I watched the Beta section gradually shrink until it finally disappeared, defeated in the format wars by its arch enemy VHS.
I saw the endless cycle of Hollywood’s obsession du jour (aliens? superheroes? hobbits? Michael Fassbender?). I took sides during the candy wars, watching as Paddle Pops, Splices and Icy Poles were pushed aside in favour of Magnums, Maxibons and chunky-sized Kit Kats. I saw Twilight and Harry Potter and Police Academy and Karate Kid come and go.
And I encountered two generations of young folk employed in their first jobs.
It’s easy to forget that before the era of Twitter, Facebook and virtual chat rooms, there was a place where everyone from mothers and shift workers to students chatted to real people in real time about what we liked to watch.
The staff at my local store. I felt like I knew them intimately. And it felt like they knew me intimately (and not just because of the McGregor movies).
They could tell by the look on my face when I walked in whether I was in the mood for a Hollywood blockbuster or a baffling Middle Eastern film starring a depressed camel. They knew enough to warn me that any Ken Loach film was a poor choice for date night. They knew why you couldn’t get Gremlins wet, the origins of “the Truffle shuffle”, what “sweep the leg” meant and the movie where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall fell in love.
Now, with the store gone, would I never see Steven Seagal’s increasingly embarrassed face on the front cover of another straight-to-video movie? Or stroll down an aisle of DVDs simply titled “Cate Blanchett”?
Would I never again hear the satisfying thud as my late DVD slid into the overnight slot? Or duck out of a social engagement because I “needed to return some videotapes” like serial killer Patrick Bateman from American Psycho?
Would I never again get the call during dinner that “the movie where Eva Green was completely nude” was now available for rent?
And it’s a sadder world because of it.