Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The collector

A recent entry on Tim Lucas' Video WatchBlog site about the urge to collect home video got me thinking about my own "holdings," as it were, which I began amassing 20 years ago. My profile note about owning about 1,000 DVDs is no joke; I've never counted (and have never annotated them, either, preferring to keep the library info in my head) but that's probably a reasonable estimate, within a 100 or so. Add to that maybe 150+ laserdiscs ("you still collect records?" ask astonished friends of my shelves dedicated to this deceased format) and several boxes of VHS tapes, split between my new digs (where they are stored in the cubbyhole beneath our stairs) and my parents' house (relegated to a corner of my basement) and you have the outline of my obsession.

That may seem like a lot, but, believe me, compared to others I know, I'm a piker (a DVD producer I met owns 6,000 titles, for personal, not professional, reasons). Ironically, my dad, who is on me about dumping the last of my tapes (following a large-scale purge of films I had since acquired in disc form a few years back) got me started on all this, when he innocently suggested I tape movies I watched in heavy rotation on HBO, things like BACK TO THE FUTURE. I did, in 86, and have never looked back, till recently. [One tape I made from that era--a lot of them succumbed to the rot of time but a surprising number of those hardy VHS's is still playable today--is James Harris' feisty neo-noir FAST WALKING (1982), with indelibly corrupt performances from James Woods and Tim McIntire. It's up to the tender mercies of Warner Home Video's DVD department when I can retire it to the circular file, dad.]

My collection got its first jolt in 1988, when, post-college, I relocated to Hong Kong for a three-year stint. There, I discovered laserdiscs, which I'd only heard about in the States. The format was ubiquitous in HK, mainly as a vehicle for karaoke, but lots of movies were available for purchase or rental; indeed, ready access to films like BATMAN (1989) on LD months prior to their theatrical release in the territory severely weakened their theatrical boxoffice. I bought a Pioneer player and dove in, picking BEETLEJUICE and MOONSTRUCK (pictured) as my first purchases; the former stayed in my collection till the DVD arrived, the latter lasting till I replaced it with a widescreen version, which will go in the garbage (the only place for them, alas) when a special edition arrives next month on DVD (the "MOONSTRUCK house," the Brooklyn Heights exterior shown in the film, isn't too far from my present digs and is up for sale for about $5 million).

San Jose, CA, was my next port of call, where there were excellent LD shops, notably LaserLand in Cupertino. I had really got bit by the widescreen bug (my 1989 purchase of DIE HARD and several other Fox movies, like the STAR WARS films, was a turning point in my visual education), and was thrilled to finally be able to see CinemaScope films in their original proportions. The LaserDisc Newsletter, which has changed with the times and is now DVD Laser (see the right-side link), was my invaluable guide to that market, and taught me everything I needed to know about aspect ratios and other tech talk.

But, as LDs were expensive ($30-$40 was the norm) I started taping rental titles, which really added to that menagerie. [I lived close to my office, and would tape a side of the disc, leave, come back in an hour, turn it over, and tape some more till it finished. Crazy, right--but people who burn DVDs are often obliged to do the same nitpicky thing to properly fit recorded material onto the discs, even if they carry out the entire process in their homes. And, as I was the office manager, no one questioned my brief disappearances.]

And so it went. At my peak, I probably owned close to 350 LDs. I was a very early adopter of DVD (the week they came out, actually, in April 1997) but I really only got into to get myself a better LD player, as LDs and DVDs were combined in the first Pioneer unit I bought. But DVDs, borrowing as they did many of the special edition niceties that made that format so great, quickly took over. Their low price and CD size made them a lot easier to fit in a studio apartment (particularly when I bought beautiful custom-made cabinets to store them in), and I soon replaced a bunch of LDs with DVDs, an ongoing process. My last LD purchase, of one of the last LDs pressed, was in 1999, a gorgeous double-disc set of THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and PANIC IN YEAR ZERO, two apocalyptic movies that poignantly underscored the doom of the format (the very last LD to roll off the factory floor was the aptly titled END OF DAYS).

Marriage, and moving, last year finally got me to crack down. Out went many tapes I had made from Turner Classic Movies broadcasts; they'll be back soon enough for me to catch and release on my Time Warner-provided DVR (no more "permanent" taping for me). Netflix has drastically reduced the number of ill-fated impulse buys and, a little sadly, I rarely wander through video stores anymore. The LDs continue to decline in number, but there are some rarities I doubt I'll ever part with (some fetching $500 or more on eBay; they'll ever go in the trash). And I'm not awaiting the HD DVD "revolution," not until one of the two soon-to-be warring formats emerges victorious (a ridiculous state of affairs, indicating that no one learned anything from the DVD/DivX debacle of the late 90s), and not until it's clear that the new, high-resolution format won't reduce vintage movies to piles of cruelly exposed wires, exposed cycs, and matte lines, which happens on inadequately transferred DVDs like THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) and GOLDFINGER.

But, you know, current films will look dandy on HD DVD. It's...tempting...

1 comment:

diskzero said...

LaserLand! How I miss them. They would have these rental sales every now and then and I could never resist picking up some Criterion rarity. Hopefully some of them will show up on DVD someday.