I am obsessed with collecting DVDs. I have accumulated 500 so far; they sit in monolithic piles in the corner of my room. Ushering in memories of my time as a child wandering the aisles of my local video store, I can spend hours staring at my collection, struggling to decide what to watch, with my fingers slowly tracing down the spines of the DVDs and taking in every title.
It’s hard to say when the obsession started. Perhaps it was when I first started working at my local op shop. As the resident movie buff, they entrusted me to sort, stack, price and organise the vast collection of donated DVDs they had accumulated in the backroom. Every shift I would go through boxes of DVDs, throwing away any of the ‘undesirables’ – bootleg copies of films shot on a camcorder, multiple rereleases of public domain shlock. Anyone else who is in the business of DVD collecting and op shop bargain hunting will recognise these familiar titles.
But every so often, there would be little gems that would shine through, like diamonds in the rough. For every Zulu, there’d be a Chungking Express; for every Honey, there’d be a Cinema Paradiso; and for every Night of the Living Dead, there’d be a Autumn Sonata. From there I was off to the races, buying bucketloads of any vaguely highly rated film I could. I would use databases such as Letterboxd to determine whether or not the DVDs I was purchasing were of high value, with the 5 star rating system serving as my guide for what to buy and what not to buy. I’ll admit, there’s an air of elitism in buying only films that rate highly, and perhaps putting my opinion in the hands of random online strangers wouldn’t serve me well. But nevertheless, I was hooked on the movie drug and nothing was going to stop me from buying 12, 20, or 40 DVDs!
As uni has recommenced, I am spending more time away from the DVDs, and spending less money on them. Now I stalk the aisles of Fisher Library’s 7th floor, sitting on the floor with stacks of movies surrounding me, deciding which ones to borrow. I don’t know what it is about DVDs in particular – there’s something satisfying about cracking open the case, pressing your finger in the hole and having the disc pop out in your hand. The smell of a newly pressed disc, the soft plastic casing; it’s a sensorium that adds to the viewing experience – a return of cinema’s ill-fated ‘Smell-O-Vision’, perhaps? Flipping the disc over, a colourful collage of psychedelic light shines off its surface, like a rainbow leading viewers to a pot of gold. The spines stand to attention along my shelves, colour coded so they bleed into one another.
It seems others share my passion, In a world of streaming services, there is some deeper yearning to own, collect and possess DVDs. Companies such as the Criterion Collection do masterful home releases of classic or oft-forgotten films, with 4K restorations and a plethora of commentary tracks, behind the scenes info and critical analysis. In a way, DVDs are the closest we can come to resolving one of the biggest philosophical issues plaguing film scholars, the fact that film is, as Raymond Bellour suggests, “unattainable”. Film is unquotable, and does not lend itself to the same tactility as literature, music or visual art. One could argue that you could hold or take possession of the film reel, but these are mere individual images, not set in motion by the projector. Once wrung through the machine, we cannot hold the abstract formations of light that dart above our heads. On Netflix and other streaming services, they are mere lines of code. Only the DVD, which we can hold, evokes the surreal nature of film not as individual 24 frames a second but an abstract pool of images. We flip the DVD upside down and we can see the whole film all at once. Albeit flattened and compressed, but it’s all there before our very own eyes. The senses of smell and touch that we feel as we caress the case and eject the disc – those belong to the film as well. By collecting them, I am taking possession, and engaging these films in a bodily way that is wholly unique to any other mode of consuming cinema.