Friday, September 28, 2018

A devastation of DVDs

The age of the DVD didn't last that long – it got barely half the time that the VCR reigned supreme before it was replaced by non-physical options – but they can still have a tremendously long shelf life.

Even in this era of downloads and streams and torrents and playlists and clouds, there is still a place for the humble video disc. They make it relatively easy to build up a great archive of the weirdest shit, and can't fall victim to the whims of the cloud, and don't get lost when hardware inevitably fails.

I still have hundreds of the things, and while I don't buy nearly as many as I used to, I still fucking love having a decent DVD collection.

The sheer amount of stuff that was released on disc in the past 20 years due to the cheapness of the format meant there was a deluge of DVDs for years, with a glut of audio-visual delights that offer up the craziest films, TV shows, music videos and documentaries.

For a while, everything was getting a release. Shelves in stores and rental outlets were choked with all the usual big blockbusters that you would expect, but the most esoteric shit was also coming out, and movies that I had only read about in dusty old books about cinema were suddenly easily available.

So after years of trying to find the last few films in  dear old Kenneth Anger's Magick Lantern Cycle - I could never find the tape with the early stuff like Fireworks and Rabbit's Moon on it - I found a complete compilation of all his films in a set that is no bigger than a small paperback book, and it's been surprisingly easy to  end up with things like multiple Bill Hicks live shows.

These things were often available on video tape, but never really got to my corner of the world, and the DVD age suddenly saw these things show up in bargain bins at the local big box retail stores. They also rarely show up on YouTube or other online video streaming platforms, and when they do, they often vanish again within months. Why wouldn't I hold onto the discs?

Because once you buy a disc, it's yours, and nobody can take it off you without physically snatching it away from you. All the weird and wonderful things I found, they're all still there, many of them within arm's reach of where I write this.

They're also always available, always there on the shelf or stored away somewhere safe and secure and easily accessible. If I feel the need to watch Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear or The President's Analyst or Twentyfour Seven or that 2003 documentary about Robert Anton Wilson, they're all right there.

They don't get lost somewhere on the hard drive, and I don't have to spend hours searching around for them. They're all there.

And a good collection can look gorgeous on the shelves. I'm still such a shallow motherfucker that I totally judge people by the standard of their bookcases, and that includes any DVDs they also have on the shelf.

If the only DVDs you have sitting there are a copy of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and two Pixar films, I can be pretty sure we don't have much in common.

Mind you, it took me forever to get onto the DVD train. I'm always, always a late convertor to the new tech, and the discs were no exception when they really started making a splash in the late 90s.

I stuck to my video tapes for far too long, annoyed by the skipping that early discs were always super-prone to, and slightly annoyed that I had to complete restart the film collection from scratch, even though the quality was obviously so much higher on disc, and the cases themselves took up so much less space, allowing me to cram several universes onto a single shelf.

Since then, I've amassed a few hundred discs, with the best taking pride of place on the bookshelf (just in case anybody else comes round to judge me by my tastes), and some unseemly piles of discs in the spare Room. All the favourite directors, a lot of grungy new movies, entire TV series of the best shows ever, entire videographies of the best bands in the world, days and days of things to watch, (and more all the time)

I never made that next big step to blu-ray or any kind of high definition system. The leap in quality wasn't enough to justify starting the movie collection all over again, and the shorter, squatter packaging always felt strangely off. Standard def was always enough for me.

Things have obviously slowed down in recent years. Even though you can pick up the most magnificent movies for a couple of bucks, I'm buying less and less, although this is probably because I've got all the classic shit I need, and there are only half a dozen films every year that I feel the need to get a copy of.

(Although, somehow, I still don't own a copy of the first Predator film, which I'm slightly baffled by, because it has been a source of ongoing shame for more than a decade now.)

All the DVD rental stores are gone now, with only the arthouse outlets with a dedicated clientele still hanging in there. But when I went to the last closing down sale, I only walked away with the relatively recent Good Time, because I had everything else I really needed. There really are limits, and this collection is near its limit.

While the pace has died down a lot, I'm still buying DVDs and I'm never going to give the ones I do have up until they literally fall apart on me. Some of them are starting to crap out, but they're easy to replace, or even copy across to new discs.

This weird little format, which will soon become nothing more than a footnote in the history of media consumption, still has a lot to offer. It has so much history, and so much reliability to give us, that's it's not so easy to give up.

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