Steps to Take in the Building of a Great Film Collection


Collection Collage.jpg

The Island of Montreal is a wonderful cultural capital, harboring a multitude of centers, groups, institutes and special events organized around the medium of film. Montreal's vast film-cultural arena, favorable to the cause of cinephilia, can be entered into from any number of venues. Those looking to mingle among the cinematically inclined can join the Cinéclub Film Society, which meets at Concordia University's downtown campus. Those eager to experience classics as they were meant to be experienced can attend revivals at the Cinéma du Parc, one of the city's arthouse theatres. Those with an empiric's curiosity about the production of film can take guided tours of La Cité du Cinéma, our country's largest film production facility. Those with a taste for the fresh and exotic can obtain a "passeport" and arrange to see new releases at our annual International Film Festival, which is held in late August/early September. The list goes on and on.

However, should the experience of film culture in the public arena prove somehow overwhelming or under-satisfying, one can escape to the privacy of one's own home and nourish the avid film passions within if one undertakes to build a great film collection. Often started unthinkingly through gift and purchase, collections--with their inherent diversity and fluidity--are both fine commodities and wonderful resources (all the more so if they are vast and properly thought-out). Admittedly not a finite process, the amassing of a collection, consisting of films and books about film, is one way of living out one's film-madness in the long term. Uniquely fashioned and fastidiously maintained, collections of this kind only increase with time in personal and pecuniary value.

Collecting is not a perfectly linear process, but in this case it involves three clear steps: first, the collection is planned out; then, purchases are made; lastly, those purchases are classified and shelved. You will cycle through these steps as you edit your plans, make new purchases, and rethink or reconfigure your classification system and shelving.

- Glossary -
alternate cut: a version of a film in which material has been edited in or edited out; the term is relative, and usually refers to cuts that are not compromised by regulation
blind buy: a home video purchase made sight unseen
domestic release: the original theatrical release of a film in its country of origin
transfer: featured media of a particular print quality (e.g. the Criterion Collection's famous digital transfers)

- You will require:

  • Disposable funds
  • Internet access
  • Available shelf space
  • A collector's devotion

Begin by plotting out your desired collection with some kind of list. First consider what you already own, as that will help point you in the direction of any holes that might need filling. For instance, you might be one Godfather away from a complete trilogy, or wish to part with an outdated version of a trusty film book and replace it with the newer edition. Furthermore, start thinking about the manner in which you will classify your developing collection, as this will factor into the compilation, the growth, and the reading of any "to buy list" you use as you add to the collection--not to mention, it prime you for the actual classification of your collection further down the line. With a (preliminary) attempt at some kind of orderly classification, you will find it easier to pick out and prioritize your "to buy" entries. You will also find it easier to go about adding to your collection in a balanced and measured way.

Consider joining Film Aficionado, a website that allows members to catalogue their changing and expanding home video collection with the aid of useful folders (e.g. film "wish list"), useful figures (e.g. the number of films in your collection directed by a particular filmmaker), and genre breakdowns. Others apps and programs, such as Collectorz Movie Collector, can be used for the purposes of cataloguing a film collection; however, they are paid downloads, and an account with Film Aficionado is free.

The films you list will likely far outnumber the books, and some cinephiles, by their very nature, are too visual to bother with books at all. However, worthy film books are thick with dense material that will help broaden your film perspectives and enrich your film-reading faculties; ergo, they are handy to have at your side. Book collections of course vary in accordance with individual film interests, but there are certain books that, for reasons of quality and scope, are essential.

Essential film volumes:

  • The Oxford History of World Cinema (ed. Geoffrey Nowell-Smith)
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Film Studies (by Annette Kuhn and Guy Westwell)
  • The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (by David Thomson)
  • Understanding Movies (by Louis Giannetti)

Put what you have plotted into action. Shop around. Jump at the opportunity to spend less and acquire more.

Online shopping facilitates price comparison, stimulates blind buying, and aids in the procuration of titles and releases that are out-of-print. To these ends, one of the best sites available to you is Amazon: it has a "marketplace" through which small and private businesses put their merchandise, new and used alike, up for sale. Be wary, mind you, when buying used items, in adherence to a principle of economy, as your thrift could prove self-defeating. The condition of used items varies, usually from "Acceptable" to "Like New"--unfortunately, the purchase of anything below "Like New" quality is generally a gamble.

Caution to Collectors: When buying from sellers not fulfilled by the site, always peruse their customer comment history to make sure that they can be trusted. Items are returnable, but the process is inconveniencing, and the seller must first approve the return. Also, never buy books from marketplace sellers as it is too risky, and the price of shipping & handling is usually quite steep.

A film collection is naturally something to which you add, but you will also remove from it and, more importantly, update it. You might someday choose to start from scratch and update the format of your entire collection, as many did when DVD made VHS obsolete, but there is also ample room for updating within the bounds of your chosen home video format. Consider improved transfers, alternate cuts, and special edition releases, as these all have their benefits. Collector's editions of films, for one, are decked with special features that are privileging in a variety of ways (e.g. the commentaries of certain luminaries that provide insight). Bear in mind that you will be more satisfied with your film collection if it carries a little extra weight from title to title--that is to say, if its constituents have more to offer.

Caution to Collectors: Do not overspend or otherwise overindulge in the building of your collection. Collecting is a hobby, but can become a compulsion.

Devise a way of categorizing your collection in preparation for shelving. You needn't reinvent the Dewey Decimal System, but it is in your best interests to conceive something consistent and considered. Managing and navigating within the collection will be a lot less daunting, especially as it grows to number in the hundreds. It will also look a lot more presentable. Your task will be easier will be a lot easier if you started thinking about this at the planning stage.

Suggested categories of classification:

  • filmmakers (e.g. Akira Kurosawa)
  • stars (e.g. Nicole Kidman)
  • composers (e.g. Hans Zimmer)
  • genres (e.g. Film-Noir)
  • movements (e.g. German New Wave)
  • national cinemas (e.g. Cinema of Iran)
  • studios (e.g. Paramount)
  • packaging (e.g. box sets)

In the interest of following a universally applicable system, and avoiding overlapping classifications, consider using domestic release dates--or possibly the alphabet, which is advisable when arranging the books in your collection.

Next, display your classified collection on available shelf space. Do not fuss about putting everything in one spot, especially if you have broken the collection down by way of classification. Unitary dispersals of shelving keep everything within reach, which is practical. As you will have already expended, and continue to expend, a great deal of money on the collection itself, consider using your shelves as stacking compartments to maximize space and avoid the need to construct more shelves.

On a final note, you are advised to keep a repository separate from your main shelves in which the items blind bought can be stowed away. Collectors sometimes find that certain titles are too embarrassing to display, and a hidden repository is useful in this way as well.

Collectors Strongly Cautioned: Remember that a great collection is a prized commodity, and more importantly, a private one. When your collection becomes a lending library, its very integrity is put in jeopardy. If so inclined, keep to a consortium of trustworthy people when lending things out.

Leave a comment