We all have that moment when the right fandom property at the right time changes our course, and we go on to dedicate our life to something. The Catalyst to My Fandom is a place for all of us to share those life-altering moments in fandom. For me, it was my visits to the local video rental store that truly made me fall in love with cinema.
Going to the movie theater was a fairly uncommon occurrence in my childhood. Sometimes we got to see a matinee, but even then my parents’ choices restricted what I could see. Thankfully, there was a video rental store a few miles from my house that had 99 cent rentals. Anything that wasn’t a new release, video game, or new format (laserdisc, and then DVD) was 99 cents. Better yet, it was mine for a whole week.
Initially, my mom read the back of every box and vetoed many of my picks. I remember bringing her a copy of Harmony Korine’s Kids when I was about six. I tried to argue that if the movie was about kids, I should be able to see it. (Thankfully, she disagreed.) Sleepovers with friends became excuses for movie marathons. I started saving the money earned from doing chores to use for old VHS tapes instead of toys. For movies I strictly wasn’t allowed to see, I would read the book instead. (This started with The Exorcist and Interview with the Vampire, and grew from there).
I obsessed. Documentaries about the movie industry became my regular watching material. Actually seeing a film I wanted to see in the theater was a special, wonderful event. Even then, going to the video store was still the highlight of my week.
We moved across the country when I was 12, and the culture shock was painful. Middle-school girls are vicious, and I didn’t really have any friends for a few years. My old friends on VHS were waiting for me, however, and with a big Blockbuster video right by my house to share the movie magic.
As I rented like a fiend, my mom grew less stringent in her concerns about what I was watching. My younger brother and I convinced her to remove the rating restrictions on our account. Suddenly, there was a whole world of movies for me to watch that had been previously verboten. All of the films I had seen on VH1 countdowns were now in my grasp, as long as Mom didn’t look too close. Stuffed between anime and John Hughes movies were gems like Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting. I started renting all kinds of weird horror and developed a love for indie and foreign flicks. I was in hog heaven.
The Blockbuster experience wasn’t just the idea of picking out movies, going home, and curling up to watch Memento for the 36th time, there were also the employees, most of whom were giant movie geeks themselves. They were the gatekeepers, armed with the knowledge of a thousand IMDB pages and ready to wax philosophical on anything from Star Wars to The Godfather.
For the first time in my young life, I found a place where I felt like I belonged.
A few years later, I would work at the very Blockbuster where I discovered the works of Satoshi Kon, the Coen Brothers, and Quentin Tarantino. Five free rentals a week, plus I could rent new releases a week early. My movie-watching days were at a peak when I could go through my five rentals in two nights and end up using my paycheck for more. It didn’t matter. I had movies, and I had people I worked with every day who loved movies as much as I did. It was still occasionally hellish (a Friday night when we were out of the newly released Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift forever remains burned into my retail-nightmare memories) but at least we had the movies, and we had each other.
My bliss was not to last, however, as Blockbuster had a new contender that would ultimately make video rental obsolete.
It didn’t take long for Netflix to completely dominate the industry. Redbox arose around the same time, and together they destroyed traditional video rental almost entirely. Blockbuster went under, the stores my friends and I worked at shuttered their doors for good, and that was it. People would rather have options from their couch than going to a brick-and-mortar store to get their entertainment for the night.
Sure, between all of the streaming services combined there is a much larger selection of films than any single store could hope to hold. It’s instant, it’s easy, and late fees certainly aren’t a problem. But there’s still something missing from streaming services, something that was so important to my formative years: a community.
With so many choices, consumers now rely on reviews and comment sections to get an idea for a feature. Gone are the days when friendships were forged over obscure horror movies, discussed quietly while restocking 180 copies of Pirates of the Caribbean. We have the internet for that kind of thing now, but I miss the personal touch of talking to someone face-to-face about the thing I love most. There’s nothing quite like meeting someone who shares a love of something with you, and the digital age has made that connection so much more removed, less magical.
As the era of physical media moves toward its end, I hope that not everything goes the way of the video store. The interactions I had with other renters and staff in video rental stores helped shape my love of movies. Blockbuster was my stomping ground; it was my haven, the holy church of “Be kind, please rewind.” While I have gone on to share my opinion on entertainment on a global platform, I learned the language of film at my rental store. Hell, Quentin Tarantino was working as a video store clerk before he made Reservoir Dogs. And Kevin Smith was working at a video store while he was making Clerks. Everyone starts somewhere, and these dens of stale popcorn, sticky plastic VHS covers, and soccer moms screaming belligerently about late fees were my launchpad.
Fandom is built on a foundation of passionate people with deep and unshakable knowledge spread across the entire pop culture landscape. The only way for that to manifest is timing: the right fan with the right property at the right time. Luminaries of film, music, television, games, and comics have all had that watershed moment where something infected them, and the impulse was too strong to ignore. We have shared some of those moments, and hopefully, you will join us in doing so as well.