Monday, June 18, 2007

Of Media and Memory

I own 113 DVDs, not counting tv series, bootlegged films, and an inexpensive collection of Hitchcock's British films. It's certainly not a video-store-trip-ending collection, though most genres have at least some representation, from classics (Some Like it Hot, To Kill a Mockingbird, 12 Angry Men) to action (Batman Begins, Crouching Tiger/ Hidden Dragon, Serenity) to family films (The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Incredibles, A Series of Unfortunate Events). It's by no means complete (where is my Godfather trilogy? where is my Star Wars sextilogy? Where is my Kurosawa?), but it's not bad--probably better than the average collection, I think. Sure there are plenty of DVDs still in the shrink-wrap. But watching them isn't always the point. It's owning them.

I haven't sunk a ton of money into the collection--used DVD deals at video stores count for well over half the discs--and it has taken several years to build, but even at just $5 per DVD, that's a $560 investment, trumping my iPod, my Xbox, our television, and most things we own smaller than a car.

Ultimately, I dream of owning a home theater with a large digital projector, amazing surround sound, and movie posters on all the walls. My wife even indulges the dream, though I'm sure she can think of about 50 ways she'd rather spend money. I've always escaped into movies, and to do so in the dark, in the privacy of my own home, is an appealing prospect. Still, having a house large enough and money flexible enough to make that dream happen are at best a long way off. For now, the best reminder I have of that goal is my DVD collection.

But here's the thing. I look at that collection today, and all I can think of is growing up in Kansas, opening the top cupboard above the stereo, and seeing my parents collection of LPs. Now my parents weren't music buffs the way I am a film buff--their idea of jamming out was putting on a little Barbara Mandrel or rocking the Johnny Mathis. But that shelf full of records is a reminder of technology past and of money wasted.

I see what's on the store shelf now--the HD-DVD, the Blu-Ray. I see five years from now (less?) when digital delivery of films becomes standard, just like digital delivery of music is steadily replacing the CD. Will physical media die out? Probably not completely--at least for a while. But how much more money do I sink in to films that, to be honest, I only watch a few times each? And if I'm no longer going to build the collection, is now the time to start dismantling it? Do I get rid of the fluff--the Behind Enemy Lines and Sleepless in Seattle-s--and just keep the capital-I capital-F Important Films? Do I cut the collection to a fraction of what it was, like I did with my VHS tapes? Do I give up everything and just settle for Netflix and what's on TV?

The temptation is great. After all, who wants to remain analog in the digital world?

Still, there's a part of me that knows that if I go home now, I can still find my parents' LP copies of Neil Diamond and the Andrews Sisters. And there's something comforting in that fact. It's not that I want to go find a record player and listen to those old songs. But most of them remind me of a certain phase in life. They matter now, not so much for what they are and what they can do, but for what they represent. Perhaps my movie collection is similar. Call it nostalgia, call it pack-rat-ery. Just don't call it meaningless.

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