I recently got rid of a lot of videotapes, weeding out the ones that I either didn’t watch or didn’t much care for. The reason for this was an increasing lack of space. Once the shelves were full, they suddenly overflowed until books, tapes and discs began to overtake the room. It was becoming hard to find somewhere to sit, or indeed to open the door when I returned home. This eventually began to really frustrate me. The tapes were sitting there, untouched, gathering dust and taking up space.
Now I am positive that this is something that all movie lovers have to struggle with: an obsessive desire to collect. Have you ever felt somewhat dazed and out of breath when in a DVD or bookshop? Ever wandered around like a somnambulist, piling up objects in your arms until you somehow find yourself outside the shop in the rain holding two bags of stuff with a really empty wallet? I know I have.
Getting rid of the tapes really put this obsession with collecting in perspective. I felt like a weight had lifted once I handed them into the charity shop. And as time went by I realised even more that I didn’t need those tapes, that they were not essential to my life. Since then I have not been buying very much. Instead I take note of what I already own and what I have yet to watch. Why buy another box set when I have several still to get through?
Why do film lovers in particular have this desire? Partly I think it’s because we feel we have to ‘own’ the film. By having a copy of it, the film belongs to us, is not fade from memory, and is available to be watched 24/7. Except we do not watch 24/7. The likelihood is that DVDs will be watched once and never again. When I was younger I would watch and re-watch and I do my best to revisit my favourites now, but that drive to push on, to keep watching and see more takes over. Certainly some people can get very depressed dwelling on how to fit all these hours of moving pictures into a lifetime. We ultimately devise an instinct as to the types of films we will enjoy over films we feel we do not have time for.
We also collect in other ways. The watching of another film is an extra notch on a kind of mental collection stored in our heads. Asked a movie question we can flick through that collection in an instant, no videos required. A movie collection of course branches out beyond the films themselves, but quickly spirals out to books, merchandise, posters, autographs and even ticket stubs. If you’re a more serious collector you may have 16mm or even 35mm prints of films stored in a temperature-controlled cellar.
It is also about a lack of time, and ultimately time management. If a job takes up your day and you only have time to watch in the evening, how do you manage this? Do you watch a film a night? What about other responsibilities? Of course at the end of the day you may be exhausted and not have the energy to watch for 120 minutes. I sometimes watch films like books, a section at a time before I get through the film. And onto the next one. But then what about reading? Do you find yourself only reading on the way to work? And then when do you find time to write?
My advice would be: work through the titles you already own before ordering yet another box set.
Okay, well, I say this and I promise I was doing so well myself, but I have to admit that I had a serious relapse this weekend. I found myself wandering about London with carrier bags full of videotapes. That’s right, not DVDs, but VHS tapes.
I found myself in a London film shop where they were getting rid of old out-of-print video stock. These were seriously rare titles that in their day would have sold for £20 each. There were many great titles in there but it was the silents I was most interested in. I had not seen them released elsewhere and I thought this may be my only chance to see them for quite some time. I knew in particular that the 10-video set of early Russian cinema was particularly valuable. So I got out my wallet and walked out with a small archive. Now I’ve just got to blow the dust off my old VCR and try and get it hooked up again.
For those interested in which films I felt were that essential, they were the following:
1. Early Russian Cinema, vol. 1: Beginnings
2. Early Russian Cinema, vol. 2: Folklore and Legend
3. Early Russian Cinema, vol. 3: Starewicz’s Fantasies
4. Early Russian Cinema, vol. 4: Provincial Variations
5. Early Russian Cinema, vol. 5: Chardynin’s Pushkin
6. Early Russian Cinema, vol. 6: Class Distinctions
7. Early Russian Cinema, vol. 9: High Society
8. Early Russian Cinema, vol. 19: The End of an Era
[for more info on the Early Russian Cinema series, click here]
9. Chess Fever (USSR, 1925), dir: Vsevolod Pudovkin and Nikolai Shipovsky
10. The Whispering Chorus (USA, 1918), dir: Cecil B. DeMille
11. The Chess Player (France, 1926), dir: Raymond Bernand
12. Windsor McCay: Animation Legend (USA, 1911-1921), dir: Windsor McCay