I’m reading a book at the moment about the recycling of language for the modern world, eg how the words “web” and “log” come together to create the world “blog”. As well as much more convoluted origins of the word “tablet” which I might blog about from my tablet at some other time.
Googling the words ‘blockbuster definition’ we get “something of great power or size in particular a film or a book especially if it is of great commercial success.”
Indeed, to me it also means a drain cleaner, a Ronseal type of drain cleaner i.e., it does what it says on the tin.
And it was a whole chain of video rental shops as you recall….
We also had a TV quiz for kids called Blockbuster where two teenagers played one (?) in an attempt to make their way across a board by moving from letter to letter. It was compered by Bob Holness and gave rise to one of the best accidental catch phrases of all time; ‘Can I have a p please Bob.’ Weirdly, a DJ called Stuart Maconie, a man who likes giving out random untrue factoids just to see if they catch on, once said that Bob Holness, the erstwhile presenter of Blockbuster, played the saxophone on Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street. And many people still believe that.
"Holness was the subject of an urban myth, claimed to have been initiated in the 1980s by broadcaster Stuart Maconie who, writing for the New Musical Express in a section called 'Believe It Or Not', said that Holness had played the saxophone riff on Gerry Rafferty's 1978 song, "Baker Street".
But back to Blockbusters….
According to the book, New Words For Old by Caroline Taggart, the block in blockbuster is the North American type of block as a way of measuring distance. And this meaning of the word has been around since the late 1700s with bust being an alternative to break. So during the second World War blockbuster meant a bomb capable of taking out the whole block. The word blockbuster then developed to mean something more positive, something so terrific that it will sweep away all previous ideas. By that definition, it would be ground breaking, and you can clearly see the link of thought and language there. The blockbuster was an aerial bomb, weighing about 6 tonnes.
Blockbuster was also the name of the number one hit by The Sweet. Their lead singer was this rather attractive young man, the blond one!
and he was the brother of this man…..
And that is true, not a factoid! Sadly alcohol played a part in the demise of both the brothers.
Another meaning the book mentions, is the one that refers to the American Real estate practice of selling a house to a black family in a white area and causing some kind of collapse of house prices in the area. Well I think that’s what it meant. A practice that went on in the fifties and early sixties and I’m sure it happens no more.
By the fifties the word Blockbuster was already being used as common parlance for films with a huge budget and/or huge production costs. It was never applied as a reference to the quality of the script. Or the acting. To me, when I hear the word Blockbuster as applied to a film, I think of the Towering Inferno. With the film Jaws, the blockbuster nearly became a genre all by itself- fast paced, exciting and involved the audience. People went back to see them again and again just to be safely scared. The release of these films was generally timed to coincide with July 4th, and with a huge marketing budget behind them; the summer blockbuster.
we are going to need a bigger budget!
Before Jaws, according to Wikipedia. Films were known as blockbusters just because of the money they made. Films such as Quo Vadis, The Ten Commandments, Gone With the Wind, The Sound Of Music and Ben-Hur were the first blockbusters.
So although Blockbuster was used to describe a film of huge commercial success, the word has evolved again to mean a high budget production which may well carry the future or failure of the studio. So some films can be a disaster at the box office but still be a blockbuster, Last Action Hero is one sited by two sources. And that has led to the word being applied to film in a slightly derogatory way – the "blockbuster mentality" . I think authors know all about that! The advertising budget that can go behind a book to hype it into the charts.
And like books there are the low budget films that break through to become high earners. Napoleon Dynamite is a favourite in our house, the teenage boys roll around the floor laughing and they do the ‘dance’.
The blockbuster novel , as well as its huge marketing budget tends to be of a specific genre. One person’s rise from poverty to wealth, with some sex in it, and some class conflict. Too much sex in it and it becomes a bonkbuster (as much loved by fans of Jilly Cooper.)
So my fellow MIE ers, I think we are missing a trick here. Let’s write the blockbuster. We shall put any old rubbish in it. What about a young girl born in the back streets of Glasgow where she spends her days gutting mackerel, she stows away on the Titanic (?) and gets picked up by a steamer going to South Africa. Our heroine then gets partially eaten by a ( Stan? Michael?) and has plastic surgery in that hospital in New York ( Annamaria?). She then sues the crocodile, hyena ( Jeff?) but the surgery turns her into a supermodel and she becomes world famous before going on a retreat to Japan ( Susan) where she learns to become a ninja spy type and goes back to kill her old boss who forced her to gut the mackerel.
Well, I think it need a bit of polishing…..
Caro Ramsay 12th Feb 2016