Look At This!

This is a golden age for people who like to watch movies at home. Films considered obscure or lost are turning up on YouTube, in deluxe boxed sets, and at museum screenings. Digital projection is causing DVD bootlegs of museum screenings to look as crisp as commercial releases. Streaming services requiring content are causing films to be funded or purchased at film festivals. Models are even being floated to allow home viewing of new releases on the very day of their release. In fact the demand for options to watch movies apart from an increasingly ill manned public has caused numerous paradigm shifts from the business models of yore.

Since this column was first conceived 10 years ago, quite a number of changes have occurred. Movies were still released on VHS in 2006. Although my first column referenced a YouTube video, it was still a new service with strict 15-minute limits. Now it’s possible to see whole out-of-print films there. If I had suggested “streaming” something 10 years ago, there wouldn’t have been that many legal options to do so. Now the market for DVDs has been decimated by competing streaming services.

Like all golden ages, this one will eventually end. As people rely on streaming services for content, there is less impetus to keep actual copies of films. Hollywood productions are bowing increasingly to the demands of foreign censors. It is just a matter of time until streaming services prioritize this content. Foreign ownership of streaming services might eventually throttle out content that escaped censorship.

So what’s a film lover to do? The best place to start is by preserving films as hard copies. They still sell DVDs for now. You can buy a multi-region DVD player on Amazon for under $50. Even if you don’t watch foreign films, there are American titles that are only in print in Europe. Thanks to Italian copyright law, there are many rare Andy Warhol films on offer at Amazon Italy. This is where the region-free player comes in. If you have a budget for collecting, it probably makes sense to grab an extra player, so that your archive is playable despite whatever technology comes next. If you want to archive your foreign DVDs in a format that is playable on American machines, there is free online software that does that.

Meanwhile I hope that some of the stuff you encounter in this column sparks your curiosity, and motivates you to seek out obscure content. One of the tricky things about the amount of content currently available is the complete lack of context. Some things stand the test of time, and others are time capsules of an era. If I can provide a little context, and pique your interest enough to seek out the things that Hollywood left behind, it will mean that I am doing what I intended from day one. As Huell Howser often said, “Look at this! Will you just look at this?” Golly!