This time of year, in his spare evenings away from the keyboard, your blogger finds himself combing through Netflix for old favourites and new discoveries. Movies are a constant part of many of our lives, and the characters that inhabit them almost always need to be tethered to the world by some sort of employment. The internet has found some portrayals of fictional employment to be… not exactly honest: see, for instance, the uncanny prevalence and distortion of architects and writers as top jobs for movie heroes and heroines.
But what about small businesses? Where do they factor in as part of the great landscape of cinema? Make a movie-night binge list out of these five films featuring unique and personality-laden small businesses on film.
Championship Vinyl – High Fidelity (2000)
One of this blogger’s personal favourite movies, High Fidelity (adapted from the equally excellent book by Nick Hornby) takes place largely within the confines of a small Chicagoan record shop called Championship Vinyl. The shop is an extension of its owner: a collection of old memories, a healthy dose of stylistic snobbishness, and a place for the exchange of complex ideas both musical and personal. The clip below captures some of the ambience – I would play something a bit longer, but I’m trying to keep this blog rated “PG.”
Quick-Stop and RST Video – Clerks (1994)
With Clerks, Kevin Smith invented what almost felt like a new kind of movie: one in which nothing much really happens. People go in and out of stores, talk, and try to find some meaning in their day-to-day existence. This natural approach to dialogue writing mixed with Smith’s nihilistic sense for comedy makes Clerks memorable as one of the most acidly funny movies of its decade. The next-door neighbouring businesses in which the majority of the film’s scenes are set play home to some of the most cynical perspectives on the nine-to-five and slacker culture ever cut to film, but there are deep nuggets of thought and meaning hidden within. I dare not overlook the gravity of a statement like “sometimes you’ve got to let those hard to reach chips go.” There are discussions about Star Wars and other cornerstones of popular culture that turn into investigations of ethics, morality, or economics seemingly out of nowhere. The businesses are not just a setting: the come-and-go of customers in their interactions with each store and its employees is what populates the movie with vibrant forms of life.
The Ghostbusters – Ghostbusters (1984)
The combination of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and the late Harold Ramis as the Ghostbusters has earned a place in pop culture’s hall of fame. I could hardly think of a person who does not recognize its signature theme tune or the appearance of the giant, menacing Marshmallow Man. Yet, this mid-80s action/comedy/scare flick hybrid starts out as the story of three laid-0ff scholars who combine their talents and become entrepreneurs in a very unconventional field as “the largest paranormal removal company in America.” They must battle some of the foes that everyday businesses face, exemplified by a conflict with the Environmental Protection Agency that threatens to stymie their entire operation. The combination of the Ghostbusters’ familiarly workmanlike approach with wild paranormal themes has endured with audiences for decades: rumours have swirled well into the 2000s about a “Ghostbusters 3” coming out of the woodwork.
Bailey Building and Loan – It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
The story of George Bailey has become a holiday classic, centered on themes of trial, frustration, the power of money and the meaning of self-worth in a changing world. Rightfully recognized as one of the greatest films of all time, It’s a Wonderful Life feels as though its message has not been lost decades after its initial release. The Savings and Loan business becomes the film’s physical anchor to ideals of human goodness and decency, exemplified in the following iconic monologue:
“Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about. They do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well, in my book, he died a much richer man than you’ll ever be.”
Bubba Gump Shrimp Company – Forrest Gump (1994)
The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company holds the interesting distinction of having migrated from the world of film to the real world: there are Shrimp Companies operating throughout the United States and the wider world that you can actually visit in order to partake in a meal. In the film, the Shrimp Company is born from Forrest Gump’s discovery of a powerful friendship with his fellow Army corpsman, Bubba. Though tested in the fires of the Vietnam war, and challenged by Bubba’s death in that conflict, the idea of the Shrimp Company remains near and dear to Forrest throughout the film. Efforts to fulfil a promise to a lost friend revolve around what seems to many of the film’s other characters as a foolhardy business plan – albeit, one that takes shape into a wildly successful enterprise in the end.