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May 15, 2004

Cheapo DVDs

Dear Friedrich --

Have you bought many DVDs? I haven't: who needs more things? But the prices have dropped so much on some movies that buying has become harder to resist. Ten bucks for a DVD? That's less than the cost of a single Manhattan movie-theater ticket.

I was browsing around Amazon the other day and noticed a few cheapo movie DVDs that deserve Blowhard recommendations.

  • Used Cars -- A rowdy comic extravaganza from the Spielberg-sponsored team of Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis. Although Zemeckis went on soon afterwards to direct such hits as "Romancing the Stone" and "Back to the Future," there are film geeks (me included) who think this is Zemeckis' best and most irreverent movie. Set in the Southwestern desert, it's a raucous, satirically cornpone joyride, like Preston Sturges souped-up and gone even more rambunctiously haywire. Jack Warden and Kurt Russell -- both of them never better -- co-star as rival used-car dealers. I haven't watched the DVD version of the film, but have heard that the disc's commentary tracks alone are worth the price of admission. The DVD is buyable here.

  • The Tenant -- Roman Polanski's more personal movies are a special taste, and this bizarro 1976 thriller may be Polanski's most personal movie. He stars in it himself as a mousey Parisian loser who may or may not be going insane. Those strange neighbors ... That graffiti on the bathroom walls ... That beckoning courtyard ... Polanski has a rep for straight suspense, but his more distinctive tone -- evident in such movies as "Repulsion," "Bitter Moon," and this film -- is much stranger: creepy, semi-ludicrous, borderline campy, clunky-yet-precise, obsessive and distressing. (As far as self-absorbed, weirdo brilliance goes, Charlie Kaufman's an infant by comparison to Polanski.) It's psychological suspense of a very, very peculiar kind. First comes the horror, then the comedy and pathos ... and then the barren chill. Some love it (I do) and find their brains doing hallucinatory flipflops as they watch these movies; but, fair warning, there are plenty of people who just can't find Polanski's groove. If this description appeals nonetheless, then "The Tenant" -- shot by the great Sven Nykvist (best-known as Ingmar Bergman's cinematographer) and co-starring a very young Isabelle Adjani -- may amuse and fascinate. It can be bought here.

  • Masquerade -- A sleek, dark, and luxurious thriller set among a moneyed, yachting Northeastern crowd. Rob Lowe (who's good here) plays a gigolo-esque sailor boy; Kim Cattrall's a decadent, rich-man's wife; and Meg Tilly's an innocent young heiress who doesn't know whom to trust. The film features mucho expensive, hush-hush atmosphere, and a lot of tiptop actors (John Glover, Dana Delany) in the secondary roles. It's a classy performance all around -- old Hollywood gone a little sleazy, in the vein of "Basic Instinct" and "Jagged Edge." Written by Dick ("Law and Order") Wolf and Larry Brody, photographed by David Watkin, and directed by Bob Swaim (an American who'd spent many years in France), the 1988 film is also more worldly about sex and money than American movies generally are. But it has a likable big-budget American brio and sumptuousness too. Surprisingly, the film wasn't a solid hit -- perhaps it was a little too sophisticated for the mass audience? I see at IMDB that, after the picture failed, Bob Swaim returned to France, where he's mostly been making TV. Anyway, "Masquerade" -- which delivers twisty, moody, sexy, and adult suspense -- has just come out on DVD. It's buyable (for just a few pennies more than ten bucks) here.

All these media things we now own ... It's a problem, isn't it? What do you do with your used-up media toys?



posted by Michael at May 15, 2004


Well, redneck though it may be, I have seen some really original windchimes made from cut-up old cd discs. Rates right up there with bottle-cap art! Surely, there must be something we could use the darn things for?

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on May 15, 2004 04:15 PM

There are collectors, and then there are, as I learned the new word this week at Crescat Sententia....amassers.

As I type this, in this 12x12 room, I am literally surrounded by hardware and buried in media. 21" monitor bookended by two 15" TV's, all three cable connected with DVD capability, 2 subwoofers and 7 satellites. Three fans, window air conditioner unit to supplement the central air.

10000 mp3's on hardrive. Complete Gutenberg Library. 10000 high res art jpg's.

3000 mystery and crime paperbacks, 150 chess books. 100 reference hardbacks (Gray's Anatomy to Upgrading PC's). 5000 cd's of music. 1000 movies.

Yes, there is some illegality here. But I am so busy accumulating I have no time to watch or read or listen. So what do I owe for the movie I downloaded 2 years ago and haven't touched since?
I buy 100 DVD's a year, so I manage my guilt.

So many options and choices that I relieve stress by not choosing. Went googling last night, 2+ hours, picked up 50 high-res Thomas Moran landscapes. I feel rich. Or destitute. Or something.

Can anyone relate, in kind, if not degree?

Posted by: bob mcmanus on May 15, 2004 06:11 PM

I fear you, Bob.

Posted by: James Russell on May 16, 2004 04:10 AM

Pattie -- That's a great idea. Now, I wonder how a wind-chime made out of paperback books would work ...

Bob -- That's impressive and terrifying! I get a picture of you in your media cockpit like the captain of some complicated airliner. So you've not only read, seen and listened to everything, you're a collector too? Good lord, you must have the fastest-firing synapses of anyone on the web. Surely there must be drugs available that can get your overactive mind under some kind of banal control, no? I hear good things about lobotomies too. More seriously, I do think you're raising a really good question that doesn't get discussed enough. Which is something more or less along the lines of, How do we all manage our excess brain capacity? For all the libertarian-or-Marxist talk on the web about jobs, money and IQ, almost no one seems to want to talk about the actual conditions we live in. I know almost no one who's intellectually/artistically satisfied by their moneymaking jobs. Drained and exhausted, sure. But nearly all my friends are curious and enthusiastic, and the jobs (even if fairly rewarding) tend to leave them hungry for real stimulation and engagement. Which can leave people feeling a little wiggy. I think sometimes of people as dogs. And the bright ones are like poodles -- really eager, bright, in need to play and recreation and challenges. And if they don't get it, they start to bounce off walls and cause mischief. For all my failings, I've managed to construct a bit of a life where I've got some opportunities to keep my brain alive. Sounds like you have too. What are your tips for other people?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 16, 2004 12:11 PM

Michael said:

"I know almost no one who's intellectually/artistically satisfied by their moneymaking jobs."

I am. I truly love what I do, although I had to distance myself from it for a while to understand this.

In my discipline, I have to employ rigorous scientific thinking and research techniques as a matter of course, but I've also discovered ways to attain artistic fulfillment as well. (That left/right brain thing, you know. It's always bedeviled me.) I have tremendous intellectual freedom and an unconventional work environment, but I have worked hard to make this so.

(I don't "do" advice very well, although I will always speak with high school and college students whenever I'm asked.)

Posted by: Maureen on May 16, 2004 02:09 PM

"What are your tips for other people?"

Try to like stuff you initially dislike. Taste is educable. From Beavis and Butthead to Max Webern, from Thomas Kinkade to Francis Bacon, all things human are part of me. Then you gotta rank em.

That's extreme, but could simply be put as "Stay in motion." And again, only a preference.

The 100th listening to the "Trout" can be rewarding for some, and takes as much effort to get something new as moving on to the Bartok Piano works. I don't deny being a dilettante, of not knowing many things really well. But there is something gained, as in picking up stuff a little faster.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on May 16, 2004 02:12 PM


"From Beavis and Butthead to Max Webern, from Thomas Kinkade to Francis Bacon, all things human are part of me."

Last year I had a Kincaidectomy. Although the surgery was highly experimental and not without risk, the results have been encouraging. Since I continue to balk whenever I approach a cobblestone cottage, however, it seems that my recovery is still in process.

Yours in Lucien Freud,

Posted by: Maureen on May 16, 2004 03:21 PM

Old CD's make dynamite drop spindles for spinning wool into yarn when you stick a dowel thru the center hole and put a hook on the top. Cheap, easy to make and perfectly balanced to spin. If you're working with kids, which is where I use them, you can get blank labels and have them decorate the CD's first with markers so that when they spin they make cool patterns of color.

Ancient technology, new materials.

Posted by: Deb on May 18, 2004 09:17 AM

Another CD use (Achtung: I'm disposing of professional secrets here), in "retro" spirit.
Remember the old "mirror over the bed" thing? Change it to the regular-pattern CD installation and you can - how d'you say it? kill two rabbits?ducks?PETA activists? with one bullet - anyway, combine private entertainment with some education.[Besides, fleeting images work better in bedroom environment]
Another use- room dividers. Picture bead curtain and substitute beads for shiny discs...

70's rule!

Posted by: Tatyana on May 18, 2004 10:42 AM

"clunky-yet-precise" - That's Polanski's best trick. Even people who hate "The Tenant" have to admit that Roman is the only man who can make drag tragic and touching. And you are spot on about "barren chill."

What do I do with my old media toys? If you have a shotgun, and a friend who can chuck things into the air, then you never have any problem...

However, VHS tape makes terrific streamers so take out the reels before blasting the cases.

M. Blowhard, put on your insider media-saavy guy hat. Do you know anything about the process that leads to new material on quirky DVD releases like "Used Cars"? Zemeckis pull was probably sufficient for that spiffed up release and his motive was likely just for kicks, but the other slight flicks out on shiny new CDs with lively and engaging "special features" - how does that happen? Is producing "special features" the new way to build your reel for young producers? What does it take to lure a now-big star in for a couple hours interviewing?

Posted by: j.c. on May 20, 2004 02:26 AM

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