Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cold Winter Nights and DVDs

At Southside Branch, our patrons have been checking out DVDs at a phenomenal clip. When you see most of the shelves nearly half empty and starting to tilt at funny angles, you know patrons are spending a lot of winter nights watching DVDs.

This is good, because it means they enjoy our DVDs so we are making a lot of patrons happy, and we like to see our patrons happy. The drawback is that nearly a quarter of the collection might be checked out at any one time. We recommend that patrons put the titles they want to see on hold as there is such a turnover. But as time goes by, people do get to see the ones they want, and one can hardly quibble with the price which is free.

I myself have had a love of film ever since my English major days at UT Austin. These were the days before DVDs or VHS, so in those days, different auditoriums on campus would show all sorts of foreign and independent films, so you quickly began to pick up on what cinema you liked, and how different it was from what was shown on the TV of the time. Back then there were only 3 networks and PBS.

The films they used to show on Saturday Night at the Movies were epic types, like all the De Mille movies, 55 Days in Peking, and El Cid -- which by the way, has a new deluxe restored DVD version released to stores on Jan. 25th. They tended to leave an impression on a young 11 year old, and I remember running off to the library to discover yes, there was a short novel by Nikoli Gogol entitled Taras Bulba, and yes, there was a Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, and yes, there really was an historical figure called El Cid. Perhaps fellow baby-boomers remember the impact these Saturday night films had.

Now in the 21st century, old films are finally being put on DVD at a quicker pace. It is getting easier to find some film or TV show of yesteryear that you haven't seen in years. And you can find it even if you don't get IFC or Sundance Channel.

So how do librarians keep pace with what new titles are being released on DVD? How do we determine what is good, what is chaff and what might make a good selection that will be a good addition to a collection?

Well of course Amazon.com is good, and the Internet Movie Database is packed with information, but I find myself still using two other web sites just to find out what is coming out soon, and what is available. Remember you can stop at the reference desk at any of the branches and fill out a purchase request for titles that the library does not own. We will notify you when it arrives.

One is FACETS MULTI-MEDIA, which has being renting tapes by mail since the 1980s, and now also sells DVDs. It has an amazing online catalog where you can find out, for example, if some obscure title by a notable Russian director from the 1920s has actually been transferred to DVD.

The other site is DVD Verdict. Different reviewers render judgment on new DVDs on a daily basis. The reviews can be quite extensive and they are looked at not just from a standpoint of how they merit as a film, but also reviewed technically for how well the footage was transferred to DVD. If it is an older film, one can read about the quality of the restoration. They have an archive of reviews going back to 1998. Plus they have a calendar of upcoming DVD street release dates which goes out to 238 days from today’s date. One can note for example, on March 25, 2008, 188 titles are scheduled for release, including a wide screen version of David Lynch's Lost Highway, Battlestar Galactica: Season Three, and Taras Bulba.

So the synergy between films, and books and libraries was something I stumbled into at an early age; some of the cinema I've encountered has been sublime, and some of it fairly cheesy. But it has added all sorts of insights, and extra texture, and depth to life. It has been said that film was the major new art form of the 20th century, and it was also said that VHS would mean the end of movie theaters. But now I read that Santa Fe will be getting even more big screens soon, so it looks like the cinematic experience, whether in theaters, or on VHS, or DVD is here to stay. The one constant is that information on films, info on the making of a film, or the original source for the film are all things you can still find at your local library.

By JP at Southside

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