Media formats, much like M*A*S*H’s Col. Flagg, come and go like the wind. From nitrate film to laser disc to video tape, Betamax to VHS, DVD to Blu-Ray to an iTunes purchase floating in the cloud of bits and bytes to … a chip implanted under the skin of your neck on the day of your birth, or whatever’s next. And with each change, cinema wonks have had to search their souls and decide: are any of the films I liked enough to purchase in a now-outdated format worth buying all over again in a new format?
The DVD format still has many charms for me. Since my movie memories include the age of VHS, DVDs combine the best of that experience (the joy of being able to to watch your chosen flick whenever you like) minus the hassles (no room for much except one feature film, plus the likelihood of your player going haywire and chewing up your media). And as hopelessly hooked as I am on Netflix on-demand, they’re stingy with the “making-of”s and other extras that can add so much to the pleasure of a film that intrigues you.
So here are the contents of my DVD shelf, and what the future holds for each of them, in three categories:
Must-haves: I want to have a copy of these in all future formats, or guaranteed access to these on-demand, in perpetuity, world without end:
- All three Austin Powers movies: for Dr. Evil’s “meat helmet” soliloquy alone
- Be Kind Rewind: a love letter to movies, and the renting thereof
- Best in Show: for Fred Willard’s loopy commentary
- The Big Lebowski: So many reasons. Partly because Walter’s eulogy for Donnie includes the word “Pismo”. Like that rug that sets its plot in motion, it ties so many #@!!* things together.
- Chicago: for the black humor (“Pop, six, squish … Lipschitz”) leavened with just enough real emotion (“Mr. Cellophane”)
- Chicken Run: for the chickens drawing complex diagrams, a genuinely scary female villain, and the Great Escape references
- Chinatown: for that great closing line. Also, because Jack Nicholson spends so much of the film bandaged up after being too nosy, and deflecting others’ expressions of either sympathy or contempt for his injury.
- Dr. Strangelove: again, if you have to ask why, you need to see it again. (Preferably at the age of nineteen, in a midnight showing at a college student union.) See my earlier entry.
- Election: for of the look on Matthew Broderick’s face when his character says in a voiceover, “And that’s when I knew – it was time to leave Omaha.” See my earlier entry.
- Fargo: because once when the A/C broke at our house in July, this movie, with its endless expanses of snow, and cold-blooded murders, was the only thing that took the edge off the heat and irritation of waiting for the repairman to come.
- Flushed Away: for those singing slugs, and for Aardman’s always-terrific way with telling a story through animation: cute and clever, but light on sentimentality.
- Human Nature: because of Rhys Ifans’ inspired portrayal of Puff, the man raised as an ape. This movie starts with pseudo-scientific pomposity, then tears off its metaphorical clothes and bolts, gibbering, into the jungle of loopy fantasy.
- Life of Brian: Because this movie says more about the subject of religion than you’ll hear from more serious and long-winded sources.
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: For the quirky animations that pop up unexpectedly. For Anjelica Huston and Willem Dafoe and Cate Blanchett and the gorgeous scenery. Because the first couple of times I watched it, it made me laugh really hard. And because the last couple of times I watched it, it was more like a meditation on how hard it is to pursue your passion, and make enough money, and treat other people like you should, all while getting older and trying to hunt down that shark that ate your best friend.
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Because the first time I saw it, when I was not quite eighteen, at midnight in the Student Union at the University of Kansas, I looked around at the auditorium filled with people I had just met a few weeks ago: friends and fellow dorm-dwellers and classmates, and listened to them guffawing and shrieking along with The Knights Who Say “Ni!”, and thought, “These … these are my people.”
- Moulin Rouge: Because I was already fascinated with the turn-of-the-century art world, and especially with Toulouse-Lautrec‘s work. Because I never thought of adding “Nature Boy” and “Material Girl” to that world, but combine those with a gigantic hollow elephant, and it all works.
- O Brother, Where Art Thou? Because on the same day the husband and I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the theater, we also went to see this. One is a visually inventive story from a long-ago time, set in an exotic and unfamiliar place. And the other includes a scene in which three hoboes escape from a burning barn in the company of a pig, riding in a car driven by a child with a penchant for shooting at census-takers. And now you know which of these two films I saw fit to add to my collection.
- Raising Arizona: On second thought, maybe I don’t actually need a copy of this one, because most of it seems to have lodged permanently in my brain. The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse … Unpainted Huffheines… it’s all part of a spree to cover the entire Southwest proper.
- Young Frankenstein: Because Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder obviously saw the same Universal black-and-white monster movies that KTUL’s early-morning and Saturday-night programming introduced me to, but they ran it through their own cuckoo blender. Because you need something to watch on Halloween if you’re staying home to give out candy to trick-or-treaters. Blücher!
Some DVDs will stay in my collection because they’re gifts from important people in my life. My oldest friend gave me Sixteen Candles and Fast Times at Ridgemont High for my 40th birthday. Only another Gen-Xer could understand fully why I dissolved into delighted hysterics when I opened the package. And my dear husband gave me Ghost World (the “tampon-in-a-teacup” scene could have come straight from my freshman Design I class in the fall of 1984 at KU.) And Strictly Background, the small gem directed by Jason Connell, a fellow Okie with an eye for quirk.
- Elf: I seem to require a new crop of Christmas movies every few years. This one’s a charmer, but I might take it out of the rotation for a couple of years.
- Hell’s Angels: worth seeing once for the sequences aboard the zeppelin. But everything that takes place on the ground is boring. (Kudos to my dear husband for finding this one in a bargain bin. We saw The Aviator and it piqued our interest in Howard Hughes. This was years before Netflix made it easier to view less-well-known older flicks.)
- Lilo and Stitch: Stitch’s freaky way with an LP cracked me up every time I saw a “coming attractions” that included this clip. Every cotton-pickin’ time. Still does. Otherwise, too much Disney sentiment.
- Pink Panther: Like Raising Arizona, this one’s burned into my brain. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a devoted Inspector Clouseau fan (my dad). So I learned very young that it’s hilarious to speak mangled English with a French accent. I don’t really require this DVD to remind me.
- Polar Express: Maybe I just need to take this one out of the holiday-movie rotation for a few years. The sweeping vistas and action sequences are still terrific. But some of the human figures look a little creepy: a little too realistic, but not quite lifelike enough.
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: The Art Deco cityscapes and robots are nifty, but the plot and dialogue are warmed-over pulp, and Gwyneth Paltrow is unappealing and seems uncomfortable as the leading lady.
- Sweeney Todd: Tim Burton directing a musical about cannibalism? Sounded like a dream team to me. But it loses the dark charm of the original stage version with its focus on sheer gore.
- Waiting for Guffman: The fictional town of Blaine, Missouri is worth an occasional visit, but not so vital that I have to hang onto this disk.
So, fellow wonks, what formats are you favoring these days? Which of your favorite flicks are worth buying in newer formats, and which are staying in the dustbin of cinematic history? Feel free to send me your lists, or a photo.