Friday, April 3, 2009

I was going to publish this as a comment, but it sort of got away from me…

Rockfish (love that Gandolf Fitch reference, by the way):

Thanks so much for taking the time out to offer a dissenting opinion on this issue. You might also want to read a post by my very good friend ThadK at his blog that also lines up with your take on the Archives as well. (At first I kind of dismissed Thad’s thoughts because, befitting his status as the world’s youngest curmudgeon, he approaches practically every issue in that manner. Your contribution indicates that my previous conjecture just isn’t so.)

I think where you and I disagree on this issue mainly lies in how rosy the two of us consider the future of classic movies on DVD. I have a more pessimistic outlook; when you can get the studios to release the older stuff (and jazz it up with a few extras) it’s pretty sweet—but occurrences like these are few and far between. Universal seems mostly content to re-release their classic titles in collections that aren’t all that different from the first time you bought them. Sony’s older film releases are erratic and spotty (though steps are being made in the direction of beefing up the number of releases, thanks to Mike Schlesinger, the rare classic movie fan lucky to work in a capacity to dictate releases) and Paramount has pretty much given up on older titles, preferring to let Criterion do the heavy work. (The same goes, to a certain extent, with 20th Century-Fox as well.) Warner Bros. is the only one I know of who consistently makes an effort to unveil classic material (again, through the Schlesinger-like efforts of George Feltenstein, another classics buff)—so if Warners is responsible for the innovation that is the Archives…what does that tell us about the future plans of its competitors to continue hawking older films on DVD?

The painful truth of the matter is that the classic films market is a niche market at best—you’ve got too many individuals among the studio higher-ups who not only don’t give a rat’s ass, most of them haven’t seen any of the films considered to be “classics.” It’s what I often refer to as the Entertainment Weakly syndrome—the point of reference for many movie lovers (or those who claim to be) rarely stretches anywhere preceding the 1970s. There are a good many smaller companies that do appreciate and keep in mind the classic film buff (VCI is a very good example) but as this economy continues to further tank and discretionary dollars spent on entertainment start to shrink, the studios are going to hew to the bottom line and the list of classic releases will get smaller as a result. That’s what businesses do. I think the steps taken by Warner to find an alternate way to offer classic films to fans are commendable…even though I do agree with many of the detractors that the tariff they are asking is a bit pricey. If I were someone prepared to grab goodies like the proverbial individual “trapped-in-a-candy-store”, this would be a major issue of concern…but since I’m sort of choosy about what kinds of classic movies I like (and TCM allows me to record much of what I’d like to have) it’s not particularly pressing—I’m capable of deciding what I absolutely have to have and what I’m more than willing to wait for.

A classic film collector once had an interesting post on the bulletin boards at the classic movie website In the Balcony. He stated—and as much as I hate to admit it, he’s right—that today’s fans have become a bit spoiled:

…I was a serious film collector for over 20 years … hundreds of films and about 1000 reels. It was a very expensive and time-consuming hobby. Back in the day I would travel to conventions and search the Big Reel for films I wanted, always looking for a better print. I collected serials, B mysteries and westerns. I took me five years to find and buy decent chapters of Flash Gordon. I paid serious money to Nostalgia Merchant for couple of complete serials. Back then the average B movie was $150 and serial chapters were about $35. Of course that was in the 1970’s and 1980’s before the Internet. In 2008 dollars we are talking “crazy” money.


Sometimes this group seems to act like $25.00 is a king’s ransom. Basically I buy what I like and sometimes I have to swallow hard.

When you put it in the big picture—shelling out the kind of money back in the 70s/80s for what you can get for $20 bucks or less today—I don’t think what Warner is asking for films that were most assuredly never going to see the light of day in the first place is all that big a deal. Again, if I save myself a few bucks taping it off TCM everything is copacetic. If it’s something I desperately want and can’t obtain it through any other avenues, it’s ultimately my decision as to whether I’m going to pony up the gitas or not.

Many apologies if this came off sounding like a lecture. Rest assured, you have a good many valid arguments, and I greatly appreciate the time you took to write them down.


Scott C. said...

I agree. Pricing in a niche market is ultimately a less important factor than simple access (a friend of mine who worked in the grindhouses of the pre-Disneyfied 42nd Street once pointed out that cult movie mavens and fetish porn aficionados share a willingness to shell out ridiculous prices for things that most people would consider useless at best, and repulsive at worst. Thanks for the comparison, Roy). If a film is available, but only at a King (Vidor)'s ransom, well, then fortunately it's not a question of cultural preservation anymore -- now it's just a matter of how badly you want it (and I too remember looking longingly at those $150+ serials on VHS).

I think it's important at this stage to reward a business model that recognizes the intrinsic value of older movies, and accept the fact that we'll be paying hobbyist, rather than mass market prices for the time being. But I'm fairly confident the costs will decrease as technology advances, especially if Warner Brothers and the like go to a "download to burn" model. EZTakes does it with the Cinematic Titanic (successor to MST3K) movies; either buy the disc through the mail (with labels and case), or pay half the price and burn it to a DVD-R on your home computer.

Ten minutes ago I bought a book off of Amazon that was delivered to my Kindle 30 seconds later. At this stage of civilization, there's no excuse for any books to go out of print, or for any film, no matter how obscure, to continue crumbling to dust in a vault somewhere.

J.C. Loophole said...

I would say that I couldn't agree more, but grammar being what it is on my mother's side (and let's not forget poor Uncle Mertz), I have never completely agreed with that sentiment. I would rather offer a hearty: If I could agree with you more, sir, I would. Huzzah for a fine, reasoned response. I believe that as we get further into this, we may see a small change in price and/or sales and rental.
Yes I said rental. If you have seen the WBshop- there is actually an option for RENTAL- which costs a mere 2.95. One title is available, but it seems to be more of a placeholder for when they are ready to venture down that road. I think the potential is great, despite the minor trepidations any of us may have.
Again, I second your comments and -
remain yours, etc,

Laura said...

Enjoyed your post and the related links with flip side arguments. These are interesting issues to consider as collecting classic films moves into a new era.

Along the lines of prices, when I bought my first blank (Beta!) videotapes in 1980, they were $25 for a three-hour tape. In 1980 dollars. I was a teenager so, needless to say, buying a new tape and recording something to keep was a rare occurrence. The VCR alone emptied out my bank I could probably buy 10 DVD players for what I paid for that VCR!

When I think about "the old days," Warners' prices don't seem so bad. :)

Anyway, it's going to be very interesting to see what develops. My big hope at this point is that Fox follows suit...I've been able to record (for roughly a dollar per 6-hour tape, grin) hundreds of MGM movies from TCM, but Fox Movie Channel's rotation is such that we're lucky to get one or two "new" titles aired each month. (Next week is a Loretta Young pre-Code!) There is so much in the Fox library I'd love to be able to obtain...

Best wishes,

Stacia said...

Ivan, I have to say I completely agree. I started out as a film fan in the early 1990s and recall shelling out nearly $30 for the "director's cut" of "Blade Runner" on VHS. If I wanted to see a classic movie, I'd have to cross my fingers and hope it showed up on early-morning Cinemax, or on A&E Sunday mornings and/or TBS with commercials. Then Encore came along and we had more older films, then TCM, and here we are, practically awash in classics that 20 years ago we didn't even know existed.

Yet I still find myself frustrated when I look for a movie I saw a dozen times on Encore back in '93 and find it's only available in a European bootleg for $20 on iOffer. Having the option of paying that $20 to a legitimate source and maybe, just maybe, encouraging that source to release more hard-to-find films is so much more preferable than any other option.

Sure, you can record it off TCM, if it shows up. There's no guarantee. I have a huge list of films I got off TCM on VHS and would like to have now on DVD, and I'd say maybe 3 out of the 50 films I'm waiting for have been shown in the last year and a half.

This recent spate of comments equating the purchase of a WB archive disk with treason isn't going over well with me.

rockfish said...

Thanks for your reasoned, calm rebuttal. And I don't think we're too far apart -- except you are perhaps embracing this inevitable shift while I am stubbornly holding to what is now shifting sand of a great time for collecting.
The market for film classics, pre-1970 especially and pre-1960 essentially, is no doubt a shrinking oasis. I'm just going to miss the part of the rewards that seemed to treat the celluloid artwork like a revered masterpiece, whether it was a engrossing horse opera like The Oxbow Incident or a stagey and melodic musical drama like Hollywood Cavalcade (and everything between)... Now we'll have access to more of the bounty, but it'll come with all the care and treatment of a cereal box. Maybe it creates another element of the niche market -- individual bloggers who compile/compose their own odes to those films, whether it be exclusive interviews/commentaries that can be downloaded or featurettes on the evolution of a certain film.
Anyways, thanks again for the fair airing. That's one of the things I love about your blog -- where else can we act out the Bickersons and then find the real deal?

Doghouse Riley said...

Obligatory backstory: first VCR: Sears' Beta, "stolen" for $500 in 1977 as a scratch n' dent. VHS collection: database stopped at 280 films, with probably 100 more tapes, mostly teevee, left unindexed, plus a box or two of Betas in the basement which contain a few rarities unavailable elsewhere. First commercial purchase: Passion of Joan of Arc from Nostalgia Merchant, c. 1977, c. $50.

So, the first question, I think, isn't what you get as a specialist collector when you're young and enraptured; it's more "what's it going to look like to you thirty years from now?"

And the second, "why collect now?" Either you want it or not. I began collecting just to have the chance to see Children of Paradise or Touch of Evil, stuff that was rarely on television, that occasionally made it to a local art-house screen before the place went out of business, or that for a few years might find its way to Cinemax.

(I once bought a cassette copy of Drôle de Drame which had been framed so the subtitles were clearly visible, at the expense of cutting off everyone's head through the whole thing.)

Most people under thirty-five (at least) can barely be bothered with black & white, and aren't going to put up with crappy DVDs; one can only hope that some well-minded and wealthy individual goes on a crusade to change their opinions. But otherwise, it's a count-your-blessings world for the specialist, and enjoy 'em while you can. The good seats always cost more.

Thad said...

I understand perfectly because I am probably one of the few (OK, more like four) under 40 people who buys 16mm. I have my own rant on why I feel spending $229 on Tex Avery's MAGICAL MAESTRO (or $300 on Friz Freleng's BUGS BUNNY NIPS THE NIPS) or $1000 on NORTH BY NORTHWEST or SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is justified, but I'll spare you.

Thad said...

BTW, I'd just about always rather give my money to someone on iOffer than give any more to those WB shit heads (at least if said shit heads are only going to release them unremastered). Those are the people who keep the hobby alive, not the corporations.