Published on June 24th, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant0
Collecting Movies and The Slow Death of Blu-ray
Digital is killing the Blu-ray star, so Craig Silliphant admits to some serious hoarding issues and laments the end of physical movie formats and collecting.
I hope I’m in a safe place when I admit this, because it’s really hard for me. I’ve tried to hide it, tried to pretend it’s not true, but in the end, I have to share my dark skeleton in the cupboard. My secret is that for the most part, I’ve given up on buying Blu-rays.
Please, try not to judge me. I’m sure there are more than a few of my fellow movie nerds out there that will hold me in contempt for such blasphemy. Dudes who spend their hard-earned dosh fostering a healthy Blu-ray collection. They’ll point their fingers at me and shout, “Charlatan! How dare you call yourself a movie geek?!” I don’t blame them. It’s what I’d say.
I do buy the odd Blu-ray; Criterion releases to absorb on a Sunday afternoon, or sci-fi, horror, and superhero fare that I’ll watch in bed after a few wobbly pops. But I just don’t foster a physical movie collection the way I used to, which is something that actually really bothers me. I’ve been a movie collector since I was a kid (or to paraphrase my wife, a media hoarder), so it’s the first time in my life that I’m not spending an inordinate amount of time lurking around in various videostores and buying movies.
In the right time and place, Blu-ray coulda’ bin a contender. In fact, Blu-ray is a great collector’s format, with amazing transfers and sound, and capacity for a cornucopia of special features (much like laserdisc). But I’ve seen the writing on the wall before, with both VHS and DVD; formats come and go. It’s worth pointing out that DVD hasn’t fully blinked out of existence yet, and that VHS is making an underground comeback for good reasons related to content that was lost when the format phased out — but I’m mostly concerned with the idea of collecting the latest format here. Even though Blu-ray is great, even though Blu-ray hasn’t been around very long, Digital will kill The Blu-ray Star.
Sony may have won the war against HD DVD, but they’re having problems with pulling out of the PC business and the fact that demand for physical media is dropping like a rock. It won’t make financial sense for them to keep pumping out Blu-rays much longer. Yes, consumers bought about 124 million Blu-rays in the U.S. in 2013. But the rules of supply and demand have caused prices to fall, ushering in the Wal-mart $5 Blu-ray (and consumer outlays only increased by 2.6%). Sure, it’s growth for the format, but it doesn’t come close to making up for the 13.6% drop in DVD sales that happened at the same time. People are downloading, watching VOD, and streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, or Apple TV. That’s before you even bring cloud tech into the game.
As much as I do have a perverse need to see the studios and record companies be proven wrong, this all saddens me. I like a physical collection. Something I can hold in my hand and see on my shelf. Sometimes I’d just sit and stare at them for eons, thumbing them lovingly like a movie serial killer pervert. Okay…uh…maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the truth is that if I was looking for something to watch in bed, it often took me longer to choose what I was going to watch than it did to just watch the damn thing.
When VHS was in its heyday, I flexed a mighty collection, over 2000 titles strong, the envy of my block. I grew up working in video stores, so I had a lot of access to decent prices and special order catalogues. But the dream had to end. I saw it going out the door when DVD came along, so I sold off my collection before it got obsolete.
I put the money into DVD and built another collection, which was actually a lot of fun. I was getting to buy many of the same movies again, but this time, they were cleaned up, in widescreen instead of hated pan and scan, and often had cool special features and audio commentaries. Again, I bought thousands of them (for a broke ass University student, I also spent a lot on shelving).
However, after about ten years of collecting DVDs, I saw the winds of change blowing again when the fight between Blu-ray and HD DVD started heating up. I made the arrangements to sell most of my DVD collection. But before I could channel that money into Blu-ray, my brain started to work ahead on me. We live in the digital age, my brain said. The next logical step isn’t going to be Blu-ray — it’ll be digital. ‘Shut up, shut up, shut up,’ I told my stupid brain. But it was no use. It was right. It’s misusing the phrase, because it’s not the format’s fault, but Blu-ray jumped the shark almost as it began. The only catch that leaves me in limbo as a collector is that a change from physical media to digital isn’t happening fast enough. Even though we have the technology, licensing issues and perhaps the effort it takes to digitize catalogues stand in the way. So I’m left to wait like a sad loser standing at a bus stop in the pouring rain.
Now, being a professional critic, I get digital screeners and free theatrical movies and VOD, so I’m still pretty much buried under a mountain of media I’d never, ever have any hope of catching up to. Yet I still regret getting rid of both my VHS tapes and my DVDs. Imagine how fucking epic the collection would be if I still had everything? I’d need a house with several wings to contain it all! I could prattle around with Kleenex boxes on my feet like Howard Hughes (If it’s my fantasy, then I can also make it part of the daydream that my wife would allow all this, right?). Is it weird that I want this? Some might think so. Others would understand. As I said, I’m a collector; some kind of weirdo that fills a hole in his heart by amassing plastic things that I can stare at on a shelf. It’s a totally useless, asshole consumerist thing, but I’m powerless against my own animal urges.
You see, collections give me hours of enjoyment — and I don’t just mean watching the movie, reading the book, or listening to the album — but curating it. In the pre-Internet, pre-Amazon age, when I travelled, I’d leave room in the suitcase for the bounty that would come back with me. I’d plan entire parts of the trip around hitting Meccas like the Virgin Megastore or more obscure outlets like Kim’s Video, looking for strange additions to the collection, like Hausu, Dark Star, or I Spit on Your Grave. Then I’d spirit them home, clutching them like Gollum and his Precious, putting them on the shelf, managing the alphabetizing system, and watching them again and again. It’s not just something I have — it’s something I am.
I still get my kicks collecting records and to a smaller degree, books (though they are a bitch to move), but I grieve for the days of collecting movies. It’s like a part of me that’s missing; I look at the old shelves and feel phantom limbs, the spines of sleeves, clamshells, and amarays, calling to me. And on a less poetic level, not having a collection can be garbage sometimes, especially if you’re like me, a creature of whims, urges, and instant gratification. There are plenty of days I want to watch a specific movie, so I scour VOD and streaming services to try and find a film I’ve owned several copies of in the past, but I come up empty-handed. I’m left sitting there in impotent rage crossed with open-mouthed confusion.
Hopefully, the studio yahoos will wake up and realize they can charge us (and probably stem a lot of piracy) by letting us watch all the things we want to watch, a la VOD or Netflix-style streaming services. It won’t replace what I got out of collecting, but media-wise, I’ll be at least partially satisfied when I can talk to a smart, Star Trek-like TV that can access whatever I want to watch, whenever I want to watch it. “TV! Hitchcock’s North by Northwest!” “TV! Let’s watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” “TV — play the episode of Happy Days where Fonzie jumps the shark!”
Until then, I’ll be the guy in the corner, turning blue, holding my breath, hunched over amongst broken collector’s dreams and empty shelves.