Friday, April 28, 2023

Notes on Film: Consume

 by Anthony King

Obey... or else.

Having just recently had a conversation about Blu-ray collecting, I laid in bed last night thinking about the bookcases in my basement clotted with Blu-rays, DVDs, VHS tapes, books, CDs, and a meager collection of toys. Questions swirled around my head as I drifted off to sleep. How much money do I have wrapped up in the objects that populate these shelves? How many movies are still trapped behind the plastic in which I originally received them? How many ounces of dust is living in the spaces I don't run the Swiffer through? But most importantly: Why? More in a bit. First, a few things I've seen recently.
Back in 1996 I came across a movie on TV one afternoon that I didn't recognize. On screen there was a gorgeous brunette in bed wearing a sexy little purple number. The next scene, I recognized the woman from L.A. Story (1991). I was glued to my seat for the rest of the movie, yet I never figured out what it was. Cut to 20 years later and I come across the very same movie on Netflix. Miami Rhapsody (1995) had been my white whale for years. It never left my brain. I was obsessed with that brunette (Carla Gugino). I loved the setting in Miami. I was enthralled by the heavy dialogue. And when I realized Kino Lorber released a Blu-ray of it, I had to own it. In the movie SJP is engaged to Gil Bellows, but as the engagement drags on the realities of the relationships of other people in her life are revealed. Her mother (Mia Farrow) and father (Paul Mazursky) are each having affairs. Mom is sleeping with her mother's nurse (Antonio Banderas); Dad is sleeping with his travel agent (Kelly Bishop). SJP's brother (Kevin Pollack) is having an affair with a model (Naomi Campbell). Her sister (Gugino), newly married to a football player, reconnects with a former classmate (Jeremy Piven) and begins her own affair. It's funny as hell and will charm your pants off. Rarely do we get romantic comedies like this any more that aren't trying to swindle viewers in with big name stars who have no chemistry. Miami Rhapsody wasn't made to break box office records or break new narrative ground. It exists simply to remind us that movies can still feel like a warm blanket.
And then there are movies like Jekyll and Hyde... Together Again (1982), the cinematic equivalent to snorting a thick rail of cocaine, which is exactly what this movie is about. A wholly 1980s take on the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story, Mark Blankfield (Fridays, Bill Lee's and John Moffitt's riff on Saturday Night Live) stars as the titular split personality character who, as Dr. Jekyll, falls asleep in his lab one night with a straw up his nose and accidentally snorts a pile of white powder. This leads to his transformation into Mr. Hyde, a coked out playboy and wild man. While I'm not one to watch laugh-a-minute comedies, I love J&H and the many different takes throughout the years delivered by Hollywood. Plus, the movie's tagline pulled me in like a tractor beam: “It's a real toot!” Bess Armstrong, Michael McGuire, and Tim Thomerson co-star with an appearance by Cassandra Peterson billed as “Busty Nurse” and George Chakiris playing himself, but this is really the Mark Blankfield show. It's astounding to watch him go full tilt as both characters, and I was shocked I was still laughing by the end of the movie as I usually burn out pretty quickly with goofy movies like this.
I finally completed John Carpenter's filmography this past weekend with Elvis (1979), and a little movie that I now know is unjustly shat upon. Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) is a perfectly fine, if not good, movie. Sure we're used to seeing masterpieces come from the Master of Horror, but nobody bats 1.000. I remember when it was released people saying that they were disappointed that it wasn't a John Carpenter movie (I didn't know who he was back then), or that it wasn't a Chevy Chase movie (one of my childhood favorite actors). Thirty-one years later I can safely say it's absolutely a Carpenter AND a Chase movie. Just because he's not doing his slapstick style of comedy, Chevy Chase is good as the invisible man. Daryl Hannah is great as his love interest. Sam Neill is once again menacing as the man trying to hunt down our hero. The effects blew me away (I remember seeing the trailer back then and being blown away by the image of him covered in water). If we want to talk about bad Invisible Man movies then let's talk about Hollow Man (2000). Eight years after Carpenter's, Verhoeven's take looks like absolute dog shit. Memoirs is in the top 15 of my ranked Carpenters (you'll have to listen to an upcoming podcast for my full ranking), and I will now defend this movie till my dying breath.
Now onto the topic at hand. I've written about this before, but I felt another strong urge to talk about it. I have 822 physical copies of movies in my collection. A paltry sum compared to most, but I've never been one to compete. I have a couple dozen VHS tapes stacked on top of my shelf. These aren't rare tapes, either – movies that haven't made the jump from black plastic to shiny plastic. Can I tell you the last time I slid my copy of The Birdcage (1996) from its cardboard sheath? Not even if you put a gun to my head. There are 128 movies in my collection that I have never seen. Some of these I have owned for 10+ years. Yet, I keep adding to the collection. I just bought Prisoners (2013) at Ace Hardware for $5. Did I rush home to watch it? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, I forgot I now own it until I looked at the Letterboxd list of my collection. I also have a nasty habit of keeping the plastic on discs until I watch them. So what happens if I decide to watch Do the Right Thing (1989) and I finally unwrap the plastic only to find the disc cracked or scratched beyond recognition? The answer is nothing except to eat a big ol' bowl of crow, because I bought it during a B&N sale three years ago at a store and have no proof of purchase.

So why do I feel the incessant need to own a movie on disc? Sure I'm supporting the business when I buy directly from Kino or Vinegar Syndrome. But guess what? I usually buy from Amazon (gasp!). The collector will come back and say I'm supporting the preservation of film and streaming is extremely unreliable. These things are 100% true. But at what point am I buying movies just because a company hypes their products really well, or there's a sale, or everyone else is doing it so why shouldn't I? I am a grown ass man and I should be able to think for myself, yet I still struggle with staying afloat in consumer culture. And I regrettably catch myself holding my nose high in the air towards people whose lives seem immersed in objects. It's none of my goddamn business what people spend their money on. Yet every now and then I'll see someone post a stack of the latest VinSyn releases and I'll think to myself, “You fell for it again, nerd.” Granted, if you spent $32 on Orgy of the Dead (1965) you're a schmuck. But hey, I'm not your mom. Do whatever you want.
I assume it's because I'm getting older and crankier, but I'm realizing I simply don't have the time or resources to waste on a disc that's just going to take up space. While at the same time staying judgment free of those of you that will spend $65 for Sidekicks (1992) because “it's actually a good movie,” I need to stay clear-headed enough to not fall for the FOMO of it all and realize that even though the Blu-ray is sitting in my collection, I'm never going to watch Krull (1983) again.


  1. Yeah, that FOMO thing is sneaky. You swear you won't fall for it, but then you remember that one time you wanted a movie that was OOP

  2. I do think it's good for people to support physical media, since these last several years have seen a lot great restorations that probably wouldn't have been done if the movie was just going to a streaming service somewhere.

    That's said, lately I've been finding the value proposition of buying something on blu-ray or 4k for me personally to be making less and less sense. I think that Arrow's Shaw Scope sets are great packages for instance, but how many times in my life am I going to watch each movie, considering there's a few in the first volume I still haven't gotten around to yet? I've moved around from place to place the last several years for work, and when you have stuff that stays packed through multiple moves it really gets you to question how much you need any of the stuff in that box.

    I've also become increasing allergic to the social media conspicuous consumption of it all. Following a number of Film Twitter folks, it's a common occurrence for people to show off a stack of movies that they got during the latest sale, and I should note that there's absolutely nothing wrong with people doing that. Part of me wonders though how many of these movies were actually bought to be watched, and how many were bought just for the sake of collecting, or to try to establish ones' film cred or something by showing other people online all the movies they're buying.

    1. Ross I am 100% in agreement with you! Excellent points.