Thursday, July 2, 2009

On the inside, the sun still shines

Someone was recently kind enough to point out that I am a bloody fool, because I was still buying DVDs at a time when direct downloads are the inevitable future. But I don’t care, because they look really neat on the shelf.

But then, I have always been a slow learner when it comes to new technology. It took me years to get my first DVD player. Since then, I have gone through four of the fucking machines, and I’m still using the same video tape player I bought in 1996.

The obsessive need for high definition is one that completely passed me by as I sat there watching The House By The Cemetery on a 23-year-old videotape that groaned like an orgasmic walrus as it wound its way through the machine. Local television ads that show the benefits of HD by highlighting tiny details on great movies seem to miss much of the point of these films. Why watch The Godfather to marvel at a pretty picture on the wall of the restaurant, when Michael Corleone is in the foreground, selling his soul?

It’s the story that matters, and the HD push has not been matched by any comparable rise in the quality of the actual product. You can spend hundreds of dollars to get the best possible picture and quality humanly possible, but what the use if you’re just gonna watch something like fuckin’ Stealth on it?

The first time I watched the Wild Bunch, it was on the World’s Shittiest Video Tape on a small black and white television, and it was still the one of the most powerful things I had ever seen. It was extraordinarily poor quality, but such a good story, laden with incredibly resonant themes, overcame these technical deficiencies.

I’ve seen the Wild Bunch a dozen times since then, always in a better quality, and it has always thrilled, but not because you can see every drop of water in the air when the bridge blows up, it’s because they blew the fucking bridge up while people were trying to cross it.

I recently had the extreme fortune on stumbling across a huge pile of Doctor Who magazines and videos, and have spent the past few weeks watching the odd episode of The War Games or The Chase. After years of DVD releases that had been cleaned up to the point where they look like they could have been shot yesterday, the video tape is hazy and sounds like it was recorded under water.

It doesn’t matter. They’re still enjoyable, Wendy Padbury still has the nicest arse in Who history and Billy Hartnell is a marvellously grump old bastard. When I’m sitting on the couch at three o’clock on a Sunday morning, watching the Tardis crew land on the top of the Empire State Building is a lovely moment, even on skody old VHS.

And there is something about that fuzzy image, something about that gorgeous haze that triggers vast waves of nostalgia. Fuck crystal clarity, it ain't nothing compared to recapturing the feeling I had watching these things as a 12-year-old.

When it comes to the comics, I’m also completely unimpressed by shiny new packages. I own three hardcover collections, two of which were purchased at a huge discount. I just don’t care about the presentation, it’s all about the story.

Fortunately, the big comic companies have pandered to my whims with their Essential and Showcase collections. These books do lose something with the black and white format, especially the pop day-glo shine of superhero comics from the 50s and 60s, but the very best of them are still massively entertaining and easily readable. The joy of Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four doesn’t need a big glossy hardcover to breathe, the enthusiasm and innovation can be seen on the cheap newsprint.

The appeal of comics has often been directly comparable to the presentation. The hideous over-designing seen in comics from the 1990s, when every colourist and designer suddenly went apeshit with their cool new toys, is one obvious example, one where the quality of stories and art seemed to fall in direct proportion to the rise in jazzy new effects.

These days, comics are presented in some incredibly slick formats, and while designers have now worked out that more isn’t always better, there are still some comics that rely more on looking pretty than any real content.

(One personal hatred: comics that are printed on nice shiny paper that is impossible to read on a sunny day because the fucking sun is reflecting off the page.)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with owning a nice package, but it’s not the important thing. It’s the ideas and thoughts and wit and intelligence within the package that matters most.

Back when I was young and ideologically confused, I genuinely thought I was a horrible, materialistic person because I craved new comics and video tapes and CDs and all that shit, until I realised it wasn’t the physical objects I was hanging out for, it was what was represented within.

The funny thing is, it is really nice to still have those DVDs on the shelf. Even if digital downloads are inevitable, I still like holding on to the physical object.

But it’s not the most important thing. If I really do believe in the purity of the content over the way it is presented, downloads should be made for me. The only excuse I have is that laziness over trying new technologies.

The day will come when it's all about the story, with no bells or whistles to distract, but I'm in no rush to get there. Leave me here, with my pretty DVDs and three hardback books, I'll catch up with you all later.

1 comment:

Matthew J. Brady said...

I'm definitely feeling that way about HD and Blu-ray and all that bull. Hell, I find it distracting; Bluray movies make the picture so crisp it seems like you're watching the movie being recorded live on stage or something. It removes the movie-ness of the experience. Give me plain old DVD any day. Not VHS though; I haven't fired up my old machine in years. God, rewinding tapes is annoying.