DVD Sales on the Verge of Killing Cult Video

Joel Moore, At the Video Store
The Daily Mississippian and Joel Moore
At the Video Store (August 20, 2002

So now then, let’s talk about this DVD revolution we’ve got going on.

It’s a great thing, a stupendous and exciting thing, even, to be able to view one’s favorite movies in the format in which they were intended. It’s an even better thing to be able to listen to director’s commentaries, view deleted footage, and gain a little insight into the mechanics of filmmaking.

The thing is, though, that these DVDs, these discs chock full of lagniappe – of pure American excess – are working against the film community as a whole. As video stores begin to convert their inventories from VHS to DVD, certain movies start to fall through the cracks. Certain videos are eliminated from stock and never replaced with their DVD counterparts. These are movies which will never get a life on DVD: the dusty, tasteless horror movies and the campy old sci-fi pics, the lesser known documentaries and 1950s propagandist tales, the ultra-gory slasher flicks and the cornball Travolta-rollerskate-disco fests.

These now dying breeds of film were fertile ground for the education of some of our great modern filmmakers. Where would Sam Raimi be without 1950s horror or the Coens without European existentialism? (Ooo…big word… I promise I’m not normally pretentious.)

Aside from being the filmmaking Mesopotamia (fertile crescent…nudge, nudge…nevermind), aside from that, many of these movies are just plain fun to watch.

“The Nail-Gun Massacre” and “Silent Night, Deadly Night” for instance, are exploitation and shock value at their best. The edu-cartoon “What’s Happening to Me?” has to be the funniest and most disturbing sex-ed lesson since that talk with the folks. It’s a great party video, I promise.

So anyway, what I’m saying is that while it’s nice to have the new four-disc expanded “Lord of the Rings” box set or to hear what was going through Tim Burton’s mind while directing “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”, it’s a bit sad to see old movies die a quick and quiet death.

Where will we find new cult-videos when all of our cult-videos are gone? We are trading interesting and quirky films for a Special Millennium Collector’s Edition of “Pearl Harbor” or a Platinum Glow-in-the-Dark Criterion Edition of “Glitter.” Why?

There was something both innocent and na?ve about these movies’ shoddiness, something that endeared them to an audience – a certain humanity that too many movies today are missing.

It reminds me of P.T. Anderson’s “Boogie Nights.” Burt Reynolds’ porn producer-cum-director Jack Horner is sitting down with his investors. They wish him to make the switch from film to newer, cheaper videotape. He refuses on principle. There is simply something colder, more mechanical (almost sadistic) about video. It, Jack Horner reasons, takes the filmmaking out of his job.

E. e. cummings once noted, “nothing recedes like progress.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there aren’t some movies out there that deserve to die; it’s just that knowing that they’re dying makes it somehow harder to lose them. Right?