As with any sea change in the media landscape, there is always the fear that what we wind up with might be somehow less rewarding than what we currently have. Indeed, consult Lovefilm’s current streaming options and you will discover that it a good deal easier to find a rubbish Hollywood action movie than a brilliant independent or foreign-language film. Before independent, classic and foreign-language films find their way into the cloud there are numerous problems to solve not least the questions of rights and what is to happen to all of the people who currently make their living selling DVDs and Blu-rays. When it comes to larger films, these issues are not that much of a problem but given how many small films find their way to market through boutique DVD labels, there is a real danger that the shift to cloud media will silence some of the most distinctive curatorial voices in contemporary cinephilia.
The power of the DVD as a symbol of one’s tastes and status has declined by virtue of the fact that nowadays most people have not only a DVD player but also a reasonable collection of DVDs and because all DVDs are equally accessible once one has a region-free player, there is no cachet to be had from owning a particular disc. As the economy grinds its heals and average home sizes shrink year-by-year, the fashion is increasingly for the kind of clutter-free existence facilitated by online streaming and digital media storage. Even the most beautifully designed of DVD cases cannot compete with the elegant minimalism of a TV surrounded by nothing but blank wall and a black box that discretely hums as it disgorges all the wonders of world cinema.
To give you some inkling of what we might lose with the end of physical media, I’d like to direct your attentions to three of my favourite boutique DVD labels:
Best known for their art house multiplex on London’s Southbank, the also operates quite a prominently branded DVD label. Aside from releasing films of historical and academic interest, the BFI’s DVD label clearly also has quite a close relationship with its distribution arm meaning that many of the most interesting films released in cinemas (such as Herbert Pontin’s The Great White Wall and Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Ruins) find their way onto DVD thanks to the BFI. Consistently good, consistently interesting and consistently well supported by essays, commentaries and intriguing on-disc extras, the BFI label really is a mark of quality and a guarantee that the film you are about to purchase is worthy of both your time and your money.
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