Wednesday, May 07, 2008
How "Home Entertainment" Ruined Movies
Not too long ago, I was having lunch with my friend, Carrie Rickey, movie critic
for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and I asked her a question which, up until that point, had merely been an elusive thought - a thought that had been nagging me for a few years.
"Why is it," I asked, "that I find it more special to watch 'Vertigo' when it's shown on Turner Classics than to watch my DVD of it?"
Fact is, I've never watched my DVD of "Vertigo," even though I made a point of rushing out to buy a copy as soon as Tower Video (remember Tower Video?) had it in stock.
Carrie's theory is that it's a holdover from the moviegoing experience itself, which limits to a degree where and when we can see a movie. The fact is, Turner Classics has replaced the neighborhood rep house, recreating the experience of seeing a specific title at a specific time. And, by doing so, it makes a film that is fully accessible on DVD seem, well, almost rare. And special again.
Movies are not difficult to see anymore and, frankly, I'm not sure that's a good thing.
When "Vertigo" was first released, I was a kid. I'm not sure I undersood the film - in fact, I'm fairly certain that I didn't - but I loved it nevertheless. It played at my neighborhood theater for only three or four days. (Back then, two new films opened every week - one on Sunday and then one on Wednesday.) I had to see it whenever I could because, once it was gone, it was gone for good. I think I saw it at least three times during its engagement; I know I sat through it twice in one day.
It may have been committed to memory but it was still missed once it left our theater.
I wouldn't encounter it again until many years later when it popped up on television. Each TV showing, sometimes spaced years apart, became an occasion for a party. Friends would join me, even if it was on The Late, Late Show, and we'd indulge ourselves in bad food and good Hitchcock.
Occasionally, I'd venture to New York to see a revival showing of it at the Thalia or the Waverly.
It was difficult to see. A fact which made it precious. My inability to see "Vertigo" whenever I wanted somehow made it even more special.
By the mid-1970s, things changed. I didn't have much time for friends - or family - because my new friend was my Betamax, which was inevitably replaced by a VCR. On any given night, and certainly every weekend, I could be found locked away in my little apartment with - what?- five television sets, three video recorders and 547 videotapes which contained, by my count, 1,064 movie titles.
The problem was, I taped films but I didn't necessarily look at them. Once I had "Vertigo" on tape, I stopped watching it because, well, it was always there. It was suddenly accessible. It was right there in my bookcase. Now, I could watch it whenever I wanted to. But I didn't.
I eventually purchased a studio-produced VHS of "Vertigo," which traveled from apartment to apartment, from house to house, until I ran out to buy the aforementioned DVD of it. Which, as I've said, I've also never watched.
I only see "Vertigo" now when it's on Turner - which actually is often, given that it's a staple of the cable network.
With a kind of perfect circuity, I pencil it on my calendar whenever I see it listed in the Turner Classics guide, blocking out the afternoon or night when it's being televised. My wife and I open wine - from Northern California's wine country, which is apt - and eat popcorn. Sometimes we share Scotch and thick steaks, just as James Stewart and Kim Novak do at Ernie's in the movie.
"Vertigo" has remained one of my special films - no thanks to home entertainment and the video/DVD revolution.
Now, anyone want my unopened DVD? Cheap.
(Artwork: Vintage lobby card for Hitchcock's "Vertigo," featuring Stewart and Novak in an intimate moment.)
Posted by joe baltake at 2:58 PM