Once again Syp over at Bio-Break has written a post that provides a talking point for other bloggers. This time it’s about collecting which is a very broad church indeed. When I was a child it was a common mantra of adults at the time to “get a hobby”. I suppose from their perspective a busy and engaged child is one that is likely to stay out of trouble and frankly it’s still sound advice. Many hobbies involve collecting and this can tangentially teach positive lessons such as fiscal prudence, patience and learning about that which you enjoy. In his post Syp raises the point as to whether he’s missed out by never having been bitten by the collecting bug but he also reflects on some practical problems associated with such pastimes. I was going to leave a comment on the post but it soon became apparent that it would be a little too long, so this blog post is my response.
When I was young, I dabbled with collecting. Comics, trading cards, action figures are some of the things I doggedly pursued. But often I found that time, money and the practicalities of being a child, IE being busy playing, meant that such enterprises were doomed. It was not until the early nineties, when I had a job and a sizeable disposable income, that I was able to sustain the practical realities of collecting. I think this is an important factor to mention. Collecting requires passion which is something available to all age groups. Money is something that we don’t have continuous access to all our lives and it subtly alters the dynamic of collecting. It is far easier to start your collection while you still live at home and have “spare cash”. Marriage, family and mortgages can radically alter this equation.
Being a consummate film fan and an ardent completist, I started collecting films on what was the best physical medium of the time; LaserDiscs. In the early nineties, VHS sell-through tapes where king. However, if you were a serious movie aficionado, who wanted superior picture and sound quality as well as alternative cuts of a film, then LaserDiscs was where it was at (Daddy-o). At the time, a VHS tape of a popular film such as Terminator 2 would cost about £10. If you wanted the Director’s Cut of the same movie, in the correct aspect ratio with optional commentary by the cast, then it would cost between £30 to £40 on LaserDisc. It was a superior viewing experience all round. Although there were UK releases on this format, they were somewhat limited. A far greater choice was available if you bought US and European imports. Buying internationally also added to the allure of collecting.
Because of my passion for film, I bought circa 1991 a LaserDisc player that was dual standard (NTSC/PAL) and a new TV that could handles both UK and US picture standards. I think I spent near £750 on both. Over the next few years, I spent a great deal of time and money building up a collection of classic and cult films. Due to prohibitive censorship laws that prevailed in the UK at the time, a lot of the material I bought was technically illegal to import. There was a network of small companies at the time that worked within various legal loopholes to offer a specialist purchasing service. Thus, I owned the Director’s Cut of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead at a time when it was only available in the UK in a pre-cut version. I also had the Criterion version of RoboCop in all its bloody glory. But the jewel in the crown of my collection was the Star Wars Trilogy in their original theatrical versions. LaserDiscs satisfied my needs as a fan as well as a film purist. For about seven or so years, I spent thousands of pounds on my collection. Being twelve-inch discs, they took up comparable space to a vinyl music collection.
However, time and tide waits for no man and it also doesn’t give a shit about collectors. Towards the end of the nineties, DVD became the de facto medium of choice and so I changed the focus of my collecting activities. Due to regional variations, multiple versions and good old-fashioned censorship, DVD proved to be an even more collectable format than LaserDisc. It was round about this time, when my personal collection of movies was over five hundred that I realised there had been a shift in the pleasure I got from collecting. It was no longer just about seeing the best and most complete version of a much-loved movie. I was in the thrall of the “thrill of the hunt”. A fact borne out by the number of discs I had that remained unwatched, still in their shrink wrap. I was also using up considerable storage space to accommodate my collection and it was proving to be somewhat of a drain on my finances. And then Blu-ray appeared on the market and opened up not only a new avenue of potential collecting but a can of worms. Did I really want to replace so much of my precious hoard?
It’s a curious thing how something that has taken years to amass, can be dispensed with and disposed of in a far quicker time. My Father-in-law was a prodigious collector of coins and medals. He was very proud of his collection and guest were frequently regaled with it. Yet collecting is often very personal and means little to those who do not share similar passions. When my Father-in-law died in 2012, his collection was sold quickly and efficiently to several professional collectors. It was just another asset to be disposed of, once his estate had been settled. And so it was with my film collection. Once I had determined that it was no longer the collection that mattered to me but just the act of acquisition, I felt no reason to continue doing either. The very rare and signed LaserDiscs where sold to a specialist film and memorabilia store. The rest of the DVDs where then sold online, or traded in at game stores. What was left was given away to charity shops.
I’m not sure if I have a major philosophical point to make about collecting, beyond the fact that many people that I’ve spoken to on the subject have had a similar journey. What starts off as a fun undertaking eventually becomes a millstone and possibly a minor addiction. It certainly can become a massive financial drain. I also think that collecting is a very solitary pastime and is not accommodating of relationships and other situations that compete for your time, attention and money. I am now at a point in my life where I have embraced downsizing and decluttering. Technology has also made so much previously rare material readily available. As a film fan, I now live in an age where tracking down high-quality copies of most movies is quite easy. I doubt if I’ll ever collect anything in my life again, yet I cannot totally write off the period of my life in which I did. It was fun initially regardless of where it led and I think it ended up teaching me a lot about myself.
Here's an episode of the Burton & Scrooge Podcast from September 2015. Brian and I have a fairly lengthy conversation about collecting, drawing upon our own personal experiences. The discussion begins at 27:12 into the show.