02 December 2009

The Rising Phoenix of Aesthetically Pleasing Toilet Plungers

That DVD is a dying form is of no surprise.  The onslaught of Blu-Ray and Digital Downloads make it seem like a quaint technology.  But there's a bigger issue here - we're switching from a consumer-based culture of "obtaining and owning" to a culture of "accessing."  The internet has created a generation of people who think that if it's online, it's free (which it isn't.  Someone has to pay for that internet access).

Personally, I think DVD still has some life left to it, and, if you'll indulge me, I feel like pontificating.  Break out the margaritas and pick up a lawn chair.

A trip to Target and half an hour in their DVD section has cemented my view that if DVD is to continue, the clamshelled (slip-cased with annoying price tags) relics of late-90s modernity have to and should go the way of the dodo.  They're unattractive, they take up space, and, as is more common, they're nothing but placeholders for people who don't want to cough up the Blu-Ray dough, don't have a Blu-Ray player, or would rather Red-Box it for a buck, or have Netflix deliver to your door.

The shelves are lined with choice.  Single-disc with bare-bones, or Double Disc with some special features, or my ultimate least favorite - double disc with the first disc containing the movie and all of the extras and the second disc a digital copy.  This isn't just a lack of common sense - it's a pain in the ass.  No wonder no one buys DVDs anymore.

In fact, the only reason I buy a DVD anymore is because I like to watch on it my TV with surround sound.  And if that's the case - why would I buy a poorly packaged disc with the movie?  It's become VHS all over again.  And we all know what happened there.

That leaves me with Blu-Ray.  And I don't feel like paying for Blu-Ray right now, especially if it's simply a middle ground between content and access.  It may be pretty, but it feels a bit like fake breasts.  Nice to look at, but ultimately a let-down when the full package just isn't there.

Admittedly, I've got a huge DVD collection.  Larger than I should.  Most I never watch again (there were two blind buys in my life that were totally worth it - 25th Hour and Once Upon a Time in the West).  And there's nothing I enjoy more than popping open a beer, sitting back, and blasting a great film through big speakers.

But, it's a dying form.  Televisions now come with wireless capability.  Next-gen gaming consoles offer Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, and downloadable content.  And I can still hook that up to my sound system.

In order for independent filmmakers and film studios and purveyors of DVD to continue to make it a viable form (and I'm not talking a month from now - I'm talking two-three years from now), there has to be a move towards the same thing we've seen with consumer products.

Beautifully designed toilet scrubbers and plungers.  Vacuum cleaners with an artistic bent.  Simple and zen-looking (or the highly tempting porcupine scrubber) kitchen appliances.  Look around a Target or any other store.  We are no longer a culture of "because it works' utilitarian consumers.  We like things to be aesthetically pleasing and fulfill their intended function.

DVDs are utilitarian. They perform a function.  Clamshell cases protect shiny disc that contains content.  They usually have a piss-poor rendition of the poster or some other god-awful "design."  Look what downloadable content did to CDs - plastic cases holding shiny discs containing content.

There are three to four companies that make DVDs worth purchasing.  And why are they worth purchasing?  They're an attractive package that makes the film-viewing experience and the filmmaking experience one.  Commentaries.  Fascinating behind the scenes footage that is not part of the PR campaign.  Screw "First Look."  They want to give consumers the "Total Look."

The three companies that spring to mind are Criterion, Kino, and Oscilloscope.  Criterion makes beautiful (but not cheap) editions that are complete packages.  A library of classic film, of new film, etc.  Insightful commentaries with intelligent discussion and beautifully designed packages.  The most recent beauties in my collection are The Third Man, The Rules of the Game, and Vampyr.  I would never question my purchase of these.

Kino produces gems such as the Houdini silent movie collection, a beautiful restoration of Nosferatu, and the most recent edition of Metropolis.  All are filled with intelligent pieces of information that make them truly archive-worthy.

Oscilloscope releases new films, such as Wendy and Lucy, starring Michelle Williams, in attractive, environmentally friendly, and most importantly aesthetically pleasing packages.  They make buying a DVD like buying an LP.  They're all pieces of art.

But, the DVDs we see on shelves, and more importantly, the DVDs non-filmmakers and our audience see on shelves are utilitarian.  It's no wonder that lowest common denominator services like Redbox and kiosks are becoming the norm.  It's no wonder that the products we create are treated as disposable, mass produced chunks of shiny plastic.  It's because they're represented as such.  I'd rather go to Home Depot than buy another mass-produced, clamshelled, utilitarian DVD with no features, commentary, or another "First Look" Behind the Scenes pat on the back.

Consumers won't treat our products better until we represent them better.   Criterion, Oscilloscope, and Kino present films as artistic statements and aesthetically pleasing packages meant for posterity.  Most companies present films as meant for the posterior.

The lesson - evolve, look pretty, offer people their money's worth, and survive.  If not, we have no one to blame for falling sales but ourselves, and should start bowing at the altar of the Redbox kiosk.


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