Borrowed DVDs

The discs were supposed to be indestructible. When CDs first came in (yes, I remember when) that was one of their biggest selling points. You couldn’t scratch them like an LP, or really do much to damage them in any way short of snapping them in two. I remember television hosts spreading peanut butter and jam on them and then scraping it off, wiping them down, and slipping them straight into the CD player. Technology!

DVDs shared this same magical power. VHS videotapes wore out on replay and were damaged by excessive pausing or rewinding. Anyone who rented a copy of Under Siege from Blockbuster in the early ’90s knew what that looked like when the girl jumped out of the cake. But with DVDs you could watch a movie as many times as you wanted, and freeze the action and play it back at any speed without any diminishment in quality. You could probably even spread peanut butter and jam on them too.

Of course now we’re living in the era of non-tactile media, streaming our music and movies directly onto our tablets and TVs. Or at least some of us are. I still borrow DVDs (no, not Blu-Rays) from the library and I also have a pretty extensive library of DVDs at home. Call me a Luddite or behind the times but I like the technology.

I also take care of the DVDs I borrow. I follow standard procedure in carefully removing the disc from its case, pressing the button in the center to release it and then only holding on to it by its edges. From the case to the machine and back again. That’s it. Such a disc may be indestructible, but why test it?

Well, discs aren’t indestructible. Which is something you soon find out when you borrow them from your local public library. While I have never had a problem with a DVD freezing or skipping on playback with a disc from my personal library, with borrowed discs it has become usual.

Now in itself this isn’t too surprising. We tend not to take care of things we don’t own but are just enjoying temporarily. People can be shit in that way. What never ceases to surprise me, however, is just how badly these discs have been treated.

I mean, while not indestructible the fact is you have to work hard to damage a DVD. When I remove a DVD that has frozen and flip it over to take a look at it I am shocked. What on earth are people doing with these things? They look like they’ve seen a tour of duty in a soldier’s backpack. They are scratched all over, as though they’ve been used as pucks in a game of air hockey or coasters in a bar. I’d like to say I’m joking but I think in some people’s homes perhaps they are being used to put drinks on. Because . . . what else can explain the state they’re in?

This truly puzzles me. Books get damaged because you take them everywhere. They get stuffed in bags and taken to the beach and are randomly tossed around. They have food dropped in them, and fall into tubs or sinks. Some people dog-ear pages to mark their place, or underline passages and make marginal notes. I can understand all that. But how do you do this to a DVD? I didn’t think there would be as many opportunities to be so destructive. Are they being used as coasters? Hung from trees and windows to keep the birds away? It seems weird.


The war, on film

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching movies about recent American military actions. What do they have in common? In the first place, the desire to tell true stories in highly conventionalized ways. In the second, presenting themselves as being non-political. I don’t think they’re all that successful in either regard. They’re decent action flicks, but if you’re looking for something more you’re not going to get it.

Black Hawk Down (2001)
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
American Sniper (2014)
13 Hours (2016)


Blinded. By the light.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching two film adaptations of the Patrick Hamilton play Gas Light: the 1940 version directed by Thorold Dickinson (which I liked the best) and the more famous 1944 film directed by George Cukor and starring Ingrid Bergman (who won an Academy Award).

The only reason I wanted to watch these movies is because the phrase “gaslighting” has become so popular in political discussions that I wanted to see where it originated. I came away thinking it’s a stretch to apply it to political propaganda and the lies presidents tell. But then, the plot of the two films (which comes from a play by Patrick Hamilton) is so ridiculous in the first place, why not?

Colour films

Mop on. Mop off.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching adaptations of H. P. Lovecraft’s story “The Colour Out of Space.” Lovecraft has always been hard to put on screen and I’m afraid most of these movies aren’t very good (bordering on terrible). But the two most recent, the German film Die Farbe and the even stranger Swedish production Feed the Light are interesting, low-budget experiments that I’d recommend.

Here’s the list:

Die, Monster, Die! (1965)
“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” from Creepshow (1982)
The Curse (1987)
Colour from the Dark (2008)
Die Farbe (2010)
Feed the Light (2014)

Begin again, and again

Over at Alex on Film I’ve added notes on three movies taking the premise that an individual has to relive the same day in their life over again and again in a loop until some condition is met. I think Groundhog Day (1993) was the first, or at least the best known film to do this. We still call it a Groundhog Day plot. More recently the idea has proven itself to be highly portable, being featured in Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and Happy Death Day (2017).

What I find interesting is how different, in most other respects, these films are. In Groundhog Day the time loop has a vaguely spiritual dimension to it, related to Buddhist teachings or Nietzsche’s eternal return. In Edge of Tomorrow there’s a ridiculous explanation for it based on some connection between alien biology and time travel. This is a throwaway, as the real connection being made is to video game play. In Happy Death Day it seems like the device is being invoked in a more ironic way. What do these different approaches have in common? I’m not sure. I can’t help thinking there’s some deeper connection though.

On trial

Joseph K. Before the fall.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve posted my notes on two film versions of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. The first is the Orson Welles film from 1962. It’s not my favourite Welles, but he manages the text well and really makes it his own. The second is a far more literal adaptation, directed by David Jones, which came out in 1993. I didn’t like it nearly as much, but it’s still worth seeing if you’re a fan of the book.

Holmes on film

I’ve updated a few times on this site with links to my notes over at Alex on Film on various movies featuring Sherlock Holmes. Mostly I’ve been talking about the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce series that ran through the late 1930s and early ’40s. If you’re interested, this is an up-to-date master list. If I review any more Holmes movies I’ll just add them here.

The Copper Beeches (1912)
Le Trsor des Musgraves (1912)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)
Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943)
Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)
Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)
The Spider Woman (1943)
The Scarlet Claw (1943)
The Pearl of Death (1944)
The House of Fear (1945)
The Woman in Green (1945)
Pursuit to Algiers (1945)
Dressed to Kill (1946)
Murder by Decree (1979)
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)