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Friday, December 21, 2007

Do We NEED to Own Movies?

When I was a kid growing up - age hint spoiler alert - once a year, THE WIZARD OF OZ was on television, once a year at school, there was a gymnasium showing of OLIVER!, and at Halloween we gathered around our three-channel set and watched IT'S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN. Of course, Christmas would absolutely not have been the same without the much-anticipated Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. To this day, Burl Ives is the voice of Christmas. Oh, oh and - you're a mean one, Mr. Grinch. I loved the Grinch's dog with the antlers strapped on his head.

This is not to mention of course, the Saturday evening family tradition of gathering round the set to watch Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart. Of course, Sundays was Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. My life was grounded in the routine of this kind of entertainment. I have not seen OLIVER! the number of times I have seen some of the dvds I own today but that movie is indelibly etched in my mind. I have memories of watching it in a stuffy gym full of giggling, snuffling grade-schoolers. And in the end? When Nancy gets killed? You could have heard a pin drop.

These movies and television shows were special because they weren't available all the time. You had to wait. You had to be sat down with your kool aid and popcorn right on time. The whole family would watch. Nowadays, people make jokes about Marlon Perkin's assistant Jim and some charging rhino. At the time though - we were transfixed! And Rhoda. And Sanford and Son. Later, the Love Boat and Fantasy Island - and that's right around the time television changed and our family no longer gathered around the tv at the same time. And of course these days, dvds of entire seasons of television shows are easily available.

In the time before TiVo, a few refrains from the opening credits of Star Trek caused a stampede at my house. And of course Mary Tyler Moore - you couldn't miss those opening credits because you had to see her throw that beret up in the air. You're gonna make it after all!

I know many screenwriters and movie-lovers who collect dvds of their favorite movies. But honestly - do they watch them all? Repeatedly? When I mean collect, I mean I know people who own hundreds of movies. They buy them on dvd, they buy them on VHS in the discount bin - they devote entire rooms to these movies. In the same way that people used to collect records - made from vinyl - stay with me kids, those were those round, black things that music used to come on? Before iTunes and iPods? Anyone? Anyone get a visual on that?

But movies? Why collect movies? Is it a compulsion? An addiction? Do we need a 12-step program? So I got to thinking about it...

I own about 25 dvds - and I can honestly say, of that collection, there are about six that I watch from time to time, as a comfort food kind of thing. The others I own because I illogically feel one ought to own them. Here's an example: MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. I own that. And I love it. And I've seen it a number of times. But - do I watch it more than once a year? No way. Every two years? No. It's sitting in my dvd drawer like that bottle of fish oil derived omega 12 that we all have because we bought it on a health-kick four years ago. I also own DONNIE DARKO. Why? I dunno. Because it's cool?

So - why do so many of us almost compulsively buy dvds? My theory is this - it's grasping. It's Kilroy was here. It's laying claim to a moment in time on our tiny planet hurtling through space. It's trying to recreate and reclaim that magical feeling the first time you saw a movie that you loved. And I'll cop to all of those things. I'm Irish - we're born with sentimental genes. It's been scientifically documented.

When I hear Jimmy Stewart's soft, ever-so-distinct voice in say, HARVEY (which I also own) I feel comforted. I feel as if life is okay with Jimmy Stewart in it. When I watch Gene Kelly dance in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (yup, own it) to "I've Got Rhythm" I smile because you know what - old man trouble? He doesn't mind him. You won't find him. Round his door.

And that is the legacy of the movies and that is what Americans are grasping at when they buy them, hand-over-fist. It's comfort. It means we're alive. Because movies give shape and meaning to the rough and tumble of reality. Because at my house? Jimmy Stewart is still very much around. And so is Ratso Rizzo. And Gene Kelly and Doris Day. Come around anytime if you'd like to spend time with Jack Lemmon. Or Marilyn Monroe. Billy Wilder has a lot to say at my house. And so does Preston Sturges and Vincent Minelli.

Because when I watch Georges Guetary dance up steps that light up one at a time in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS....I'll build a stairway to paradise, with a new step everyday... I know that everything is going to be okay and that life, so often a challenge, so difficult and painful is fundamentally good because entertainment is salve for the soul.

And to give Wavers a hint of how wonderful that song's Rufus Wainright covering it in THE AVIATOR:

ShowHype: hype it up!

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The Other Pete said...

You're seriously going to question consumer culture at Christmas time? ;-)

Happy holidays, mon amie.

Julie Gray said...

Hey! You there in the back! Yeah, I know where you live!! :)

wcmartell said...

I own *hundreds* of DVDs - and I am an addict. I will drops hunreds of dollars on DVDs at a time... and then stack them up and watch *some* of them. The others eventually get shelved for me to watch "later".

But here's the thing - I have at least 100 of them that get watched *every year*. And over the holiday season I tend to take a stack of the unviewed with me and watch them. I just watched a bunch of old Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies I bought years ago. Loved those films when I was a kid - they were late movie staples.

I think part of owning DVDs is that you can watch the movie when YOU want to watch it. Plus, you kind of own the movie in a larger sense - I own Kubrick's films. Makes me feel important.

I have civilian friends who own twice as many DVDs as I do - and most of them still in the shrink-wrap. I have no idea what they own them - but I suspect it's many of the reasons I own mine. They are *mine*! I can watch MYSTERIOUS ISLAND whenever *I* want!

You know how you can tell a real addict? They have a whole bunch of Critereon DVDs - that sell for $40 each, but are often PD films you can find in the bargain bin for $1.

- Bill (extensive Critereon collection)

Ropheka said...

NICE Blog :)

Emily Blake said...

I use a lot of my DVDs in class to show something specific to my students. But I also like to keep DVDs around to show other people movies they may have not seen.

Then there's the mood factor. I have a lot of stuff around to entertain me when I'm in a certain mood. I watched one of my DVDs just last night for that reason. I fell asleep watching the Battlestar Galactica miniseries in bed but I don't care because I own it so I can always watch it again later.

Julie Gray said...

thank you for your courageous admission, Bill! :)

Thank you, Ropheka! Tell your friends!

Emily, as always, an intelligent, well-put comment!

Mr Steve said...

For me it is partially the freedom and convenience of being able to watch a movie when I want to or am in the mood for it. I am also a sucker for the bonus features and commentary tracks. The documentaries attached to LOTR and POC provide some amazing insight into the film making process. I also love listening to the writer's commentary.

Crosius said...

The problem with waiting for the providers to air these films periodically is that you have to hope they'll let you watch the whole film.

I own films I will never see aired in their _entirety_ on television, either because they will be edited for content or for time constraints, or they will be aired colorized (or in some other aesthetically-questionable "augmented" state).

I like the 1951 film Scrooge, but I don't enjoy it as much when it's aired with Patrick Macnee's gushy "fireside chat" bracketing the film.

Sometimes, I like to watch a film's closing credits - not have them compressed into a narrow bar running beside "coming up next" adverts or run at quadruple speed to end the film at the top of the hour.

When I own a copy of the film, I control the presentation of that film. Given the current presentation values demonstrated by "real-time" distribution, that control is important to me.