On 15th January 2013, it was announced that HMV had gone into administration. A day later, Blockbuster faced the axe. There’s a worrying trend at work here – there are troublingly few places to obtain a physical DVD on the high street. So what busted Blockbusters? The obvious answer: the internet. A trip to hmv.com proves a depressing affair. Once the home of 2 for £10 deals and £3 steals, the customer is greeted with the unfortunate news that “No purchases can be made online until further notice”. Online streaming and rental sites dominate the market, quite understandably. Watching or buying films online is convenient, and you can access almost any visual art at the touch of a button. High street chains get this – in 2002, Blockbusters established their rental service online, with a postal service now monopolised by the likes of LoveFilm. But it’s also cheaper – at Blockbuster you’d pay up to £3.50 for a rental that lasted a couple of nights. There was no guarantee that the disk would be unscathed, either – the number of times I have been left furiously rubbing at a carelessly smudged disk in frustration is laughable. So it’s obvious why online streaming is a winner.
As an indolent, impoverished student, I’m all for it. The easier the access to TV and film, the better. However, if one is rightly to avoid the illegalities of streaming, the consumer is confined to rental sites like LoveFilm, Netflix and Amazon. All well and good, but the films available are the ones subject to popular demand – second-rate slashers and popcorn flicks dominate the front pages of rental sites. Films and TV programmes are ‘suggested’ to you, according to the Golden Globe shortlist – sorry – “your own individual tastes”. Autonomy, theoretically enlivened by the internet, is diminishing. Through the internet, viewing habits are becoming lazy.
Something I fear we are losing, thanks to the internet, the sheer physicality of film. You can buy DVDs online, of course, but why waste your money when you can try before you buy? I realise I am laying myself open to charges of traditionalism and snobbishness, but cinema stems from materiality. From the days when projectionists were commonplace, and showing a film was a potential fire hazard (seriously – nitrate film can BURN, baby), to holding a DVD in your hands, of flicking through the racks before stumbling upon something that catches your eye. Watching a film comes with a sense of occasion that can be recreated in your home. Even Dominos is cashing in on this appeal. Fancy a movie with your margherita? Dominos is on it. If you are too lazy to get off your arse to get your own DVD, Dominos will bring your film, along with some chicken strippers. Films are becoming a side dish. If you have an hour to fill, a perusal through Netflix or Lovefilm will sort you out – why not squeeze in half of The Shining or a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad? The decay of DVD shops means that films feel less tangible – there’s little cause to go hunting for a film in a shop or a cinema, not when they appear online within days of release. At the root of my concern, I think, is that soon there may be no record of cinematic achievements. If everything is online, what happens when it crashes? We need archives that prove that the human race was responsible for both The Shawshank Redemption and Piranha 3DD. The demise of DVD retailers may mean the demise of DVDs themselves. What’s next?