And no, this is not a Kickstarter campaign
I don’t know how you build and/or curate your home video collection, but I like to mix things up a little bit. That means I don’t just collect my favorite-movies-ever one after the other: I try to keep my library eclectic by making sure it never contains too much “old” or too much “new”; I do have a decent number of mainstream blockbusters, but I also fill in those gaps with true obscurities.
Never been much of a “completist”; for all the years I’ve been collecting movies (since those bygone VHS days), I’ve never actually owned every single James Bond movie, for example, in any format at one time.
Ditto the Star Wars series, which I haven’t bought on principle ever since George Lucas made his much-talked-about “Special Edition” changes and refuses to give me the movies I enjoyed in the theaters; ditto Star Trek, ditto superhero franchises, etc. I’m a big-time comics fan, but by no means do I own all the funnybook franchise hits: I own the ’78 Superman and Superman II; I own the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, and the first two Chris Nolan Batfilms, plus the 1966 camp classic; add in the Marvel-ous Iron Man and Ang Lee’s Hulk, Daredevil and Green Lantern (yes, yes, I know), the vintage serials of Batman and The Phantom with Tom Tyler on DVD, and I think that about does it.
When a movie series is relatively compact and easy to complete purchasing and viewing in one fell swoop, I’m certainly not opposed to taking the leap and stocking it on my shelves. The Thin Man Collection was an easy buy for me to make; one purchase, and bam, I had them all. Same with the Karloff Mr. Wong set. I love packages like the Universal Monsters Legacy sets, just as much as I enjoy the physical and artistic heft of a good Werner Herzog box.
Completing trilogies is never that important to me unless I’m really bonded in some manner to all three films. I only own The Godfather, for example, not Parts II and III—and that I only really have because I recognize its importance in movie history. I do admire and respect Coppola; I’m just not a big mob movie fan. But if you’re gonna make sure you have mob movies represented in your collection (and yes, I feel I must), well of course, you gotta own The Godfather.
All that said, there have been a few movies—Jaws being the example that immediately comes to mind—that I have owned in every single format (VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray) as soon as they became available, believing the ownership of certain titles to be worth the upgrade each and every time.
Blu-ray is my preferred option these days whenever I am adding to my home video library (yes, it IS noticeably better than DVD, as long as you are watching on an HDTV), unless a title I’d really like to have is only available in DVD. I like releases that have extras—audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes documentaries and the like (The Criterion Collection label is great for extras), but I’m a lot choosier about that element these days because there just isn’t the same amount of free time available to spend on them.
It should probably go without saying that I will typically avoid adding movies I actively dislike to the home collection. Sometimes, though, I will go right ahead and add films I may have struggled with liking but feel I’ll get into more with repeated viewings. David Fincher’s Panic Room is a perfect example of that phenomenon. I felt just so-so about the film when I saw it in the theater; I love it now.
Films I saw for the first time during college, however I felt about them, I’ve steadily added to my library—mostly because I recognize that I probably unfairly judged a lot of great movies I may have been bored stiff by when I was young(er) and (arguably more) foolish. The idiosyncratic vampire film Ganja & Hess is one of those films that literally put me to sleep in class—but now that I’ve seen a pristine and complete print, I’m a huge fan. Now that the Ukraine is big in the news again (and those are “my” people), I’m trying to line up a good day to look at Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors again.
When I’m really feeling frisky, I do go on some blind dates. I used to do this a lot with music CDs, and I find I have a reasonably similar success rate with movies—sometimes just picking a film up sight unseen, figuring it would probably be the kind of thing I’d really like or want to have available on the shelf, or deciding that I need to expand my horizons a little (again, in the interests of keeping the library artistically diverse), or adding it to the collection because someone I really like is involved and that makes it a good bet. Sometimes that works, and sometimes I really bomb out. That, too, is part of the fun for me.
My most recent purchase was Kino’s re-release of the 1920 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—that’s the well-regarded silent version starring John Barrymore. I hadn’t owned the film, or watched the film in fact, since I purchased it very cheaply from some bargain-basement public domain distributor on VHS ages ago. I remember barely being able to get through it, I felt the image looked so shabby; I’m not even certain whether or not there was an accompanying music score.
The film is kind of a legend though (mostly for Barrymore’s performance, often wrongly stated to have been accomplished without the use of makeup), so once I took the measure of Kino’s impressive-looking new Blu-ray release—which came complete with a nicely arranged set of extras, including a little-seen 1912 version of the Stevenson tale—I thought to myself: OK. You love horror movies. This is one of the “classics.” At this point, there are NO “Jekyll and Hyde” movies in the usable library…the print’s going to probably look the best it’ll look…maybe it’s time to give this a fresh appraisal…I can re-read the Stevenson book in advance, that’ll be fun, too…let’s do it!
The disc release itself? Nice, sure. Good job, Kino. The movie?
Look, it’s a real stiff. It’s said to be one of the more “faithful” versions of the story, but having re-read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde just before watching the Barrymore film, I’m here to say that I find that claim to be a little overstated. It’s more or less faithful in the same way that all of the “important” adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula have been—which is to say, kinda-sorta, and kinda-sorta not. As for Barrymore’s performance?—which, let’s say it again for the record, involves a great deal of makeup—I found it to be less than electrifying, especially relative to the Oscar-winning work Fredric March would do 11 years later. The direction, the cinematography…all pretty flat. The much-praised scene of Jekyll hallucinating a massive spider crawling up onto his bed and smothering him? Yeah, pretty cheesily executed, even for the time. Nothing whatever to compare to the still-bracing visual power of silent horror classics like Caligari or Nosferatu.
Actually, the bonus film from 1912 was a more rewarding watch for me, chiefly for the bizarro, gap-toothed makeup actor James Cruze wore as Hyde—and for the amusing fact that as Jekyll, he looked a little bit to me like the older Charlie Chaplin.
All this preface brings us now, finally, to the headline topic of this piece. (Is this what they call “burying the lead”?) I discovered by way of my record-keeping that my purchase of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde marked the 99th Blu-ray in my home video collection. I need to come off of that mildly disappointing addition now with a positively triumphant pick for my 100th Blu-ray, and that’s where you come in. My confidence is shaken! Do I pick a “favorite” I’ve never owned before now, and risk it being just a so-so view because I’m too comfortable with the movie to get energized by a repeat viewing? Do I do an upgrade from VHS or DVD to Blu-ray, so I can appreciate the greater clarity (say, with Lawrence of Arabia, which I haven’t owned since the LaserDisc release of its restoration)? Do I go for a movie with some fine extra materials, so I can obtain some deeper knowledge about a classic? Or do I go for that complete roll-of-the-dice, I’ve never seen this before but wow this looks good, high-risk, high-reward choice?
To avoid this becoming a free-for-all and to help you, the reader, better help me, I’ve narrowed down my possible choices for the 100th Blu-ray in my library to five, based on combinations of my different approaches to building my best home video library. Check these choices out, vote in the poll below and feel free to elaborate in the comments. I will be guided by the results. Here’s how I’ve narrowed down my 100th Blu-ray possibilities:
I eliminated presenting a showdown between High Noon and Outland, both of which I’m eager to own on Blu-ray—I figured I’d spare myself the grief I’d get in the comments when I admitted that the Connery reinvention is the one I like to watch over and over. (Oops) I took out Twixt, the vampire movie that hardly anybody saw; that appeals to me as a risky “blind date” choice, but I already have a Francis Coppola movie for the list; I plucked out King Kong vs. Godzilla and White Zombie, too—mainly because if My Best Fiend happens to see this poll, his default obsession with all things horror will prejudice him to click on those choices. Sorry, pal!
I wanted to add Broadcast News as a choice, as it’s a big sentimental favorite for me, a movie I’ve been thinking about upgrading (from my second-generation VHS dub!) to the Criterion Blu-ray. But I just covered that movie, sort of, in this space with the quiz Which Broadcast News Character Are You? (After you do your voting and commenting here, go take the quiz)
But enough of what I whittled away, because I could mention many, many more Blu-ray releases I’d like to see living in my house. Let’s get right down to it with the choices that made the cut:
WHY WOULD I ADD THIS TO THE LIBRARY? I haven’t owned this great, crazy movie since I made a second-generation VHS copy. This “Full Disclosure” release is loaded up with alternate versions of the movie and great extras, including the brilliant documentary “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” which is compulsively watchable and re-watchable with all of the trivia about the wild making of this film. The unsettling raw footage of Martin Sheen’s breakdown (during the Tai Chi breaking-the-mirror scene) is worth the purchase price alone.
WHY WOULD I ADD THIS TO THE LIBRARY? I have exactly one animated Blu-ray: WALL-E (which was more of a “for the family” thing). In my DVD collection, I do have some vintage cartoons and some experimental works, but I have a real interest in these super-old shorts (like the Fleischer Popeyes, etc.) and, watching them one at a time would provide more than one sitting’s worth of fun.
WHY WOULD I ADD THIS TO THE LIBRARY? Here’s one of those cases where one purchase nets me an entire series that I enjoyed (at least until the reboot/remake/reimagining starring Tom Hardy comes out). I dig on all three of these movies—like most fans, though, The Road Warrior is my clear favorite. This addition would inject some wall-to-wall, rip-roarin’ fun into a Blu-ray library that doesn’t have quite so much of this type of film in it. So, variety, too.
WHY WOULD I ADD THIS TO THE LIBRARY? This wouldn’t be my natural choice for a Hitch Blu-ray to add to the shelves—that’d probably be Notorious, which I adore unreservedly…but I am here to admit that STILL…I Never Saw This Classic Movie.
WHY WOULD I ADD THIS TO THE LIBRARY? Love William Friedkin. Love Roy Scheider. At the time, this film was blasted for having been titled “Sorcerer” and having nothing to do with the supernatural, which bewildered and irritated folks expecting some new chills from the guy who just made that little movie called The Exorcist. It’s been equally slammed as an inferior remake of The Wages of Fear and praised as an underrated thriller of the ‘70s. If I have ever seen this, I don’t remember it at all. I have never owned it. On Blu-ray, Sorcerer has been restored and reportedly looks terrific. (BEWARE, THOUGH: The DVD release is NOT similarly restored. It’s a total pan-and-scan release. I have confirmed this, so watch out, unless the square, boxy, 1.33: 1 version is actually the one you want–** on June 10, Warner Bros. has announced, the restored, Friedkin-approved DVD will be released.**) My colleague who works across from me here in the office (you may know him due to his unhealthy obsession with Doctor Who) owns this now, and gives it his hearty endorsement.
Time to vote!
The 100th Blu-ray in My Home Video Collection Should Be…
Time to comment!—especially if you went with that “other” option, either to advocate for one of the choices I said I eliminated, or to push some entirely alternate choice. The stipulation here is that the movie must be available on Blu-ray (only Region 1, kids, I never went for the region-free thing on Blu), and I’d only disqualify your suggestion if I already have the movie in the library.
My wallet awaits your help in emptying it!