I’m pretty notorious around my house for buying cheap DVD’s. No, not those crappy $1 discs with the terrible photo-copied cover art you see at Sprawl-Mart offering old Howdy Doody episodes or other public-domain goodies. No, I mean discs that once were going for $20 or more – at least that was the cover-price – but now, thanks to overproduction or underselling, have found their way into a deep discount hell.
One of the things I really enjoy about cheap DVD’s is that at the right price, they make any movie good. Take this for instance: I bought Unbreakable, the M. Night Shyamalan movie years ago on DVD brand new and paid a goodly sum for it at the time and yet, as many good things as I’d heard about it, I was terribly disappointed. It was long, it was tedious, it was boring, and it featured M. Night Shyamalan the actor, who should never get a role in a third grade pageant, let alone a Hollywood movie. More recently I picked up a copy of Capote, a movie which left me a bit cold and baffled when I saw it in theaters, but which, at $3, somehow seemed a much more palatable film than it was to begin with. And because owning the film gave me the chance to re-watch it as many times as I liked, the movie has only grown in my esteem.
Perhaps the lesson to be learned from these movies is to never trust a Shyamalan picture. The only one that wasn’t disappointing for me was The Village and everybody else hated it. Another lesson to be learned is that I should just stop buying DVD’s at full-price when I haven’t seen the movie Just because my friends like it, doesn’t mean I will. However, the more lasting lesson here is that one stated practically at the beginning, is that a DVD, priced correctly, can make the film inside the case seem more or less of a good movie, simply based on the price. It’s all a matter of perspective. Unbreakable at $20? Piece of shit. Unbreakable at $3? Not half bad.
Keeping all this in mind, I was at one of my favorite haunts recently – a store that specializes in closeouts and overstocks – surveying the racks of DVD’s. Amongst them I found a copy of State and Main, the David Mamet comedy I’d always enjoyed, and a copy of After the Sunset, another of those Bret Ratner films that I thought was all right when I rented it years ago, all right enough to squander $3 on it. Walking to the car, though, with the two new purchases, I thought I’d made a pretty good set of purchases. After all, I had two DVD’s of movies I’d basically enjoyed, but then standing there in the parking lot next to my car, a bit of buyer’s remorse hit me. No, I wasn’t remorseful I’d bought either DVD, because I’ll watch them both and find them both enjoyable. No, it was because of what the movies said about me.
I have friends who love to collect books. After I vacated my parent’s house I had a roommate who had all kinds of books, but was particularly fond of brandishing the works of Kierkegaard and Sartre (pictured at left) , not because he actually read them. Spill massage oil on them: yes. Read them: no. No, he used the books as an accessory and about the only time you could see them spread open like he was reading them was when he wanted somebody to think he looked heady and smart, something his copy of lesbian erotica – cleverly titled Bushfire – just couldn’t convey.
If my roommate had books around because they made him look intelligent, what would having a movie by a noted hack, Bret Ratner, say about me? Granted, I didn’t buy it because I wanted it to say anything about me – other than this post I certainly wasn’t advertising my purchase – but what if it did? If I buy a lousy movie that everybody hates, and Metacritic gave a 38 to and Rotten Tomatoes savaged with a 19%, does that savage me as well? And conversely, if I carry my Herzog, Kubrick and Welles discs around – as if anybody carries DVD’s around with them – does this make me a true cineaste, or do I do so simply to look like a cineaste? (As an aside, my Herzog shirt just came in the mail, so take what you will form that). The greater question that those, though, is that, as a man of taste, can I consume garbage and still call myself a man of taste?
While the former three questions above are left open to discussion, the answer to the latter is quite obvious: yes, you can still be a person of taste, even in consumption of garbage. Allow me to explain.
McDonald’s is a world-wide corporation. According to the bastion of truth and knowledge, Wikipedia, it has more than 31,000 locations worldwide – 13,000 in the United States alone – and by its own estimation hit the 100 billion served plateau in 1993. It’s safe to say that in the modern world – America specifically – every man woman and child has eaten at McDonald’s at least once in their life. And it’s also safe to say that nobody in their right mind thinks of McD’s as good food. Filling food? Sure. Hot food? Yup. Greasy, calorie rich, comfort food? Absolutely, definitively and positively. But good? Uh…no.
On a smaller scale, Mario Batali owns and operates a number of restaurants that cater to high class cuisine and he’s made a king’s ransom at it. Presumably, people with taste in good food frequent one of Batali’s restaurants to experience high class cuisine. This being America, and it being assumed that everybody has eaten at McD’s, it’s safe to assume that there are a number of people who make a regular practice of eating in both upscale restaurants and downscale fast food. Does this mean that those same people who would be praised for their high taste when eating one of Batali’s creations should be derided for their low taste when they enjoy a Big Mac – or as I prefer, a Whopper? And does the fact that they eat such pathetic food impugn their whole notion of taste?
I, for one, say no. The problem is that taste and honesty and adherence to constant intellectual truth requires rigor. It’s not something that can be accomplished lightly and unfortunately, by it’s very nature, rigor is rigorous, and tiring. One cannot be rigorous all the time without falling to exhaustion and losing perspective. Sometimes we need to enjoy or partake of something bad, simply because it allows us to cleanse the palate and truly see the world for what it is.
For me, a film like After The Sunset is just such a palate cleanser. The film, by no means, is a Nobel Prize Winner. It’s stupid, a bit frothy, and completely ridiculous, but there are women in bikinis and it’s a bit witty and at 98 minutes is over pretty quickly. It’s watchable, if you don’t think too hard about it, and therefore a nice way to pass some time, unlike say, re-watching Five Easy Pieces – 81% at Rotten Tomatoes –which is more than a little emotionally torturous. Sure, one will win awards and will leave you with a lasting impression and a new perspective on the human condition, but when it comes to just hanging out and chilling out, you can’t overlook a little bit of junk to get you through.
So while it may not be fashionable to say so, maybe I shouldn’t have the buyer’s remorse over carrying that copy of After The Sunset to the car. After all, if not for Bret Ratner making the kind of film you swish around in your mouth and spit out, the good movies just wouldn’t be as good.