Don’t Ditch Those DVDs and Tapes! They’re Your Only Permanent Pass to the Movies
If you want to make sure a movie you love is always there for you, you’ve gotta own it. Period.
More and more people are being sucked into cyberspace for all their viewing needs, like modern-day versions of Carol Anne in Poltergeist. Because who needs old-school media when you’ve got HBO Max, Hulu, Netflix and a zillion other streamers? You do, my dear. Look at it this way: When your lease is up and you have to move, streaming media is the friend who kinda helps you pack, but mostly just rifles through your record collection. Physical media is the friend who helps you haul that ratty sectional sofa down from your fourth-floor walkup.
Streaming services are especially fickle friends when it comes to classic film, which seems to occupy a narrower niche every year. The uber-classics like Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz will likely always be online somewhere, but most titles have much shorter shelf lives, and many never make it onto platforms at all. Some streamers, like TCM, HBO Max and the Criterion Channel, do much better than others, but out of necessity, movies cycle in and out all the time. (Oh and PS: When you “buy” a movie on, say, Amazon, you’re only paying for a limited license to view it for an indefinite period.)
I don’t know about you, but when I wake up at three in the morning and only Kay Francis and William Powell in Jewel Robbery can calm my fevered mind, I don’t want to be clacking away on my keyboard or fumbling with the remote, hoping it’s still on one of my streaming subscriptions somewhere. I want to pop in the disc, hear that comforting little whirr, and sit back and bask in the Deco glow of 1932, knowing Kay and Bill are mine forever.
And if you still have your VHS tapes, come sit here by me. I have lots of titles that never made it to DVD, either for a perceived lack of audience interest or because the rights hurdles they cleared the first time were harder to leap over in the next round. These include gems like Kevin Brownlow’s Buster Keaton and Hollywood series, as well as old biographies such as Laurence Olivier: A Life and a bunch of 1930s movies likely deemed unworthy of a new life on DVD.
If your VCR has conked out, used ones are super cheap online, but new DVD-VCR combos have gotten pricier as the demand dwindles down to dinosaurs like me (even the New York Times crossword writers hate on us). So only you can decide if it’s worth the hunt and the money to watch the tapes you’ve hung onto. (Oh and screw the ridicule.)
If storage space is an issue, consider high-quality DVD cases that let you ditch all the packaging. I realize that using these is blasphemous to some people, but they’ve kept my movies safe for decades; I stick to the smaller cases and shelve them vertically, away from moisture, heat and sunlight. I keep the liner notes worth saving in a small box. (Alas, there’s no equivalent storage workaound for VHS tapes.)
Want to add to your collection? If you can spring for new DVDs of classic films, great—it reminds media companies that there’s still a market for them and encourages them to maintain their libraries and churn out the odd restoration or two. If you can’t, there are plenty of outlets for cheap used ones, including flea markets, thrift and charity stores, library sales, and of course online sellers. Even some drugstore chains and supermarkets sell DVDs, and classics sometimes pop up in their bins, so don’t pass them by.
One of my favorite online sources is the eBay store of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library (username friendslibrary), where 100% of proceeds go to this fabulous cause. (As you might imagine, they also have tons of books.) The eBay charity store (just enter “charity auction” in the searchbar) also has lots of other nonprofits selling DVDs, though the percentage earmarked for charity varies.
If you prefer your DVDs free, check back to this website in a while. I inherited my Mom’s DVDs after I lost her last summer, and since we were movie kindred spirits, there are some I already had. I’ll be keeping hers, and giving mine away. But I don’t have the heart to plow through that process just yet.
In the meantime, keep the ones you have. Streaming services can take down content whenever they feel like it, but your own personal stash of movies? Oh no, they can’t take that away from you…