the video word made flesh

Among my friends in New York the term “crack” is applied to goods that we can become addicted to collecting.

DVDs are my crack.

I’m exceptionally lucky that I never began collecting movies before the introduction of DVDs. For instance I have friends who bought the entire series of say, Bablyon 5 on VHS (and some of them even succumbed to buying the series again on DVD).

I remember my first DVD. It was The Matrix, and I got it for free at a business conference. I didn’t even had a DVD player at the time, but I had a DVD drive in my computer. We hooked the TV up to the drive, and I marvelled at the quality.

I have a distinct memory of freeze framing an overhead shot of Neo among his computers and clutter at home. There was no flicker, no jittering image, just a perfect snap shot of a moment in the film. I could see every tiny detail.

This was a technology I could get behind.

Since then I’ve been accumulating a reasonable collection of DVDs. The period coincided with my interest in writing for film, and my education in the history of cinema. DVDs can be a premium item, so I’m always on the look-out for a bargain. It’s rare now that I’ll buy a DVD when it is first released, because I only have to wait a couple of months before it is heavily discounted.

I have an Achilles Heel, however. It’s called The Criterion Collection.

Oh sweet lord it’s crack heaven.

A droplet of drool hits the desk as soon as I peruse the catalogue of rare titles, with beautiful transfers, and often packed with splendid extras like commentary tracks, featurettes, and scholarly essays on the films. I try not to look at the web site very often because it is exceedingly bad for my bank balance. For instance, I’ve been eyeing up the Cassavetes and Truffaut box sets for ages–thus far I’ve withstood temptation.

These choice items are not cheap. They are the Bentleys of the DVD world. You can almost smell hand-tooled leather when you crack open the box.

The reason for this hymn of praise is that on Friday I received the Criterion edition of David Cronenberg’s 1983 masterpiece, Videodrome.

Not only does this version come with two commentary tracks, but it is oozing with features, essays, documentaries etc., which I can’t wait to watch.

When I removed it from the envelope for a horrified second I thought I’d been sent a VHS copy of the movie. The discs come in a plastic shell that’s designed to look like a VHS tape, along with what appears like a handwritten label on the side. When you pull the package out of its cardboard sleeve it even has fake spools, and another handwritten label that proclaims “Long Live the New Flesh”. It’s as if Brian O’Blivion sent me a personal message.

So, on occasion I dish out extra money for the privilege of owning a superior version of a film. Videodrome is an important science fiction film, not only because of its interrogation of the media and its effect on people, but because it established Cronenberg’s signature style of melding flesh and technology in toe-curling combinations. It continues to be subversive and disturbing twenty-three years after it was made.

That’s the sign of a classic for which I will spend bit extra.


  • Lee

    Notch me up as one of the mad addicts who bought B5 on VHS, and then again on DVD. And Robin of Sherwood. And Buffy. And Angel.Why? Why do I do these things to my wallet?

    • Maura

      DVD technology is advancing at a rapid rate. HD-DVD will be out soon, but it will be backward compatible with “ordinary” DVDs. So it shouldn’t involve having to re-buy all your existing films on another format. It will require an outlay for a new DVD player… and there will be the issue of choosing your format: Blu-ray or HD-DVD? It helps if your movie geekness crosses with technology geekness!I know people who got into Laser Discs, for instance! People buy movies on UMD, now… Movie collecting can be an expensive business, and the changes in technology can up the costs.