For those who grew up before the digital streaming age of Netflix and Amazon Prime, visiting the video store might have been the best part of a Friday night.
It was often a gamble whether the plastic-encased DVD you’d picked was any good or not — though you could judge by the picture on the front, or the nod of approval from the teenager working the cash register. Now, even holding a DVD feels like an ancient relic.
It’s hard to imagine that it’s been almost exactly 10 years since the movie-rental giant Blockbuster went out of business. The corporation filed for bankruptcy in 2010, leaving in its wake a gaping hole for movie lovers who preferred a physical browsing experience, and maybe a bag of store-bought popcorn while they were at it.
Directed by Vida native Taylor Morden, the heartfelt documentary The Last Blockbuster, released online Dec. 15, tells the tale of the rise and fall of the company and depicts its last remaining outpost: the only Blockbuster left in existence — just over the Cascades, in Bend. The movie is, in part, a profile of the location’s charming manager, Sandi Harding, who along with her family keeps the store alive, and in part a homage to the dying form of physical media.
Morden, who has directed previous documentaries Pick it Up! and Here’s to Life: The Story of the Refreshments, both related to the music industry, says he felt a sense of urgency with this project that he hadn’t experienced in previous films. When Morden began filming the documentary in 2017, there were still 12 Blockbusters open across the U.S.
“It kind of felt like a race against time,” Morden says. “We’d go to start filming in Texas, and they’d call us to say, ‘We had to close.’” Soon, the number of Blockbusters dwindled until only one remained — in Morden’s home state of Oregon.
Morden, who attended McKenzie High School and graduated from University of Oregon in 2006 with a degree in digital arts, says he was rooting for the Bend location to make it.
“Sandi [the manager] is such a driving force,” he says. “She’s so upbeat and positive, to her this place is a family.”
Although Blockbuster used to be notorious as a corporate villain, stealing revenue from mom-and-pop rental shops, the last remaining store operates very much as a family business.
One scene in The Last Blockbuster cuts from a TV news interview with Harding to a shot of her in her Bend home, hand-crocheting beanies to sell at the store. As she weaves the yellow and blue yarn, Harding wonders aloud if Dish Network, the company who owns Blockbuster, will renew her license to keep Blockbuster afloat for one more year.
While the store still caters to movie-aficionado locals, the location quickly became a tourist destination following its declaration as the only Blockbuster left on the planet. Now, travellers from as far as Italy and Brazil make the pilgrimage to Bend to take a picture in front of the iconic Blockbuster sign. T-shirts and bumper stickers are sold inside the store alongside DVDs, which are available both for rent and for sale.
For Morden, the attraction of crowds to the rental store represents a longing for a way of enjoying media that simply doesn’t exist anymore.
The film features a star-studded cast alongside the workers of Blockbuster, including interviews with actors Paul Scheer (Veep), Adam Brody (The O.C.) and director Kevin Smith. Lauren Lupkus of Orange is the New Black and The Big Bang Theory narrates. Each character offers a different story from their formative years, and the experiences at their own local movie-rental shop that shaped them into the film lovers they are today.
“The point of this movie is what are we losing as a culture when we close these places?” Morden says, “We are used to the convenience of everything at the push of a button, but what are we losing in return?”
The Last Blockbuster is available for streaming on most major sites, and the DVD can be purchased or rented at Blockbuster in Bend.