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Growing Collection of DVDs

September 20, 2010

Five penguins make a line of black spots on a white, frozen landscape. They are waddling in their heartbreaking way—vulnerable like children, odd like old men, perfectly suited to their world.

They are heading to open water to feed. The line breaks. Three continue without looking back and disappear. Two stop. The last penguin immediately turns and heads back, and soon there is only one penguin standing still in the frame. Is it thinking? Feeling?

It is certainly deciding because, after just enough pause to make your heart swell, it turns and heads off at a right angle—away from the path, the rookery, the open water, and toward the mountains 50 miles away.

It is one of the haunting scenes in Werner Herzog’s film “Encounters at the end of the world.”

When Herzog went to Antarctica, it was with the express purpose of not making “another penguin film,” and so I like that one of the most stunning vignettes is provided by penguins.

Herzog is like that odd penguin. His documentaries have a unique sensibility and intelligence behind them. Every director strives to present her or his unique vision, but most become indistinguishable from one another.

As with books, films that will grab the Zeitgeist for a short time, or that inexplicably endure, perhaps with a cult following, can’t be predicted.

We have some pretty bad movies in the library collection. We buy them occasionally, although the truth is we look at reviews and ratings and try not to buy truly loathsome productions.

But we’ve also garnered praise for our small but growing collection of DVDs because of its overall quality.

As with a library’s book collection, in which having the “Thousand Best Novels of All Time” is not enough, so a film collection composed only the Criterion Collection or American Film Institute lists is not enough.

At what point does “Porky’s” become a classic? “Tremors” is such a “bad” movie that it is a work of genius.

Sopranos” is one TV series that unquestionably belongs in a collection, but what else? Every TV series ever made seems to be available on DVD.

The question of what to buy is not much different for films than for books. For a public library, we have a natural lower limit in film for graphic sex and violence, especially mixed together, than in print.

But there is also the constraint of the medium. TV series on DVD are a pain in the [expletive deleted].

What should the policy be for replacing a damaged disc from a set of twelve? Should we replace an entire series or is watching 92% of a series acceptable? Is the final disc more valuable? You can never replace just one.

DVD circulation this summer was 27% of our circulation. I’m sure we could increase that, if we want. They turn over faster than books, despite everything having the same 3-week check-out period.

We feel a lot of pressure to go back to a shorter check-out period for video. Check-out used to be days, then a week, then two, now three—all for convenience. Now, the check-out period seems to be an inconvenience again.

But a TV/film series is really no different from a book series, unless there something more sacrosanct about receiving our tales by reading.

We won’t argue that now, but there’s no question film (or in today’s parlance, “video content”) is a part of our culture’s intellectual content.

Meanwhile, Leonard Maltin has a book (sic) titled, “The 151 best movies you’ve never seen.” We bought all of them currently available.

The title is almost right. I’ve only seen two of them.

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