A Late Summer Ode To Physical Media
A cultural question for the moment, and one upon which my livelihood, leisure, and philosophical raison d’être currently stands, is whether one as a pop cultural consumer is more likely at present to be adding to or reducing space on one’s home shelving. Personally, I get both sides to the question. Daily passing, on my way to the kitchen to prepare a breakfast of oatmeal, coffee, and bananas, a 12-volume set perched atop a bookcase of George MacDonald Fraser’s The Flashman Papers, I have to question whether I, who have recently passed the midway point of years I can expect to live on this earth, will ever again have the inclination, or simply the time, to re-visit this long-cherished cultural object. On the other hand, who knows? And it’s this “who knows” that fuels my weekly acquisition, within sound budgetary restraints, of course, of books and movies that I may yet get to someday.
A further question relates to the nature of the media itself. If your preferred form of media has dimensions, senses, affections, passions – or, in a less poetic and elevated sense, a spine or cover with a readable title – then possibly you will have more sympathy for the course this essay will take. Physical media, which I’ll here define as a book, movie, music recording, or video game that can be put on or taken off a shelf, offers readers, viewers, listeners, and players a tangible relationship with, again, a cherished cultural object that downloading, clicking, or streaming can’t duplicate. Though the latter are useful tools, and have added much to the availability of art and the cultural discussion(s) around it, one hopes there still remains a place for sitting in a comfy chair next to an overstuffed bookcase or leaning back into the audio/visual space of a favored spinning disc.
As someone who has worked the past five years in the sale and re-sale of all four above-defined areas of physical media, who previously worked for two of the three major video rental chains (all of which have met their demise), and, most importantly for the subject of this essay, has spent free time the past year reviewing Blu-rays and DVDs on this website, I am undoubtedly prejudiced by background, age, and, possibly, general disposition in favor of, at present, four towering bookcases, and four smaller ones, overstuffed with imaginative vistas into the human soul. At least that’s how I see them.
And, taking a quick glance to my immediate right, I know I could come back from work tonight at 10:30 pm – after a long afternoon and evening of sifting through sellers’ boxes, crates, bags, and totes of discarded dreams – and pluck up Francois Truffaut’s Small Change (1976), or the 2004 reconstruction of Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One (1980), or the summer bike-riding favorite Breaking Away (1979) to precede my own entrance into dreamland. And, moreover, short of my apartment being robbed or the electricity being out, I know that those three titles, along with several others – more than could be reasonably got to within my remaining years, to be honest – will be there awaiting a potential spin on my return.
Which is more than can be said for the various corporate-level shenanigans that may in the future render whole swaths of programming content vanished from your favorite streaming platforms. As our sitemaster Jim Tudor recently pointed out on his Facebook page, in response to an announcement by Disney that they will soon pull out from Netflix in order to launch their own streaming service, “The business of streaming video is making the whole thing an untenable mess.” (And if anyone ever wanted to know why I have never had a Netflix account, that quote is precisely why.) Disposable content is one thing; content being disposed for you, courtesy of a collective of smart suits in a board room on the top floor of some post-modern, ultra-urban Tower of Babylon… Well, I digress. But suffice it to say that there is a sharp cultural divide between those who actively love their sources of entertainment and those who merely like to be passively entertained.
For the former, I have been extremely gratified the past year to help promote, in a very small way, the noble, valiant, and other adjective-superlative efforts of the Studio Classics sub-division of the Kino Lorber home video label. “Permanence”, I suppose, is my main gripe with what I’ll collectively call “streaming”, and the main, often undervalued dimension to home video viewing is the previously mentioned closer and more personal connection that a disc in a case, complete with attractive cover design and special content features, imparts to the discerning viewer.
Among the discerning, one hopes my point of view on a random assortment of cinematic oddities – from Twentieth Century-Fox’s glossy, 1948 soap-noir Road House to the post-The Mouse That Roared (1959), pre-Dr. Strangelove (1964) Peter Sellers vehicle The Battle of the Sexes (1959/60) – has at least added somewhat to the conversation around persistently unavailable, hard-to-find titles, and that the equally random, peripatetic journey through some of the more obscure channels and byways of movie history has been an entertaining one. One week stranded with a group of aging pensioners at the end of the world in the mid-’60s B-shocker The Earth Dies Screaming and sitting shotgun through the mean streets of mid-’70s San Francisco with a scowling Walter Matthau in The Laughing Policeman the next, it has been a fun, challenging rough-ride through 60 years of movie-making – from John Ford’s 1926 super-Western 3 Bad Men to the 1986 Burt Lancaster/Kirk Douglas-starring vehicle Tough Guys – and I very much look forward to whatever bizarre piece of cinema history KL might deign to hurl at my movie-addled critical appreciation next.
As a die-hard disc-spinner and wood pulp-reader, surrounded by actual physical evidence of my various cultural and artistic passions even as I type out this (admittedly curmudgeonly) missive, I feel uniquely placed to comment on and hopefully illuminate some of these hidden cinematic corners. Writing is definitely not my preferred form of communication, but painful as it personally is to grapple with and articulate my thoughts on a variety of subjects, it comes somewhat easier when related to a Grand Passion such as my life-long love of movies. And, personally again, it comes all the easier when I have something physically next to me that may serve to inspire something – anything, really – on which to base a thought or, indeed, build an argument. Over the past year, then, 25 reviews of 26 titles have expanded my personal library, and there they shall sit, awaiting a re-spin that may never come. But, then again, who knows?
Complete List of Kino Lorber Studio Classics Titles Reviewed by the author, July 2016 – July 2017
The Ox-bow Incident (1943; Blu-ray Release Date: July 12, 2016)
Yellow Sky (1948; Blu-ray Release Date: July 12, 2016)
The Mark of Zorro (1940; Blu-ray Release Date: August 2, 2016)
3 Bad Men (1926; Blu-ray Release Date: August 23, 2016)
Daddy Long Legs (1955; Blu-ray Release Date: September 6, 2016)
Road House (1948; Blu-ray Release Date: September 13, 2016)
CaboBlanco (1980; Blu-ray Release Date: September 27, 2016)
The Earth Dies Screaming (1964; Blu-ray Release Date: October 4, 2016)
The Laughing Policeman (1973; Blu-ray Release Date: October 18, 2016)
The Battle of the Sexes (1959/60; Blu-ray Release Date: November 1, 2016)
Western Union (1941; Blu-ray Release Date: November 8, 2016)
Cry of the City (1948; Blu-ray Release Date: November 15, 2016)
The Lodger (1944; Blu-ray Release Date: December 5, 2016)
Compulsion (1959; Blu-ray Release Date: March 7, 2017)
Chamber of Horrors (1940; Blu-ray Release Date: March 21, 2017)
Sunset in the West/The Scar (1950/1948; Blu-rays Release Date: April 18, 2017)
Those Daring Young Men in their Jaunty Jalopies (1960; Blu-ray Release Date: April 25, 2017)
The Indian Fighter (1955; Blu-ray Release Date: May 9, 2017)
The World of Henry Orient (1964; DVD Release Date: May 23, 2017)
Tough Guys (1986; Blu-ray Release Date: May 30, 2017)
From Noon Till Three (1976; DVD Release Date: June 13, 2017)
Runaway Train (1985; DVD Release Date; June 13, 2017)
Inspector Clouseau (1968; Blu-ray Release Date: June 27th, 2017)
My Favorite Brunette (1947; Blu-ray Release Date: July 5th, 2017)
Night People (1954; Blu-ray Release Date: July 25th, 2017)