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By Dr. Robert A. Fowkes
all rights reserved

NOTE: At last count my videodisc collection (LDs and DVDs) has surpassed the 9000 disc mark which represents well over 6000 individual titles. The number of LD titles (~2000) will probably not change, and the number of DVDs has already surpassed their bigger and older brethren. And High Definition Discs? 700+ and counting.

In response to the age old question, "How can you have so many videodiscs?!?" I have often referred to Doug Pratt's introduction in THE LASER VIDEO DISC COMPANION, 1992, as a well written explanation of our common affliction. This volume, from New York Zoetrope Press, ISBN #0918432-89-8, should be required reading for all VideoDisc Fanatics and wannabes. Here is one very small section of the introduction which addresses the issue at hand. Enjoy it. [Even though it was written in pre-DVD days, it applies to this format as well and is as relevant as ever]

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In the same spirit with which Hollywood epics about ancient Egypt mingled styles of apparel or cultural rites historically separated by several hundred years, so, too, will future generations look at the 20th Century and miss the nuances. The sixty years it took to go from Kitty Hawk to the moon will seem like an instant. School children will get the order of development wrong on tests. They will grow up, go to Hollywood, and get the order wrong there, as well.

Visual entertainment, during the same eons that man remained flightless, was limited to live human beings acting out fantasies for all who would pause to watch. Then, suddenly, the retention and exposition of these fantasies became possible through technology, first in silent black and white, and then with sound in color. In the home, sound was first, but in a generation it, too, was followed by black and white, and then color images.

Movies offer the ability to replay a dream at will; to trust the reliability of characters who will always do the same thing in the same way; to share in the heroism, the voyeurism, the terror and the comedy; and to learn through repeated exposure. They let you participate from a safe distance, and it should not be discounted that the best movies are artistic, giving one the complex fulfillment which art instills. A well-made film can provide the discovery of patterns in existence and the interpretation of the intangible through a language involving both sight and sound.

Even the wealthiest individuals cannot buy what doesn't exist. Thus it was, even a year before the advent of home video, that a movie 'fan' could only dream of owning a favorite film, or spend hundreds of dollars for a used 35mm print and suffer the efforts of cranking the thing through a bulky projection system. Technology, however, is the arch rival of inflation. Today, the same fan can own dozens of movies for what one movie used to cost. Tomorrow, the days when movies couldn't be owned by the masses and when unseen authority figures provided the only choices for entertainment on television will be as forgotten as the 15-stop cross country flight.

Since the advent of home video, it is difficult to imagine how one got along without it. A disorganized committee stood between the artist and the viewer, dictating show times, commercial slots, or the company one had to keep during the viewing. By watching a movie you are consigning a certain percentage of your senses, your emotions, and your mind to a calculated set of manipulations. The more freedom you have to choose what those manipulations will be, the better you can tailor the stimuli to suit your feelings.

It is the laser video disc which offers the most freedom of all, because it delivers the purest quality of picture and sound. You are not only free to choose what you wish to watch and when you wish to watch it, you are free of the barriers which impede the realism of the entertainment. A disc presentation captivates your complete attention because it offers no impurities as distractions. Laser discs are the first true step to 'virtual reality,' bringing the theatrical experience not only into your living room, but into your head.

To understand what it means to own a movie, or any audio visual program, the initial thrill of ownership must be discarded. The joy in knowing that one can spend an afternoon moving through the PSYCHO shower scene frame by frame; that one can, if suffering from a bout of sleeplessness, watch RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER or AUTUMN SONATA in the dead of night; and that one can play THE ROAD WARRIOR over and over and over again if one wishes; all these joys will eventually subside. The movie will still be on your shelf, waiting to be played again.

The best place to search for what it means to own a movie is in the examination of what it means to buy a movie. If you had only enough money to make a single purchase would you choose PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE or OUT OF AFRICA? How closely related are value and quality? There are titles one would pay a hundred dollars for without thinking twice, and other titles for which one would hesitate to pay five dollars.

One buys a movie with the intention of watching it, but how many times? Collectors with large bank accounts can afford to purchase many movies and simply wait for the mood or the impulse to watch a title. They may never watch every movie they own. Impoverished collectors face a different dilemma. They may have made a sizable investment in titles and yet still be unable to match their every mood. On certain nights they might pore over and over their collection, searching for anything they have not watched numerous times before, and end up turning to broadcast television instead.

After establishing a collection, interesting situations develop. Some movies are best seen only once. Others, twice. Others, a few times, and others, many times over. The pleasure that one can elicit from each movie under each condition is an end in itself. You might buy a film you have never seen before, watch it once very late at night, and then put it away forever, but recall the night and the movie so often that snippets of dialog can become a regular part of your vocabulary.

Pleasure can follow a bell curve. The way in which each movie is constructed can prevent you from fully appreciating it the first time through. After several viewings you comprehend the themes the filmmakers were intending to communicate. And after several more, the flaws in the construction or the themes become evident and your enthusiasm subsides.

In films which are plotted or edited tightly enough to withstand many viewings, it is often the minor roles which, when multiplied , become the major focus of the entertainment. Eli Wallach in THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY, Michael Pare in THE WARRIORS, Edith Evans in TOM JONES, and Milo O'Shea in BARBARELLA are just a few examples of roles which are not the central focus of the plot but end up becoming the essential part of the entertainment and the primary cause for revisitation.

Environmental conditions can have a lot to do with the enjoyment of a feature. THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY is only pleasurable when viewed on a Friday night in a crowded urban movie house. It is simplistic and uninvolving in a quiet room. On the other hand, SPIES LIKE US, LEGEND, and other shows which seem pretentious in a theater are whittled down to size on a small TV screen. And even the most wretched horror film can have certain appeal once the clock moves past the stroke of twelve.

Mediocrity is the condition least amenable to ownership. Really bad movies can be just as enjoyable as really good ones, but movies which are neither good nor bad have nothing going for them.

Unlike pinned butterflies or comic books which have never felt a human fingerprint, a decent collection of audio visual programs - - movies, concert performances, short or experimental works, documentaries -- is supposed to be used, and sometimes used again and again. This is where the other advantage of the laser disc format, durability, becomes essential.

To own a movie is to obtain the potential for satisfying a complex, and sometimes even contrary, state of emotions. When collecting movies, it is best to attune yourself to the different moods you want to satisfy. It is also good, so long as your wallet can stand it, to trust your instincts. If you have an unaccountable desire to purchase a title, your subconscious is trying to tell you something. So purchase the title."

-- from page 1 of the introduction to THE LASER VIDEO DISC COMPANION, UPDATED EDITION by Douglas Pratt (editor and publisher of THE DVD/LASER DISC NEWSLETTER) New York Zoetrope, 1992. ISBN 0918432-89-8. $24.95