Published on September 26th, 2020 | by Blake Morrow0
The Cinephile on a Budget’s Guide to the Public Library
Did you know you can borrow Criterion films, among others, from the library? Blake talks about being a cinephile on a budget with the SPL.
My university days were marked by the phrase 3 for $15. I would spend hours in HMV looking for the perfect combination of three, six, or nine stickered movies to add to my collection, most of which I had never seen but heard were good. For every purchase that panned out like Cast Away, I would get something I hated like Natural Born Killers and brood at the fact I would never see my five dollars again. As someone with not much disposable income, every miss left a deep pain in my wallet. This was the only legal way I knew how to experience movies beyond theatres, Netflix, or the rapidly dying rental stores of the world. Over the years I had spent lots of time at the public library. Living a half hour outside of my hometown necessitated long hours reading in plush chairs to kill time. That being said, it had never crossed my mind to borrow movies from there. Isn’t it just for books? Far from. The first film I ever borrowed was Her and, after an adequate amount of tears were shed, the seed of a new way to watch movies began to sprout.
First of all, the library has a staggering collection of media that’s any consumer’s wet dream. Obviously there’s books, but there’s also music, magazines, comic books, videogames, TV shows, and, most importantly, movies. Movies, movies, movies, more than you’ll find on any streaming service around. Your approach can be as orderly or random as you want. In the last year I’ve gone on several unrelated tangents. Beyond exploring my favourite director’s filmographies as much as possible, the library has indulged my A24 cravings, let me go on a South Korean binge prompted by Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, and set me on the path of Japanese cinema for 2020. I’ve spent lockdown pilfering scores of anime, J-horror, and black-and-white classics to my heart’s content. Indeed, the library is the definitive place to explore international cinema. It routinely stocks up on critical darlings, hidden gems, and just plain random foreign films. Find any country’s cinema you feel drawn to and you can work your way through dozens of options.
Of course, you can throw your gameplan out the window and just approach borrowing the old-fashioned way. Is there any greater feeling than unearthing that diamond buried amongst the bookcases? As libraries re-open in the wake of coronavirus for public browsing, there are shelves of films waiting to be scoured. You can go with the masterpiece you’ve heard so much about but find yourself face-to-face with for the first time, like a Lost in Translation or Taxi Driver. Or you can go off the board with whatever catches your eye. For me a film called Computer Chess, about a primitive A.I. chess tournament at a dinky hotel and the socially awkward programmers involved, stuck out as a deliciously spontaneous match. Apart from all of the niche stuff, there’s loads of popular contemporary cinema ranging from Marvel movies to trashy horrors all the way to your Oscar-winning epics. In an era without Blockbuster, this is the closest any of us will get to recapturing the physical magic of our dear departed video rental stores.
In addition to discovering new films, the library is the ideal way to preview special editions you’re considering adding to your collection. New releases from top-end publishers like the Criterion Collection are regularly added to the fold. Since these come at such a high price point, borrowing allows you to experience all aspects of a film’s physical copy, from its technical merits to its supplements, to make an informed decision about whether or not to buy. Criterion purchases I’ve made after taking them out from the library include The Before Trilogy, The Seventh Seal, and sex, lies and videotape. Never again will I spend money on something I’m not passionate about. Even if you know you won’t buy it but still want to check it out, the library is the perfect cost-free alternative to enjoying every aspect of these collector’s items.
Requesting materials online is simple enough. Usually I end up using Saskatchewan’s public library app (SILS on the Apple App store). The layout is easy to understand and searching for items by title, format, and even subject matter is a total breeze. Unfortunately, delivery of materials between library regions in Sask is temporarily suspended due to COVID, meaning you still have access to a wide, albeit limited, selection. A great counterbalance for this has been Hoopla and Kanopy, two free streaming services that Saskatoon Public Library offers which has given me access to tons of options even absent from the province’s physical collection. In the case of borrowing, loan periods have been increased to four weeks and late fees have been suspended. This makes for a stress-free experience if you ever find yourself stuck at home with an untouched stack of films to grind through.
During university I only borrowed sporadically from school and local libraries. It wasn’t until I came to Saskatoon that my habit really took off. In 2019 alone I was able to hit $10k saved at the library. Sure, that dollar number may not have been accurate. The DVD copy of Inception probably isn’t worth $30 anymore. It’s the thought that counts though. Of course, the library isn’t perfect. Not every film is available, not every disc is in playing condition, and item wait times can range from days to weeks. The positives far outweigh the negatives though. As an institution dedicated to educating (and entertaining) the masses, the public library is the perfect place for the cinephile on a budget.