Hanging Onto History

An update on the state of the art.

Hanging Onto History

It feels like we’re turning some kind of corner, doesn’t it? Streaming services feel increasingly limited – introducing advertising, dropping titles, losing members – while every week another culture writer notes that people are re-embracing physical media.

This week it was The Guardian’s J. Oliver Conroy, who chatted with a number of citizen archivists – including The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey and DiabolikDVD’s Jesse Nelson – about their collections and the fact that they’re no longer being regarded as hoarders. It was a proper human interest story, a trend piece that appreciates a thing that is happening without any sense of ridicule or othering. They used the most sensationalistic quote in the piece for the headline, but that always happens.

Even more heartening than Conroy’s piece was the reader feedback that followed, nearly all of it positive and most of it from dedicated disc collectors. (Yes, there was the person who said they donated a massive collection of DVDs to charity shops and now has “much more peace of mind”; I am sorry for this correspondent, but very happy for the people who got to discover their discards on the Oxfam shelf.)

Me? I’m experiencing much more peace of mind on my own terms, as we finally got the shelves set up in my new studio, meaning my collection could finally be unpacked after more than eight months in U-Haul boxes. It took most of March, but I’m very happy with the result:

The screen is at top right, but I like to let the Criterion Collection breathe.

That’s most of it, anyway; there are two other shelves that aren’t in the frame, for TV, music and miscellaneous collections.

And while it became a fun challenge to play Box Tetris when I needed to find a given disc – and a decent workout, if I’m being honest – it’s much more relaxing to have everything in plain sight. We still have to figure out what to do with the empty space where the stacks of boxes used to be, but that feels like a less demanding challenge somehow.

If you’re a subscriber to this newsletter, you don’t need me to remind you that the higher bitrates, uninterrupted data flow, uncompressed audio and less compressed video – among other things – make 4K and Blu-ray discs the best way to experience film and television outside of a theater. (And if you’re not a subscriber, hi! Welcome! Join our cult!)

But it does feel like more and more people are getting the message, or at least hearing it, which is spurring interest from distributors and boutique labels to feed a rising appetite. Universal’s magnificent 4K pressing of Oppenheimer sold out in a week last fall; earlier this month, James Cameron’s remastered, restored special editions of Aliens, The Abyss and True Lies were snapped up by rabid collectors. And while The Abyss didn’t technically sell out – as I understand it, its print run was extended to meet a last-minute surge in demand – it was damn near impossible to find a copy for a couple of weeks after its street date. I still don’t have one, which is why I have yet to write about the new release.

But I do have the LaserDisc boxed set! And now it’s out of its box, all snug and nice next to the other hundred-odd LDs I’ve hung on to for decades. Because I’m an archivist, dammit.

... and now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going out to the Vinegar Syndrome shop to grab a copy of Phase IV. You understand.

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