The collector’s lament

Glenn Erickson over at DVD Savant has put up his annual “wish list” of titles he’d like to see on DVD, a reminder that no matter how many movies have been released over the past decade, there are still many more that remain unavailable. His introductory essay provides a very good overview of the situation facing obsessive collectors – of which I’m one, though current economic circumstances have severely curtailed my activities …

It’s a truism that there has been a decline in commercial releases over the past two or three years, though to some degree this is relative to the impressive explosion of product in the first few years of DVD’s existence, when the new technology created a huge increase in demand for home-video titles. But still, there has been a tapering off — and the introduction of Blu-Ray has only served to confuse the issue to some degree: the new format is definitely geared towards a combination of recent theatrical releases and reissues of popular titles already available on DVD, with far less emphasis on older movies than DVD offered in its heyday. Particularly noticeable is a decline in box sets of “smaller” or more obscure films that wouldn’t be able to stand alone in the marketplace.

Warner Brothers, which for a number of years was probably the best company for delivering affordable chunks of film history in well-packaged sets, often rich in supplementary materials, has cut back considerably. Although they have continued to release sets in their Film Noir Classics series, they no longer provide the great extras (particularly, knowledgeable commentary tracks) that distinguished the earlier releases. I’ve certainly been grateful to Sony/Columbia for their efforts in putting together reasonably-priced packages of what Savant calls “deep library product” with their own region one Noir Classics sets and the Icons collections of Hammer and Toho genre films.

Sony UK has also occasionally been releasing stand-alone editions of interesting titles, including Carl Foreman’s World War Two epic The Victors, and Val Guest’s pair of Hammer war films, The Camp On Blood Island and Yesterday’s Enemy, as well as Joseph Losey’s The Damned (aka These Are the Damned), which was later included in the region one Icons of Suspense set. Fact is, it seems that companies in Britain and Europe are still turning out large quantities of small films at affordable prices and as the number of my purchases declines, I find that I’m doing more of my buying from places like Amazon UK and Amazon France (PAL speed-up doesn’t bother me as much as it does some others) …


But there are other factors affecting the collector’s situation. With the apparent success of the Warner Archive burn-on-demand line, other companies are starting to follow suit. In principle, this continues to make smaller, more obscure, niche titles available (with less risk to the distributor who doesn’t have to invest so heavily in a wider release). But with Warner’s price of 19.95 + 15.00 for shipping to Canada, they’re pretty well priced out of reach (for purchase by me, anyway), and because of the nature of burn-on-demand, they’re completely unavailable for rental … so as a collector with increasingly constricted means, my access to this “deep library product” is largely cut off … It’s frustrating to see something like Ranald MacDougall’s The World, The Flesh and The Devil (1959) announced – I’ve been waiting at least four decades to see it! – but still out of reach unless I bite the bullet and cough up 35 bucks for a DVD-r …

Delivery of content by streaming is becoming more popular, but it doesn’t satisfy the collector’s urge — to actually possess the thing and be able to access it at any time you feel like watching. Savant makes the point that companies probably don’t like people owning their own copies because they don’t get money from each instance of play … he even posits the chilling idea that disks will eventually only provide access to a streaming copy –


“Every couple of years a new idea appears to allow ‘content providers’ to relieve us of the burden of getting anything collectible for our money. The present trend that best illustrates this is one I’ve noticed on a (beautiful) new Disney Blu-ray for Fantasia. None of the ‘old’ special edition extras are on the disc, but they can be made ‘available’. They can be seen only if you connect your BD player to the web, check in with Disney central (where I’m sure more promos, ads and marketing monitors await) and access them online. The disc is only a turnkey to access this extra content on the web.”

– which means that they would completely control access, or even withdraw it at their own whim regardless of the fact you’ve paid …

I guess the time may come when I’ll just have to sit back and be satisfied with the 7000-odd DVDs I already have in my collection!


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