Unless you’re like me and you have a shelf-full of movies and the single-minded will to track down films you’ve only read about, you may be wondering where the heck you can get your hands and eyeballs on something I’ve blathered on about in the blog. Short of me mailing you my copy (although I’ve considered starting my own homegrown rental service), here are some options for you, from cheapest to most expensive.
Your local library
Price: So, so cheap. Gas in your car/moving your feet cheap.
I can’t tell you how many classic films I’ve discovered by lurking in my hometown library. Most library branches will order special materials for you from other locations, meaning that if you live in a city large enough, they’re likely to have the film you want somewhere. Some will purchase new materials for the library if you request them and it seems like something that could be of future use to other patrons (this is especially true for university libraries). My city’s library will even waive the paltry $11 membership fee for those who feel they can’t afford it. Make friends with your local librarian – you won’t regret it.
Turner Classic Movies
Price: Dependent on how evil your cable company is. Consider cost-per-viewing-minute on this one.
Once upon a time when I was but a wee lass, my hometown cable company made Turner Classic Movies a part of every basic cable package. This, I think, is about as civilized as humanity will ever get. Their programming is excellent, and on any given day you will find at least one or two movies you feel like you can’t miss. If you are someone with self-control issues and a busy schedule, having this channel may be more of a burden than a gift. Once I moved to the big city I no longer had affordable access to TCM, and until consumers are able to pick-and-mix what they want in their cable packages, TCM will be but a distant dream (that I still follow on Twitter).
Netflix/iTunes/Other online streaming services
Price: Affordable, but maybe not worth it
Here in Canada the selection of classic films on Netflix is appalling. Don’t get me wrong – there are excellent films available if you’re starting from scratch, but if you’ve dabbled in old movies for even a year or two, you’re not going to find much new there. Overall though, the Netflix experience is slick and comforting when you want to spend a day immobilized on the couch. If you’re lucky enough to live in other regions, you will be privy to more content. I realized there are ways around these restrictions, but now that I’m getting older and crankier, I can’t be bothered.
iTunes has a reasonable selection of classic films for download or rental. Unfortunately the price of a two-day rental tends to hover around the $5 mark, which could really add up if you’re using this service all the time. Some days I will go this route even though I find the process clunky and slow. Also, it gives me the Snowden data-collection tingles. I said it, Apple, bring it on!
If you live in the U.S. you are also lucky to have access to great streaming services like Warner Archive Instant. It’s probably good that I don’t have this, since I really don’t need to watch every episode of every mediocre 1950’s TV show I haven’t seen. Consider your health, people.
Ye olde fashioned big box store
Price: Sometimes great, sometimes ridiculous
I live in a city of a million people and I still need to drive a half an hour to find a decent selection of movies. Your suburban box store is, nine times out of ten, not going to have the movie you want – especially if you are looking for foreign classics or independent films. The biggest media outlet in my city does have a section specifically for world cinema, but it is sadly sparse and there is always a weird guy there hogging my shelf visuals. Oh god, sometimes I am that weird guy…
My suggestions is that if you’re looking for a specific film, call ahead before you drive halfway across town only to be disappointed. Box stores are good places to wander aimlessly, cold and depressed under the fluorescent lights. You’ll probably buy a bunch of things you don’t need. If your city still has a clinging-to-life independent video store/DVD dealer, by all means, check them out.
Blu-ray and DVD online
Price: Just try and stop me!
Shopping from home (or work) is just way, way too easy. Recently Criterion had a 50%-off sale on all their online merchandise, and I had to text my husband to warn him that something big was happening and there was nothing he could do about it. Fortunately I married him for the right reasons and he said “go for it.” Criterion sent me a tote bag for giving them so much money and when I use it I hope, secretly, that someone will stop me to chat and I will make a dorky friend. Such is the potential power of tote bags.
What I love about owning physical media is that it’s so easy to lend to people. Plus, boxes and movie posters are alluring – they give people a reason to watch. I’ve had probably three laptops crash and burn on me in the past five or six years (I’m not nice to my stuff), which means the loss of whatever glorious film find was on that laptop. And unless you’re a Pauline Kael-type and never re-watch a film, you may want to have a shelf of things to choose from on a rainy day. To amend a John Waters quote, “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have movies, don’t fuck ’em!”
Criterion, TCM and Warner all have fairly extensive online stores. Go there with a spotter to avoid hurting yourself.