Bret Wood's Efforts and Exploits

An updated guide to film and DVD work.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pushing Paper

Well, it was a difficult thing to do, but it had to be done.

Over the past couple of months, I've packed up my fairly extensive movie poster collection and shipped it out to an eBay consignment merchant that specializes in movie posters. I'd been collecting posters since high school (The Elephant Man and Breaking Away were the first one-sheets I ever owned) and gobbled up every poster I could afford during college -- as if these precious investments couldn't help but skyrocket in value. I mean everyone loves movie posters, right?


Well, I think movie posters, like classic cinema, are quickly becoming a thing of the past. That is, their audience is shrinking, not growing. The current generation of film enthusiasts look at cinema history differently. They generally have a shallow pool of film knowledge (30 years at the most), and no longer look at films as a precious commodity. I guess because films have been so widely available on DVD that they haven't experienced the feeling of film lust. Those of you over 40 know what I'm talking about... before the days of VCRs and 100-channel cable systems. When the only way you could see a particular classic movie was to hope that it showed up on late-night television or a screening at a film society or repertory house (two institutions that are almost completely obsolete).

When you got to see movies like Shadow of a Doubt or The Lady from Shanghai, you really treasured them, because of their scarcity. No one today can experience what it's like to try and stay awake until 3:00 am in order to catch a late-late show screening of Lolita or Badlands on the CBS late movie. Discovering the hidden, appreciating the arcane was a great feeling. It didn't satisfy one's curiosity about cinema, it fueled it. A cineaste was like a bloodhound catching a scent and then following that faint, elusive trail deep into a forest of discovery, where one would stumble across similar films, films by the same director, constantly building a vocabulary of film, better understanding the context in which these films were made and released.

And movie poster collecting -- at least for me -- went hand in hand with that quest for knowledge and joy of discovery. It signified not only finding the films, but possessing a piece of their history. If you couldn't own a film, you could own an artifact of their original theatrical release. To a kid without much of a life in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that was a pretty special thing.

But now I have more of a life. And a child. And a mortgage. And plans to make more films. So it's time to part with those relics. For one thing, I don't put movie posters up on my wall... so what good are several crates of posters? And secondly, the value of the posters is not really going up. The market for these things is evidently shrinking, because they aren't selling for nearly as much as I would've hoped. Yeah, I've scored some nice sales, but all in all, they aren't going to fund a film or put a kid through college. Curiously, the things that seem to bring the most money are second-rate AIP/Corman films (The Undead, The Bonnie Parker Story, X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes). Odd. Hitchcock and Kubrick are selling well -- as one would expect.

Shipping away the posters, watching them being hawked on eBay, reminds me of the time when I really had a passion for film. I would say "Maybe it's a college-age thing," but having taught Film History at an art college, and seeing the lack of interest first-hand, makes me think it's more of a generational thing. One reason I'm having this flashback to a time when people were passionate about film is because I'm currently working on the reconstruction of a Lettrist film of 1951: Jean-Isidore Isou's Venom and Eternity (Traité de bave et d'éternité). Talk about passion for film! It's jaw-dropping.

...and it will be the topic of my next entry.


At 9:29 AM, Blogger Tony said...

Hello Bret, what a wonderfully lucid, if wistful post.

I too have been ruminating on scarcity, particularly on how much effort one used to have to put into finding an image of a bare breast or a woman with her legs open. Now, for anyone with a computer and an internet connection, images like that are easily found. Being able to see nudity and sexuality is very much taken for granted, not so unlike taking for granted than you can see any nearly movie you like nearly any time you like.

While the director in me bemoans this scarcity shift, the producers senses an opportunity. Plenty in one area often produces scarcity in another, and scarcity is opportunity. That's about as far is the thought goes for now, except maybe to add that I don't think our desire to be told entertaining stories is going away anytime soon. Whatever however how people experience that story-telling shifts, I think there's going to be a place for good storytellers.


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