Wednesday, 6 February 2008

MY LIFE AS A COLLECTOR

I often log onto DVD forums and always check out the threads where members list their purchases and/or pre-orders for the current month. I also never cease to be amazed by the sheer volume of titles purchased by some individuals, who proudly list 20 or more titles that have been recently added to their collections. While I've never been able to bulk order more than 4 titles at one time, I can easily understand such actions given the wealth of choice available. You see, I've been a film collector for many years, starting in the days of Betamax with my opening purchases being THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE on the Stablecane label and The Clash film RUDE BOY. When Betamax met its maker, I hopped aboard the VHS truck and continued to feed my habit with a steady diet of rental fare and, when I could afford it, sell-through tapes of films I desperately wanted to own. Unfortunately, some of the films I sought were banned in the UK, thanks to the 1984 Video Recordings Act which decreed that all video releases after 1st September 1985 had to be submitted to our old friends the BBFC, while videos released after that date had to be re-submitted, resulting in the likes of THE EXORCIST and STRAW DOGS disappearing from stores. Towards the end of the 80s, I took inspiration from John Gullidge's SAMHAIN fanzine and dipped a toe into the waters of UK fanzine publishing. The UK small press scene could be compared to the Punk explosion a decade earlier, with hundreds of people working on mostly b/w photcopied publications which allowed everyone to get involved. One of the attractions of being part of this movement came in the form of entry to a shadowy world of underground video trading. Now, people had access to dozens of banned titles and newer films which would never get past the BBFC. Individual film lists were circulated, and the purchase of a second video recorder gave people the opportunity to copy and swap in demand titles. Grainy 2nd or 3rd gen copies were how I first got to see VENUS IN FURS, NEW YORK RIPPER, TENEBRAE, NEKROMANTIK and many other pieces of forbidden fruit. Of course, the authorities sought to crack down on these nefarious activities, and dawn raids by trading standards officers and the old bill took place on a regular basis, with bleary-eyed collectors receiving unwanted 5.00am knocks on the door. Heady, enjoyable days but the next big thing was just around the corner. Soon, the hard-core film buff was able to buy Laserdisc's, with multi-region players giving us the chance to savour a treasure trove of world cinema delights. DIVA, THE RED SHOES, BRAZIL, THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER and PHENOMENA were just a few of the titles to find their way into my collection before DVD took over, with price and content ensnaring those who never bothered with Lasers and seducing those of us who did. Now, we can choose between thousands of titles, both modern and retrospective with newer, better technology now thrown into the mix. It's certainly an expensive time for those who signed up for the brave new world of hi def DVD, with the purchase of either a HD or Blu-Ray player and a Plasma or LCD tv required to enjoy the current ultimate in home cinema viewing. Get set up with all this new kit and then sit back, safe in the knowledge that you have the dog's bollocks in home viewing for the time being, at least.



If some crystal balls are to be believed, the DVD market is heading for an almighty downturn. In just a few years from now, our home viewing could well be at least heading towards a big shift in downloading movies, with our round shiny friends gone with the wind of change. Of course, tv will also play an enormous part in determining the future: subscribe to cable or satellite and get hi def movies to go. Straight onto your DVD or digibox hard drives. Sure, it will mean big bucks for the equipment and subscriptions, and require faster connection speeds for your PC, but what's the problem? Forget all about the ever increasing utility bills, and tax because we're all in it together! Right? Well, you can take your movies-on-demand, your downloads and costly subscription fees and stack 'em on a handcart to hell! I love my DVD collection. The feeling I get when I pre-order a new release. The feeling I get when I rip open the packaging (patience is a virtue with this one), perusing front and back covers to get an eyefull of the contents within, often remembering those days when we were as pleased as punch to get our hands on a washed-out copy of our favourite genre flick (often with Greek subtitles taking up one third of the screen). Today, we're spoiled and have the cheek to moan when we discover the disc only has one commentary and a 35 minute making-of!



Yes, like most collectors, I have a case of Digital Video DISEASE, though there are times when I question my acquisitions. How many more times will I pick my way through the 4 disc SUPERMAN special edition? Will I ever watch BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE again? I really don't know the answers, any more than I know why I purchased some of the titles in my collection. Impulse buys, online sales and the chance to finally get to see films I'd read about and longed to view. Those would account for a fair percentage of my collection, but I must have been seriously out of it when I sprung for THE GHOSTS OF HANLEY HOUSE or whatever the hell it's called! I guess it's all part of being a collector, though this wallet-sapping bug also serves another purpose because, when I look at certain titles in my 4 DVD racks, I'm reminded of certain periods in my life. One glance at THE CHANGELING DVD and I'm transported back to a cold winter's evening in 1980. Once again, I'm outside a cinema in London's Tottenham Court Road where a film poster dragged me into the cinema to see exactly what would happen when the wheelchair appeared. Then my David Lynch section catches my eye and I'm back in London, queueing to see the opening weekend screenings of BLUE VELVET and WILD AT HEART. Go down a little further, and LIFT TO THE SCAFFOLD transports me back to a warm summer's evening in London where I first saw this film at The National Film Theatre. Afterwards, I walked down into a vibrant Leicester Square, my head full of images from the screening, and saw people standing and listening to a band that had set up in the square. I could have been in any European city that night, and in a strange sort of way it really seemed at one with my cinema experience.



These days, some of my most prized possessions have been occasionally sold on Ebay to help with the bills, but I'm stilll a collector, albeit in a more modest way. Now, I've just got time to surf over to DVD Pacific for a quick look around but I'll be back later this week with a piece on my favourite music venue, the world famous Marquee Club in London.

4 comments:

  1. Fantastic post. I love hearing tales from other collectors. I posted some of my memories a while back as well on the subject.

    I am perplexed by the whole downloading revolution...while the conveniance would be nice all of the excitement disappears from it and it just feels so damn temporary. I need stuff I can hold with artwork...something real. Thinking about a total download world depresses the hell out of me.

    Oh well...fantastic post. Thanks for sharing your memories on the subject...

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  2. Thank you, Jeremy. Totally agree with all you say. A download world depresses me immensely, and the digital HD requirements for viewing movies on tv are going to rule this option out for many folks on low incomes.In the UK, it's around $600 dollars for a Sky HD box, plus around $100 per month for a subscription.

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  3. I think what you have to remember about downloads is that they may be HD "sized" pixel-wise, but they are not HD quality in terms of bit rate. I read a blog (via the Amazon Screening Room blog) last week saying they were not even SD DVD bit rate wise (especially the Apple TV offerings). I have Virgin cable HD, but my PS3 with Blu-ray knocks it's socks off. It is good to watch the occasional sports game in HD where you really do notice the difference, but for the real HD experience stick with the lovely shiny discs.
    And that's not even mentioning the new HD sound formats which are a bigger improvement than the picture.

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  4. Thanks, Mick. I've read that the PS3 Blu-Ray provides terrific viewing, and it's valuable to read of your own experience.

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