I feel alone among film lovers. When I go to friends’ houses, I notice their shelves stocked with copies of their favorite movies. For many, these items are cherished keepsakes–especially the DVDs and Blu-rays put out by the Criterion Collection, the company that produces definitive editions of essential films in handsome packages. For such rabid collectors, these past few weeks have been a little like Christmas: Criterion just completed its annual 50-percent-off sale, which has sparked lists such as Film.com’s “50 Best Criterion Collection Releases,” complete with the sets’ dynamic cover art. The lists are smartly done–and those covers really are beautiful–but I never feel the urge to own these great movies.
From an early age, I was instilled with a sense that the very best movies are something you have to earn. When I was a kid first getting into movies, I routinely programmed my VCR to tape films such as Citizen Kane off late-night TV. The next morning, I would excitedly head over to the VCR with the recorded VHS tape inside waiting for me–a holy artifact holding some masterpiece of cinema I couldn’t wait to see. The idea of a movie being contained on a physical device I could hold seemed unreal. How could any thing contain the greatness of these must-see movies?
As I got older (and got my driver’s license), I went out of my way to see films in a theater. I had to go forth and discover them–they were a quest, and one had to prove oneself worthy. Even as an adult who’s been beaten down by the hundreds of bad films I’ve reviewed, I’ve stubbornly held on to a belief that movies can be amazing. But that never translated into accumulating them at home. I quickly discovered that when friends tried to give me gifts of personal favorites on VHS or DVD (depending on the era), I would never feel quite as thrilled as I probably should have. A pattern started to form: I’d get the gift, express my gratitude, maybe watch the movie once (often with the person who gave it to me) and then that was it.
It’s not that I’m ungrateful. It’s just that those films are something far more spectacular and enriching than anything I could quantify, which is why their very existence on my shelves feels almost sacrilegious. It also feels presumptuous, as if I’ve somehow “conquered” the movie, like it’s a stuffed deer head mounted on my wall. I don’t want to ever feel that way about the films I love. To me, they remain larger than life, and I didn’t do anything to “earn” them–unlike those blank VHS tapes from my childhood that I filled by tracking down classic films on my channel guide.