Wednesday, January 28, 2009
To buy or not to buy?
Okay, so yesterday I talked about making it my personal ambition to revisit more of the films I love. Done and done. I've got two more coming to me through the mail today or tomorrow: Wes Anderson's debut feature, Bottle Rocket (still his best film), and John Landis' frat house classic National Lampoon's Animal House, which I watched about 13 times my freshman year in college (and probably about once since then). Both were requested by my wife, and I was more than happy to oblige.
But any time I rent a movie I've seen before, especially one I really like, I'm hit with a familiar question:
"Should I be buying this?"
Today's question is mostly academic, because this economy has put the kibosh on expanding the collection of films I own, at least for the time being. I don't have a very easy time making cuts in other areas, but adding to my personal DVD collection -- an exercise in vanity as much as anything else -- is certainly one area I can be sensible.
And I'm really glad I came to that decision, because I really do struggle with this whenever I think about coming back to a movie I love. Before that second viewing, you have to decide how you're going to view it -- by renting it, or by buying it.
If you're not sure it's something you ultimately want to own, a rental is safe. But if you do think you might want to own it, wouldn't you rather start getting the value of that purchase now, rather than renting it and then buying it later?
For those of us who subscribe to unlimited rental programs like Netflix or Blockbuster Online, the cost of a rental is somewhat abstract these days. But there is still a cost. By renting something, it means you aren't able to rent something else, and the time you have it out is time you are not able to have out other things. It's a small cost, but it's there.
And that's why the decision to buy can be so agonizing. What's more -- if you decide to rent now, how much will that delay your eventual purchase of the film? You won't want to go out and buy it right away, because you just saw it. Granted, it's not like you always watch a movie right after you buy it. I'm sure everyone reading this has purchased movies that, to this day, they still haven't watched, even if that purchase was years ago. But when you buy a movie, you at least need to have the momentum of a potential viewing to spur you onward. It's hard to buy a movie if you flat out know that you will not watch it for two years.
And so this period between an initial viewing and a second viewing is even more fraught with peril. It could be the difference between whether you ever end up owning the movie or not.
I'm being dramatic here for rhetorical purposes, but it is interesting to consider the rationale that goes into whether to buy a film or not. Even if you are a person of few material possessions -- you always prefer to rent movies, just as you always prefer to read books from the library -- true movie fans still do own a small collection of films. You're saying something by the films you own, even if you never watch them.
I'll be honest: Part of the reason I don't buy as many films as I used to is that my apartment is not currently set up to display them. My wife and I have our DVDs buried on a bottom shelf of our TV cabinet, behind not only a variety of tchotchkes that have nowhere else to live in our apartment, but also the smoked glass windows of the cabinet, which are usually closed. If I could display my collection in proud rows on a prominent shelf -- as I once did (but would never do again) with my CDs -- there might be more impetus to keep adding to that collection. When it comes to films, is it really a collection if no one sees it? Let's ask that tree in the woods.
It may seem like I just want people to be impressed by what movies I own, but really, that's not true. If that were the case, I probably wouldn't own movies like The Girl Next Door (which I still insist is a great update of Risky Business, speaking of Risky Business) and would probably not publicly admit on my blog to watching movies like Over Her Dead Body.
And so that brings me to the real reason I like owning certain movies, and also why I'd want guests to see them: the ability to loan them to other people. "You've never seen that? You're taking it home with you right now." Just be sure to keep track of who you loaned them to. Or else you really won't have a collection before too long.
Because when you come right down to it, isn't that what all true film fans want to do? Share their great cinematic discoveries with a willing recipient?