Like all sensible people, I’m spending my days hunkered down in my apartment and keeping to myself. When I do wander out for some fresh air, I walk in the middle of the street to avoid other people (though it was pretty crowded on Sunday when the weather turned really pleasant and I was in danger of being run down by families out with their little kids on bikes). It definitely has a weird start-of-the-zombie-apocalypse feel … not only does everyone (or mostly everyone) keep their distance, nobody even wants to make eye contact.
Trapped inside for most of the day, I’m once again getting an oppressive feeling from the sheer weight of my movie collection – about four-thousand DVDs (though that number is actually higher if you account for all the box sets) and around twenty-one-hundred Blu-rays. Although I occasionally trade some in at a local store, the in-flow seldom let’s up, so the collection continues to expand. The shelves with the ones I haven’t watched yet could form a pretty substantial collection of their own. Given the current crisis, I should probably be engaging in some deeper introspection about why I put so much of my emotional energy into collecting (and watching) movies – seriously, there must be more to life than this!
I got to thinking about this when a friend brought a contest to my attention a couple of days ago – Unobstructed View here in Canada has asked for people to share details about their collections, with various prizes in different categories. So I spent a bit of time taking some pictures and thinking about some of the individual items in my collection.
First of all, the overview:
Although things are not as carefully organized as they might have been when I was younger, there are some vaguely differentiated sections. Certain individual labels, for instance:
Eureka/Artificial Eye/Second Run/Filmmuseum
There’s a Brit shelf with Eureka/Masters of Cinema, Artificial Eye, Second Run titles (with nine Filmmuseum disks at the bottom):
There’s a small shelf devoted to silent movies and Eurotrash:
Another with just Asian releases:
But there are other disks related to these categories that are tucked away in the general shelves as well because as the collection grows it gets harder to keep it organized.
Spending this time looking more closely at what I have, I was reminded about the core pleasure it gives me – the movies themselves and, more particularly, individual items which give the overall collection its own particular idiosyncratic texture, reflecting my tastes and interests. So here are a few of them:
This is one of my real prizes, the original Lucertola DVD of Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs, one of the first DVDs ever made, which resurrected one of Bava’s masterpieces from oblivion. I got this off eBay in 2001, back when there was a kind of thrill to be gained from a last-minute bidding war as the auction clock counted down to zero. It’s still one of the most expensive disks I’ve ever bought!
Given the choice, I’ll usually go for the special edition over a regular release – apart from the extra collectibility, I’ve learned the hard way that some things never actually get the regular release, so if I want it, I’ll buy the deluxe edition as soon as it appears.
I became a fan of Andrzej Zulawski when I saw Possession in 1981. It was only when his movies started turning up on disk that I was able to explore his work in more depth. To be honest, I find some of his films irritating (L’Amour Braque and Szamanka), but others are among my favourites (Possession, L’Important c’est d’Aimer, La Femme Publique, On the Silver Globe) – and in Mondo Vision’s deluxe editions I even love the ones I don’t like!
Far across the cinematic galaxy is Andy Milligan, an obsessive do-it-yourself auteur, much reviled by many, but appreciated by those of us who love to see a filmmaker lay out his own rather creepy bitterness without filters of good taste. The coarseness of Milligan’s work sometimes disguises the fact that he had real talent, particularly in his camerawork and editing. I first encountered his work through the BFI Flipside release of Nightbirds, and my interest was consolidated with my reading of Jimmy McDonough’s biography of Andy, The Ghastly One.
Another obsessive, falling somewhere between Zulawsky and Milligan, is Jean Rollin, French purveyor of sex and horror who infuses low-budget exploitation with genuine poetry. When I bought my first DVD player about twenty years ago, the first movie I bought in the format was Rollin’s The Living Dead Girl – which was also the first of his movies I ever saw. I have a large Rollin collection, originally mostly on Redemption DVDs, now upgraded to Redemption Blu-rays, but my favourite editions are the deluxe multi-disk releases from Encore Films in the Netherlands. They came with lots of extras, including Rollin commentaries, all beautifully packaged in slip covers with booklets.
I first saw Hans-Jurgen Syberberg’s Hitler: A Film from Germany aka Our Hitler in 1981 at an all-day screening at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. It was some years later that I saw his version of Wagner’s Parsifal at Winnipeg’s Cinema 3, but many more years after that before I got to see his other major films. These I ordered on DVD directly from Syberberg’s website – when there was an issue with the order, I got a hand-written note from his daughter. He’s a hugely controversial figure in critical and political circles, but I love his work for the monumental scale of his visual imagination and the reflection he inspires about German and European history and culture.
I rather like esoteric items for their own sake.
Trapped by the Mormons
The title and cover art were enough to attract my attention to Trapped by the Mormons, a peculiar English silent which tackles the “social issue” of Mormons kidnapping naive English girls to take back to the States to an awful fate in polygamous marriages. A curiosity, it is apparently viewed by some Mormons as a kind of religious Reefer Madness.
These two box sets contain a number of features and fragments from the time Korea was occupied by Japan, reflecting all the weird stresses and ambivalent feelings you’d expect from filmmakers forced to tailor their work according to strict guidelines and censorship imposed by a brutal imperial power. The films are in rough shape, saved in the nick of time by the Korean Film Archive. Each set comes with a small bilingual book of essays.
West of the Tracks
While those sets offer a glimpse of a previously unknown past, Wang Bing’s West of the Tracks offers an epic look at an unknown present, the experiences of Chinese workers displaced by an economy shifting towards State Capitalism, disrupting and displacing huge numbers of people as entire cities shut down, made redundant. This excellent four-disk edition came from Switzerland.
The Space Voyage aka Cosmic Journey
Here’s a grey market item, bought from a website which specializes in experimental, particularly industrial, music: a 1935 Russian science fiction epic called The Space Voyage aka Cosmic Journey set to a sound collage/score by a Russian pair working under the name Vetrophonia.
Less esoteric are a pair of box sets from France collecting a huge amount of material from the silent period, arranging the output of Gaumont by director – Alice Guy, Louis Feuillade, Leonce Perret, Emile Cohl, Jean Durand, plus two disks sampling the work of a number of other filmmakers. Unfortunately, the books that come with them are only in French.
Beckett on Film
Produced by Irish television in 2001, this set collects all of Samuel Beckett’s plays on four DVDs. It’s not surprising that the quality varies, given the wide array of international directors and stars, but what did surprise me – given my skimpy knowledge of Beckett – was just how much humour runs through Beckett’s work. For all the darkness and despair, many of these plays are pretty funny.
To round off this tour, a few individual objets du collecteur:
For a while, the Italian company No Shame was putting out some great collector’s items, as well as a wide range of Italian films. Although I’ve upgraded both of these to Blu-rays, I held on to the DVD editions because of the packaging.
Back in my early days of collecting, I’d buy a lot of disks – from eBay, various Asian movie sites – without knowing anything about the films other than a cover image and often a brief, unhelpful synopsis. That’s how I discovered the original V-cinema versions of Ju-on 1 and 2 and Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale (I have at least four different editions of that). But this Korean Film seems to have remained largely unknown, despite being a haunting narrative loaded with atmosphere. It reminds me of the fiction of J.G. Ballard with its slippery exploration of memory and identity – and shares a few elements with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
The Loves of Pharaoh
This German restoration of a 1921 epic set in ancient Egypt came as a revelation as I had only been familiar with Ernst Lubitsch’s witty comedies of manners. Here he matches Joe May and Fritz Lang in the sweeping breadth of a story of love, betrayal and war played out on vast sets with a cast of thousands. I bought the Alpha-Omega Blu-ray directly from Germany.
Jake West’s two documentaries on the British video nasty craze of the ’80s are fascinating in themselves – exposing the political hypocrisy behind the scapegoating of exploitation movies for a rising tide of social ills in Thatcher’s cruelly mismanaged Britain – but what makes them a really great addition to the collection is the inclusion of trailers for all the movies which were banned, inspiring a still on-going search for disreputable movies to add to all that I already own. Both are numbered limited editions from Nucleus Films in England.
I have several editions of David Lynch’s masterpiece Inland Empire, but this one tops them all as a collectible object. It’s a Japanese release which includes both the feature and a second disk with the Lynch 1 documentary, packaged in a hardcover book which contains the entire script plus material on the cast and crew, plus an envelope of stills. The only drawback (which I didn’t think of when I ordered it) is that all the sequences in Poland come with only Japanese subtitles.
(1.) This just in: a courier just delivered my copy of FAB Press’ limited edition of Jimmy McDonough’s excellent biography of Andy Milligan, The Ghastly One (#173 of 250). It’s huge – and signed by McDonough and filmmaker Nicholas Winding Refn, who sponsored the edition. It’s amazing to see such care and attention lavished on someone like Andy Milligan.