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?

1 comment:

Don Handsome said...

I used to buy a lot more films than I do now. There were two primary reasons for this, and you’ve pretty much already discussed them – first, it was nice and fun to have a deep library/resource to impress my friends with and second it used to be important to me to have instant access to every movie I could possibly crave at any given moment (access that was more instant than going to a rental store or waiting two days for Netflix). Circumstances have changed, and while I still WANT every movie that I want, its just not feasible or (ultimately) desirable any more.

In the last year, I've purchased for myself exactly three DVDs (down from 20 to 30 in my hey day) and each one I've purchased for different reasons. I feel my reasons for making these purchases sum up what I now feel are the acceptable reasons to buy films…so here goes:
1) Breathless – Sure, this movie is a masterpiece and I’ve long listed it as one of my favorite movies and I have watched it twice since owning it (which is actually a pretty good amount for one year)...but the real reason I bought it is that it is part of the Criterion Collection. In other words, the PACKAGING makes me salivate and thus its value is artificially inflated beyond the usefulness of actually owning the movie. Even though I know that its all packaging and label, I’ll still go for it;
2) Twin Peaks - I bought another Twin Peaks collection – while this isn’t a film per se, repeated purchases of this type are a fairly normal occurrence for me. This is the third time, but it probably wont be the last, that I have purchased the Twin Peaks series. I owned it on VHS for a long time, and then bought it on DVD and then had to buy the gold standard re-issued DVD version (which has a lot of extras that I haven't yet watched). I tend to buy a lot of films directed or produced by certain people. I have a lot of David Lynch stuff, and a lot of Linklater stuff… reason #2 for buying a movies is - COMPLETENESS/GEEKDOM;
3) The Dark Knight - I think that sometimes I get caught up in the zeitgeist of certain movies and just want them close to me (in the Dark Knight and Batman Returns case, it can be chalked up to a Chicago-based loyalty to the new franchise) I guess we can call this reason “EXCITEMENT”. Its this excitement that often drives me to purchase the best movies I see in a given year the minute they come out on DVD; and
4) I should also mention that I bought the Dark Knight on Blu-Ray. It is the only Blu-Ray disc that I own and I bought it at the same time that I bought my Blu-Ray player. I am not happy about Blu-Ray. Actually I am, the Dark Knight looks fantastic, but this could mean that I may feel obligated to rebuy everything in my collection the same way I did for the third time with Twin Peaks…anyway I guess that would be a fourth reason (without an example for buying movies – TECHNOLOGY.