I never intended to become a collector, at least not consciously. Yet over the years, I’ve collected lots of “stuff,” primarily books and movies, and lately books about movies. (As far as I know, I don’t own any movies about books, but that could certainly happen.) I’ve engaged in discussions with both movie and book lovers about the types of things we all seem to collect, and in most cases, such items are ones we had a positive reaction to upon the first encounter. It’s optimism and comfort: we have a good experience with something and want to repeat it. (The above photo is not my collection, by the way, but it's close.)
Optimistic it may be, yet it is also illogical and impractical. Revisiting a book or a movie can never recapture that first experience, not in the same way. Yet we collect the hopes that it will. The passage of time may recapture something of those initial feelings (especially if separated by a couple of decades or more), but the end result is usually (at least with me) regret, a tarnished memory, disgust, or all three. Just maybe, if we’re feeling magnanimous, we convince ourselves that we collect in order to share our experience with someone else whom we hope will feel the same level (or greater) of appreciation that we felt during that “first contact.” But if they don’t react with the same (or greater) level of admiration, we feel slighted or maybe even dejected.
So let’s be honest: we really just collect for ourselves. Maybe we collect knowing full well that we’ll never read that book or watch that movie again, but it makes us feel better just having it on the shelf. Although the following applies to books as well as movies, from this point on, I’m talking particularly about owning movies on DVD and/or Blu-ray.
I buy movies for two reasons: I want to see them for the first time or I want to see them again. It seems so simplistic, but it’s true. Sure, I could say (as mentioned above) that I also buy them for other people to see, but it might as well be for me, since, if they borrow the film, I’ll want to watch it again to be able to discuss it with them. Is that selfish? Maybe, but I am sharing the film with another person. (The things we do to justify collecting…)
If I purchase a film I’ve never seen, it’s usually because someone I trust has recommended it. A blind buy, we call it. It’s easier to pull the trigger on those movies if they contain one of my favorite actors such as Robert Mitchum or Barbara Stanwyck. If it’s a favorite director (such as Alfred Hitchcock or Anthony Mann), I’m in. Maybe it’s a director I’m just discovering, like Robert Aldrich, or a cinematographer like John Alton or Nicholas Musuraca. But I usually buy films that carry some emotional attachment for me.
I recently read a book on clearing clutter in which the author said to keep only those things that truly bring you great joy. Movies like The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man, and Vertigo bring me great joy (although none of those films end joyously for anyone). So I keep them. Other movies as different (and sometimes frivolous) as Harvey, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, A Little Romance, and The Blues Brothers also bring me great joy, so I keep those. Not long ago I either overheard a conversation or read online an exchange between two people that went something like this:
Person 1: “I really shouldn’t have spent money on that DVD/Blu-ray. I know I won’t watch it again.”
Person 2: “How much did you spend?”
Person 1: “___ dollars.”
Person 2: “Did you get ____ dollars’ worth of enjoyment from it?”
Person 1: (thoughtful stare)
I’ve recently started looking at my purchases that way, especially those “buyer’s remorse” purchases. But if you spent $20 or more on a Blu-ray of a movie you end up not liking, will keeping it on your shelf help endear itself to you? Or further frustrate you?
“But I might want to come back to it!” you tell yourself.
It’s been sitting on your shelf for five+ years. If you haven’t come back to it by now, you probably never will.
It’s also easy to get sucked in to what other people are buying, especially watching their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages. That happened to me with the Sinbad/Ray Harryhausen box set a couple of years ago. That set looked so desirable that, despite the fact that I had never seen any of those films, I bought it. I watched them all, enjoyed them, but knew I’d never watch them again. I sold them to a friend for less than half what I paid for them, but I’m sure my friend will enjoy them longer and better than I did.
The biggest temptation out there for me right now is the upcoming Ingmar Bergman box set from Criterion. Scheduled for a November 2018 release, this set will contain 39 films on Blu-ray, a 248-page book of essays, and more than 30 hours of supplementary materials. The retail cost is $300, which comes out to only $7.70 per movie. (If I pick it up during a 50% off sale, it’s only $150, which means each film is less than $4. Four measly bucks per movie!)
The problem is, while I readily acknowledge that Bergman is a true master filmmaker whose works I’ve enjoyed (or at least greatly appreciated), I’ve only seen a handful of them and don’t know if I want to own over 30 films I haven’t seen. Of course I could rent or stream many of them in the meantime and probably develop a greater appreciation (if not love) of his films in time for the next Barnes & Noble Criterion 50% off sale. The collector in me can come up with all sorts of justification for buying the set. The realist in me says, “Woah, hold on there, tiger!”
Yet I had no reservations whatsoever about pre-ordering the Joan Crawford Psycho Biddy Double Feature including Strait-Jacket (1964) and Berserk! (1967). My justification? I love Joan Crawford movies, even trashy Joan Crawford movies, and for $8.99, that comes out to $4.50 per movie. (Take that, Ingmar Bergman!)
So I can make collecting rules all day long, but I know I’m going to break them faster than Ray Milland soaks up liquor in The Lost Weekend. But it’s good to make at least an attempt at more responsible collecting, so with that in mind, I’ve decided to work on a purging project for the last week of July and all of August. I’ll be watching other things, but primarily I plan to view movies I’ve had sitting on the shelf for several years, some I’ve watched long ago, and others I’ve never even taken out of the case. (Right now I’m limiting myself to individual titles and not sets.) Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
The Andromeda Strain (1971) First watched in 1971; last watched about 25 years ago
The film is based on the Michael Crichton novel of the same name from 1969 and chronicles the discovery of an extraterrestrial organism that’s landed in a small New Mexico town, wiping out the entire population except for two people: a six-month-old baby and a 62-year-old man (George Mitchell). Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill), the project manager of a top-secret installation/lab code named Wildfire, brings together a group of scientists and medical experts to try to determine how the organism works and how to stop it before it can overtake the entire planet.
Even though the computers and special effects from 1971 look woefully dated now, they were quite impressive for the time. (Douglas Trumbull, who had worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey just a few years previously, worked on the film.) If you can overlook the obviously dated elements, the story is still gripping and provides James Olson the rare opportunity to play someone other than a villain, a jerk, or both. The running time is just over two hours, and the only parts of the film that really drag involve getting the team inside Wildfire, a laborious process of decontamination that seems to last at least a half hour. Overall I like the story, the actors, Wise’s direction, and the suspense enough to hang onto the DVD for future watches. Keeper.
Aliens (1986) Last watched 30 years ago
I saw Aliens when it was first released and again on HBO probably a year later, but before this week, I hadn’t seen it in 30 years. By contrast, I’ve seen Alien (1979) at least eight times and continue to revisit it every few years, always marveling at film’s pacing, characters, and moral dilemmas. Maybe too much time has gone by, but most of the positives of Aliens have been ruined for me by all the James Cameron-isms plaguing the film: stereotypes of macho characters, the military, the slimy corporate guy, and (other than Ripley) an utter lack of character development. I hadn’t seen Cameron’s laundry list of stereotypes in 1986, but boy, have I had my fill of that stuff now… Bill Paxton, however, is great, and the final half hour of the film is excellent. And before people start throwing things at me, yes, I know this is a different type of film from Alien. I understand that and have no problem with it. I just have a problem with the Cameron-isms mentioned above. I know this is pure sacrilege to some of you, but I know I won’t watch it again. Purge.
Attack! (1956) New to me
Some say that all war films are really anti-war films and others say that all war films are basically recruitment tools. Regardless of your viewpoint, Robert Aldrich’s Attack! is a mesmerizing film that examines the leadership, politics, hopes, fears, and horrors of war. Excellent performances, including perhaps my favorite Jack Palance role. Anyone who knows Eddie Albert only from the TV show Green Acres should see this film. Keeper.
Duel (1971) Last watched at least over 40 years ago
Steven Spielberg’s made-for-TV movie still creates tension and unnerves audiences while providing an interesting commentary on masculinity and courage. As much as I enjoyed it - and it’s always great to see Dennis Weaver - I doubt I’ll watch it again. (Having said that, I’ll keep an eye on the rearview mirror…) Purge.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) New to me
I can’t understand why I never saw this film before now… I knew of Charles Laughton’s legendary performance, but had no idea the movie features the first screen appearance of Edmond O’Brien (I almost didn’t recognize him this young and trim) and only the fourth role for Maureen O’Hara. I may want to purchase the Blu-ray at some point, but for now, I’m going to toss the ex-library DVD I currently own. Purge.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) New to me
A bad transfer and an even worse score (complete with an overbearing pipe organ) can turn any silent film into an excruciating experience, which is just what this low-budget Front Row Entertainment DVD did for me. This early John Barrymore performance is certainly memorable. Oddly enough, a friend of mine offered me the Kino DVD (since he now owns the Blu-ray) just hours after I watched the Front Row Entertainment travesty. So my DVD will be purged.
So out of five movies I’m only keeping one. Not bad. But it’s still early… the “keep or purge” struggle continues. If you have the same struggles, I’d love to hear your stories and how you deal with the constant battle.