Happy New Year —
I’m skipping a ‘best of’ list this year, only because my lists of favorites were becoming relevant only to me. It was an impossible list to compile anyway, because the literal explosion of desirable titles made it impossible to rank the favorites — I counted over a hundred worthy favorites among just the genre releases. I’ve discriminated by quality (what looks the best) and by rarity (what I never thought this would look this good) and got nowhere. These days, even the most minor releases routinely sport excellent transfers.
The explosion I talk about comes from a handful of non-studio disc companies. We’re by now well aware that the big studios release few older library/vault titles, and prefer to license them to small Blu-ray companies. Shout! Factory, Powerhouse Indicator, Kino, Arrow and a few others have joined Criterion in soaking us with the riches of studio libraries, giving us beautiful HD masters of genre titles that the studios can’t be bothered with. Twilight Time has ceased activity, and Olive Films has also hit the pause button, but we don’t know yet if both are out for the count. Yet 2019 has seen an avalanche of genre favorites, most beautifully remastered. Scream Factory has all but cleaned out the Universal vault of horror and sci-fi films, and other companies have pretty much covered most of the desirable Hammer films, at least the ones not tied up by Warners. Kino Lorber’s deal with Studio Canal has opened a floodgate to a potentially endless stream of exotic / forgotten foreign products. Many of which were seldom screened here, at least not in complete editions, in their original languages.
For the last twenty years we’ve been reading editorials claiming that DVDs and Blu-rays are on the way out, nearing extinction. This is the first year in which mainstream voices are finally echoing what we’ve been whining/preaching/arguing about for years: hard-media home video is the only guarantee of access to one’s favorite movies. Even if you’ve bought a digital version, anything in the cloud can be revoked at any time. Those old DVD collections may suddenly become valuable again, if studios remove their libraries from circulation, except for streaming services under their control. Remember, they OWN the films as intellectual property. Nobody can force them to make individual titles available.
How many streaming services do you subscribe to, in addition to all the new subscriptions one must maintain to do things like run a home computer? Studios that are pushing streaming in a big way seem to be aligning their distribution model to ‘disrupt’ theatrical distribution. With Disney acquiring 20th-Fox, repertory theaters have been told they won’t be supplied with Fox product, and the foreign disc companies I know have been told that Fox product will no longer be licensed to them.
Nobody knows the future of theatrical distribution for new pictures, but learning about older movies now seems even more of a splinter activity for cinephiles, film students and TCM fans. Cultural Consensus moviegoing, where many of us see the same things, only happens with a few exceptional mega-hits. The ‘average’ folk I know don’t have time to become cinema fans. If they have leisure money they’re into other new pursuits. You could pretty much guarantee that somebody in the 1990s had access to a VHS player, and until 2015 or so most homes I visited could play a DVD. But just because my personal friends have a Blu-ray hooked up, doesn’t mean that most people do. When I say that I have a set that will play 3-D, it’s often assumed that I’m rich (hahahaha) or ‘one of those people’ with a central obsession better avoided in conversation.
But folk that frequent places like CineSavant of course tend to be fellow confirmed movie addicts, many with professional contacts or actually working in the biz in one way or another. That’s where you’ll find serious collectors. Not many consumers buy discs all the time, but I hear from plenty of people who somehow purchase MANY. I think the generation of college students that went crazy for DVDs around 1998 matured out of the habit, as they got deeper into their adult responsibilities… in other words, they became normal consumers, mostly buying Disney discs when their kids demanded them. And plenty of college-age disc fans got out of the habit after a couple of apartment moves, when they realized how bulky discs can be. After not being able to accumulate anything in the first half of my life, I think I’ve kept EVERYTHING from the second half. I still haven’t figured out a reasonable storage/library system for my discs, that’s for sure. I’d ask my sane friends how they got the courage & willpower to divest themselves of so many possessions / collections… but I know I won’t change.
Will people still continue to care about old movies, outside of a small group branded as elitists? It’s scary when Martin Scorsese ventures an opinion that clashes with popular taste, and all of a sudden finds himself being harassed like a target of a political slur on Twitter. I’ve been through the 2019 releases I wanted to see and found several really fine pictures, but only a couple that I know I’ll want to see again. But right now there must be 500 old pictures that I’m ready to screen at a moment’s notice — I love showing guests things they haven’t seen.
Those are my random end-of-year thoughts about this strange activity / hobby / reason to live that I’ve gotten myself into. Thanks to my fellow reviewers Lee Broughton and Charlie Largent. Here’s a mass link farm that gathers together the cult / horror / sci-fi / western / noir / political / mainstream titles I was most thrilled to see reviewed this year:
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The personal pix included above:
#1) A goodie given out with Universal’s Scarface ’83 disc. Tony Camonte’s personal motto doesn’t necessarily have to be selfish.
#2) Me and an old sculpture by my son called “Pompey’s Head.” I’m vain enough to sneak this into the lineup.
#3) This is the photo I put up that prompted the most reader mail this year. Two readers wanted to know if it was a from a cut scene (I wish). It grafts together Janet Leigh and The Metaluna Mutant.
#4) Two of my best friends preparing to be ushers for my wedding, back in — don’t ask. On the left is the late author and film historian Robert S. Birchard. On the right is the film editor, Steven Nielson.