Well, we got our snow. The world is white — I’d guesstimate we topped out at three inches or so — and the neighborhood resounds with the blast of two-cycle engines. No, wait — the last one just stopped. That would be ours, and don’t give me any crap about it, Lance Mannion, because we have a long driveway and this ain’t Atlanta. So now the world is white and quiet, and our little part of it is safe for pedestrians. Winter is on. Temperatures remain low, and I’m hoping the snow is safe for a while. It’s been a while since I went out in my North Face and mirrored Ray-Ban aviators. Winter’s own bad-ass.
But today’s question concerns indoor activities: Do you buy movies on DVD? Why or why not?
I ask because I don’t. Or hardly ever, now that Kate is past childhood and the time-for-mom technique of parking her in front of a video. In Ann Arbor a few years ago I came across a tent sale for Border’s warehouse stock, a real Blondie-goes-to-Tudbury’s free-for-all, and they had unsold or cutout or made-obsolete-by-the-director’s-cut DVDs for sale for $5, the magic price point for me, and I think I bought three — “The Producers” (and if you wonder whether it was the original or the remake, you don’t know me at all), “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and “Taxi Driver.” I have watched the first two once, and the third maybe three times, mainly for the featurettes. That’s the most DVDs I ever bought at a sitting, but I have maybe a handful more, mostly Criterion Collection classics, that I never or rarely watch.
I wonder because someone must buy DVDs, beyond Blockbuster stores. I see DVDs at garage sales. They’re never, ever, a movie anyone with half a brain would want to watch, even on cable. Being hoodwinked into spending $8 on a ticket before the reviews buried it, sure. And yet someone said, “Ellen DeGeneres in ‘Mr. Wrong’? Yeah, that’s worth $20.” Most movies are crap, and most do their briskest DVD sales in the first month. And the only DVDs I’d buy are things like “Rashomon,” 60 years young.
A few years back I did a story on the great American paperback book, and had a fascinating chat with the author of a coffee-table book devoted to the subject. The paperback, he said, is truly a democratic wonder, and pointed out that the standard price point of mass-market paperback has, over time, tracked amazingly close to that of an hour of work at minimum wage. Before paperbacks, Americans who weren’t wealthy enough to buy hardcover books — and there were millions of them — patronized lending libraries, which were not the same as public libraries, more like video stores for books. You paid a fee to check a book out for a few days, and brought it back. The paperback dime novel, printed on cheap paper and easy to stick in a lunch pail or back pocket for a few minutes’ break time, represented a revolution in bringing books to the masses.
Of course, the masses don’t always want to read the Harvard Classics, so then we got the glorious genre of pulp fiction, about which I will one day write at greater length. It so happens that in the last year I read collections of two of my favorite writers’ early work for the pulps (Elmore Leonard and John D. MacDonald), and boy was that interesting. Your English teacher tells you fiction is art, but there’s a special kind of art created by having to get a lot of exposition up top, before the reader has to turn the page. I’ve always admired fiction writers who could make their living entirely from writing and not teaching, and you get a glimpse of how it’s done — by pleasing the reader. Those who can do it and make it fun to read are well and truly artists, if you ask me.
I guess buying John D. MacDonald’s pulp collection would qualify as buying the DVD. (Although I didn’t. It was a gift.)
I am no longer making sense. I’m distracted. I’ve been thinking about a story I’d like to pitch, which really interests me. Now to find a functioning publication that might pay me for it. That’s the challenge.
So, what do you have cued up for the weekend, besides getting out your shiny aviator shades?
One bit of bloggage: I see John Goodman has been added to the cast of “Treme,” by our fave David Simon, now shooting in New Orleans. Goodman will play a “college professor,” I read. Let’s hope his character is named Ashley Morris.
That is all.