Disc Drive

Elizabeth Wiener Investigates 

Regular Shadowplayer Jenny wrote this in our Comments section: 

‘This is off-topic but I wanted to know your opinion on the DVD-market in Britain.  After 10 years in this format are we getting a good choice of films?’ 

First, I have to ask, relative to what? I’m cheered by the fact that there’s more films available, and more good ones, on DVD than were ever accessible on VHS, and the quality is generally much better (pan-and-scan is almost becoming extinct). On the other hand, the selection in America seems to be much better (plus the U.S. has the wonder that is Turner Classic Movies — the British equivalent is a pale and simpering shadow of the mighty stateside behemoth). So the situation could still stand monstro improving.

Deeper Into Films

‘I rent from lovefilm.com and often find it galling that they don’t have more international and older films available to rent – they do seem to have everything that is available on region 2 but it doesn’t seem enough.’ 

It definitely isn’t. (NOTHING IS EVER ENOUGH!) I may actually be getting near the dregs of what I want to rent in this country, even though new stuff keeps coming out.

There IS a sorta-solution for British residents, but it doesn’t involve renting, and depending on how far you take it, it could get… illegal.

barely legal

First, you need a multi-region player. These are just as cheap as single-region ones, sometimes even cheaper (they actually ADD something to the DVD player to make it single region only). You can also find online hacks for most DVD players that actually convert them to multi-region, easy as π.

Then you buy from Amazon.com. You can already buy from Amazon.fr, Amazon.de etc, since European discs use the same region coding as the UK. Once you’ve watched the film you can sell it on eBay, so the cost ends up being relatively low.

Now comes the illegal bit. With free software like DVD Decrypter, DVD Shrink, combined with the more expensive Nero, it’s possible to copy every film you buy or rent. I’m not suggesting you do this as IT IS WRONG. Bruce Willis and Jeffrey Katzenberg will wind up BEGGING IN THE STREETS if you do this. Could you live with yourself?

It could be argued that ripping movies that aren’t available in the UK is a way to correct a problem in the marketplace, where a demand isn’t being met, or prices are too high. But it’s a slippery slope. Once you start ripping you may find it hard to stop.

So don’t do that. But the buying from abroad thing is legal, and you’ll be helping out others by re-selling what you buy.

It’s great if you’re interested in getting French movies without English subs, because (a) you can learn a lot of storytelling technique from watching films where you don’t understand the dialogue and (b) if you speak French, then a whole new set of nuances in the dialogue will be open to you, and also (c) you’ll be able to see lots of great French films that aren’t available anywhere with English subtitles, like these weird things.

ecstasy of cinema

Jenny also said:

‘Recently I emailed [Lovefilm] to ask if they could start renting out films from other regions but make it clear that they don’t have English subtitles.  As always with their customer services they emailed back some piece of the  terms and conditions that they think has something to do with my query but doesn’t actually answer it at all (many businesses seem to communicate in the same way as an MP these days).  So I clicked “No this doesn’t answer my question” and tried again.  This time they came back with “We only rent out region 2 DVDs”.  But hang on, this is a suggestion from a customer – at least say you’re going to put it in a suggestion box.  Pretend!  This is called running a business!  So I don’t know if it’s illegal or if they don’t work in UK DVD players.’ 

Generally a DVD distributor only has the rights for a certain set of territories, so it wouldn’t be legal for a U.S. or a French DVD to be offered for rental in the U.K. But if Lovefilm are failing to give you this information, keep hassling them — I think unhelpful customer service should be repaid in kind by obstreperous customers who refuse to give up.

My favourite Lovefilm moment is when they suddenly increased their databse by about a thousand, and were offering films for rent like THE CASE OF LENA SMITH, which not only is unavailable on DVD anywhere in the world, it’s actually a LOST FILM — only fragments survive.

‘If small, critically acclaimed films that I read about don’t make it on to DVD and TV continues to ignore films I literally have no chance of watching them.’

The issue of British TV’s slide into a completely insular world that ignores art cinema is a really serious one which I should blog about soon.

‘I also think that great directors should have all their films released on DVD – with smaller production of their less-popular work.  I think they have managed this with Hitchcock but not with many others.’

Unseen in UK

I totally agree. One consequence of having a filmmaker’s entire oeuvre available is that even the weaker films become more interesting when you can see them all together. And yet at present in the UK you can’t even see every Spielberg film.

I understand that with a filmmaker like Akira Kurosawa, who was both long-lived and prolific, and who worked for more than one studio, gathering all the rights together at one DVD distributor would be tough. And while servicing movie buffs who want to see all Otto Preminger’s movies, Hollywood studios also want to keep fans happy who are more interested in movie stars, so for instance RIVER OF NO RETURN may get a release ahead of DAISY KENYON, even if it’s not as interesting, purely because it has Monroe.

Then there are commendable outfits like the womderful Criterion and Masters of Cinema, which exist to deliver the creme de la creme of film culture, and which therefore don’t go in for complete filmographies.

Where a filmmaker has made a relatively small number of films, it would be nice if they were all made available by SOMEBODY. There’s a Clouzot box set, but it doesn’t contain many of his films. Masaki Kobayashi was far from prolific, but most of his stuff is still not obtainable in the west, and hardly any in the UK. Of Von Sternberg’s 22 existing, complete features, about half are not available, including all his silent films (although a few of these WERE released on VHS).

For all these reasons and more, the capitalist system doesn’t serve the discerning film lover very well, even if it did allow many of the great films to get made in the first place. (BUT — free BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in today’s Guardian).

All images from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s LA PRISONNIERE (not available in the US or UK, not available with English subtitles ANYWHERE).

8 Responses to “Disc Drive”

  1. Is that Laurent Terzieff?

  2. It sure is. LA PRISONNIERE gives him his biggest and best role as a sympathetic sadist.

    The honey-haired, strong-jawed lass is Elizabeth Wiener, whose dad plays piano in Duelle. She turns up in Duelle briefly, but LP seems to be her only big role.

  3. I like him as the half-man/half-horse in Pasolini’s Medea, and in various early Garrels.

  4. He’s good in Desert of the Tartars too, though it’s not such a great role.

  5. Thank you for addressing that Mr Cairns. Lots of very good points there and I’ll look into some of your ideas. I’m not that technical and a bit of a wuss so I may be buying from international Amazon sites and selling on Ebay.

    I remembered what lovefilm’s first response was, even though I explained the issue pretty clearly, “We do have foreign films, including French ones, for rental. Just click on foreign films on the home page.” A quick glance at my order history would show that I’m quite familiar with the concept of foreign films. Another time I was sent Three Colours Red, before Blue or White and when I watched the final scene I realised I was missing something. Lovefilm says it will send TV series and film series (trilogies and so on) in order without you having to put them in order of preference. So I emailed and told them what order Three Colours should be sent in and they replied “We always send trilogies in order. I can confirm that Three Colours is a trilogy.” I just get the impression that their customer service staff are not at all interested in cinema and if they were they would do a much better job, and that they don’t have much training.

    Ps. Jeffrey Katzenberg, yes. Bruce Willis, no. My Dad and brother would kill me, I would quite literally not be living with myself. Same with Steven Segal, but you didn’t mention him.

  6. I think Kieslowski said you could watch his trilogy in any order, but he was just trying to be clever. Obviously White goes in the middle because it’s a bit crap, and Red at the end because it finishes the stories and is the best.

    I’m not terribly technical myself but I forced myself to master disc-ripping.

    IT IS TIME for you to nominate some Euphoric Cinema. Don’t worry about taking it too literally, just suggest some scenes you LIKE. I’d much rather have it be a puzzle “How is THAT euphoric?” than have something obvious and dull.

  7. My own personal ethical code on this is that if the film/tv show is not available in my country of residence by any other legitimate means then it’s perfectly ok to get it by Bittorrent.
    I got copies of Dziga Vertov’s ‘Man With a Movie Camera’ that way and also Chris Marker’s ‘La Jetée’.

    Neither were available in downtown Nairobi where I was living at the time :)

  8. The argument against is presumably that once you have downloaded something, you’re unlikely to fork out for a legit version once it becomes available. But as Alex Cox says, these days people are basically paying for the packaging, because people like having a nice DVD collection they can array on their shelves. The digital content is just a lot of ones and zeros.

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