The Lost Era of Movie Rentals

As I was growing up, I looked forward to Saturdays. That was the special day when my family drove to the local movie rental store. We’d stock up on movies, and I’d rent a Super Nintendo game. The best part? They weren’t due back until Monday at 6pm! Of course, this was a big event for many families in town back in the day. You couldn’t leave in under an hour. Not only did we heckle the staff, but we met with other people in town as they browsed the VHS shelves. Renting movies involved sharing the events of the past week with neighbors. The battered pressed-wood paneling, worn burgundy carpet, and heavy shelves straining with VHS tapes fill me with nostalgia. It wasn’t a clean store. All of those rental shops had a musty funk unique to them. The scent stood someplace between the musty comfort of an old book and the geek funk that oozes from the nerd shops that attract Magic players. The dim lights buzzed low overhead, but they made the battered VHS art look so good. The best rental shops felt a little seedy compared to the later, glossy chain rental stores.

As a kid, I’d swap video game strategies with other kids while secretly hoping they didn’t save over my file from last weekend. Of course, this was back before the Internet and its walkthroughs. Back in my day (queue old man voice) we had to draw our own maps and figure things out. That is, unless you had a subscription to Nintendo Power.

James Rolfe of Cinemassacre turned a section of his basement into a 1990s movie rental shop.
It resembles the shops I frequented.

The dirty, worn carpet and wood paneling felt welcoming. I’d shove open the squealing steel door (it had such a unique squeal) and bolt straight to the Super Nintendo rack, praying Final Fantasy III (or Final Fantasy 6 as we know it now) or Chrono Trigger waited I couldn’t afford to buy games (and still can’t). I’d buy perhaps one or two a year. I eventually received Chrono Trigger, but I never got Final Fantasy III. It’s ironic considering that’s my favorite game.

Back in my time, anime wasn’t a thing. Well, there were a few tucked away behind the desk with other…special videos–okay, I’ll just say it: porn. That little cubby teased my curiosity as a kid even after my dad told me what was back there. The mysterious and the unexplored always grabbed my attention. Wanna know something funny? I never did go back there, even as an adult. To this day, I have no idea exactly what they stashed there (was it really porn or did they stash the coolest movies and video games?).¬† Anyway, back to anime.

Anime was limited to Voltron, Robotech, Speedracer, and other oldies. I didn’t think much of anime when I was growing up. Like I said, it wasn’t a thing as it is now. Voltron and other big robot cartoons were just a part of my Saturday morning cartoon watching and something to rent. Video games shaped my childhood more than anime. I didn’t have shows like Naruto to grow up with. You guys are lucky to have them. Even DBZ wasn’t available in my area in the 90s.

So why am I rambling on about this? In a word, anticipation. These weekly outings taught me the value of anticipation and patience. I wrote about anticipation before, but I consider it important enough to flog the dog a little more (poor puppy!). Instant access to everything, including anime, encourages impatience. Patience remains the key component of enjoyment. Looking forward to something increases our ability to enjoy it. For example, I look forward to October. Turner Classic Movies often schedules Peter Cushing films for the night of Halloween. I could find these films on a stream and watch them now, but I prefer to wait. Waiting will increase my enjoyment of the films after a busy workday.

The lost era of movie rentals taught the young me the importance of patience. Oh, at the time, I hated it. I wished I could just play Chrono Trigger until I finished it. But the excitement I felt as Saturday grew closer taught me the value of waiting. The technical term for this is delayed gratification. The problem with this is how American culture and human nature work against it. Nature wants us to fulfill desires immediately. If we have an itch, we scratch. American society allows us to scratch whatever itch we have immediately. Craving salt? Potato chips are within reach. Craving anime, Crunchyroll is a click away. Outside influences don’t hamper our desires anymore.

Final Fantasy VI still remains my favorite video game. And the best Final Fantasy game.

Crunchyroll’s simulcasts help this a bit. I’ve started watching current season anime instead of binging on something older. I find myself looking-forward to the days the next episode of, say, Laid Back Camp releases. I don’t mess with cable television anymore so I’ve gotten used to binging when I do watch a show. Simulcasts help anchor my week.

Human needs developed in a time of scarcity. Craving salt and sweet drove us to seek them out. Now we don’t have to seek. The cravings for content work the same way. In high school, I craved escape. Diablo II was readily available, and I lost an obscene number of hours to it. Scarcity needs to be self-imposed now, and that takes discipline and incentive. It benefits us to delay gratification. It increases enjoyment and builds character. Patience helps us in everything we do, from work to love to enjoying anime. But patience also goes against society and nature, making it, perhaps, the most difficult virtue to cultivate.

Its difficult to talk about abstract ideas like patience and anticipation so I thought I’d offer you a glimpse at my childhood to give you some idea as to why these virtues matter. You can also cultivate them by making your own “rental” day. Abstain from certain Netflix or Crunchyroll shows until your designated day. Refuse to scratch mental itches. Anime teaches us to train in order to improve our characters. We too can train by withholding things we enjoy and use them as rewards.