Building a DVD library: the ongoing journey of a film collector

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Forget streaming – collecting physical media’s where it’s at. Join AJ Black as he aims to build the ultimate DVD library on a budget…

Remember the days before streaming? The days where if you wanted to watch a film or a TV show, you would first need to buy it on VHS (multiple tapes if it was a series) or later DVD? These might have been considered ‘the dark days’ until a fairly recent streaming cynicism kicked in. 

Now the tide is turning.

Like many of you I’m sure, I would pile my home floor to ceiling with box-sets and DVD movies, so many of them I simply didn’t have time to watch. I vividly remember a Boston Legal box-set that stared at me, unopened, whenever I ventured into the spare room.

When circumstances meant I moved into a house share with friends around a decade ago, just as streaming was kicking off, much of this collection ended up being sold en masse, at a vastly reduced amount than I spent building it up.

Truthfully, I didn’t see this as a ‘collection’ back then. Living as a single man, I would ravenously digest at least two films a night, sometimes three, and I still failed to get through the piles of discs, given I would repeatedly add to it. DVD was giving way to Blu-ray and the cost was at points prohibitive, but it was the only means of watching new or older films and television.

It was just what we did. But unlike many people, unlike no doubt many of you, I wasn’t ‘curating’ back then.

And once all of these discs and boxes gave way to the pragmatism of first a house share and later living with my wife to be, I greedily embraced the promise of streaming. I flirted with digitising what I did have left but backed away due to storage spaces and more expense. Streaming was cheap. It was quick. It had everything, right?

Netflix grew to Amazon Prime and Sky Cinema and then Disney+ and beyond. The choice was endless. The ease unlike never before. This was cinephile heaven, surely? Who needed physical media?

Stock image of a DVD player with inserted disc and remote

How naive I was.

We’ve all seen the change in recent years. Digital purchases being deleted when films or TV shows disappear. Streaming services eliminating material which disappears into oblivion, guarded by corporations or IP protections from viewers eyes. Tax write offs of new products. The list goes on. As the streaming gold rush for entertainment services is over in these times of economic want, so too is audience’s trust in what streaming can provide, certainly for cinephiles and TV lovers (is there a TV adjective akin to cinephile?). The dream is over.

That dream was for streaming to unlock everything. Access to our fingertips to the entire breadth of cinema across a century. All there for us to engage with, enjoy and learn from.

Instead an enormous amount has been ignored, corporations have siloed entire franchises or filmmakers to different platforms who increase their prices of access monthly now, it seems. Streaming is increasingly about to become economically untenable for the masses in terms of accessing everything. What everyone truly wants – one service that gives us everything – was always a pipe dream in our capitalist environment.

It was around 18 months ago when I finally resolved to start collecting physical media. I was inspired in no small part by following numerous Twitter and social media accounts who were collecting and banging the drum for keeping hold of discs and preserving physical collections in the shadow of streaming. I came to agree – it is the only true way of owning anything, and ultimately possibly accessing anything you want, when you want to watch it.

I had a few immediate rules. I wanted it to largely just be cinema, with the odd TV exception, mainly for cost and storage reasons. It needed to be affordable and therefore, again with the odd exception, everything would be bought second hand. For reasons of cost, they would largely be DVD – a choice that has led to some sniffiness among picture quality purists. Call me a terrible cinephile but a film is a film at the end of the day. You can Blu-ray, 4K etc… all you like, it’s the same thing. I don’t need to buy Once Upon A Time in America for £25 in razor sharp format when I can get it for 50p stacked with extras and still looking pretty great. Sue me.

DVD or blu ray movie disc with tv remote control, movie tickets and bowl of popcorn on dark background. Home theatre movie or series night concept. Flat lay top view from above.

The biggest caveat of all would be this: the boxes and sleeves would go. Every film I own would be disc only, removed and placed inside a see through cover and slotted into a smaller box, alphabetised. I’m now up to around 10 boxes – see pictured below – with more soon needed. Here is a link to buy them if you’re interested – they’ve been very durable and impressive so far.

Some of you might balk at the idea of dispensing with the boxes, but outside of using a storage unit, the idea of collecting thousands of movies in this way would turn my home into a DVD warehouse, and I actually like being married! Compromises are always necessary in building collections and I make do with the films all neatly packed away, backed by a comprehensive spreadsheet on Google that collates everything – film, director, year, format, alphabetised. One day I might add what extras the discs have but that’s a big task.

I’ve included a link to view the spreadsheet here if you’d like to have a look. Everything yellow are the films I’ve yet to see.

The collecting is part of the fun. It’s taken me to towns I’d never have gone before, sometimes collecting in bulk, sometimes to grab one or two gems that you can’t find anywhere else.

It’s also helped me discover a real love of the charity shop. My hometown of Devizes is festooned with them, many of which have very decent DVD sections. As you’ll see in my latest haul, British Heart Foundation’s three DVDs for £1 is such a great offer, I’m amazed they haven’t realised it’s too good yet! Charity shops have always been Aladdin’s Cave’s, but for DVD collectors, there has never been a better time.

This piece therefore will be regularly updated with details on my latest hauls and the films collected, and any highlights of the collecting adventures on the way. The spreadsheet will expand so keep an eye on that for the entire collection.

And, also, if you wanted to send me any DVDs of films you no longer need or are happy to dispense with, I can promise them a very good home. Please contact me via this link and we can discuss getting them sent my way!

My most recent haul was from the aforementioned British Heart Foundation, who I regularly pop into on the high street but who had clearly restocked their discount shelves for DVDs, as I was treated to a real bonanza of movies I hadn’t picked up. I came away with 32 films for the princely sum of £11. That’s roughly around 33p a movie. Amazing.

I grabbed Clint Eastwood’s Blood Work from 2002, which I haven’t seen. Tony Scott’s True Romance from 1993, another (huge) blind spot of mine. Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream from 2000, with some great production notes in the sleeve – what a film that is! Robert Wise’s original 1961 adaptation of West Side Story (expanded edition), which I’ve only seen clips of and wonder if I’ll enjoy as much as Steven Spielberg’s recent version. A late-90s classic, 10 Things I Hate About You, a proper teenage film for me. Loved it ever since.

I also grabbed Kevin Smith’s Dogma, also from 1999, and perhaps outside of Mallrats my favourite of his films. The original Kinji Fukasaku Battle Royale from 2001, which is a wonderfully messed up film. Marc Forster’s Monsters Ball from 2001, which I’ve never seen in its entirety. Martin Campbell’s gloriously ludicrous 2000 action film Vertical Limit, festooned with extras. Cameron Crowe’s 2001 semi-autobiographical rock drama Almost Famous, which I’ve never seen. Ditto A Beautiful Mind from 2006 and Ron Howard, which feels like a movie everyone has watched, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t.

I’d not really heard of City Of Ghosts by actor Matt Dillon from 2002, but it looks interesting, so I nabbed it. Taking Lives by D J. Caruso in 2004, with Angelina Jolie, looks intriguing. Same for Tarsem Singh’s The Cell from 2000, with J-Lo, one I feel like I’ve watched but since forgotten. One I’ll never forget is Jonathan Demme’s seminal The Silence Of The Lambs from 1991, which I’m very glad to now own. Speaking of horror, great to pick up Christopher Smith’s 2004 British chiller Creep, which I’ve always enjoyed. Two posh Brit films I added were 1999’s An Ideal Husband and 2015’s A Royal Night Out, neither of which I’ve seen.

I have seen Alan J Pakula’s last film from 1997, The Devil’s Own, with Harrison Ford, and that’s a very good one. Less good but always fascinating is Blair Witch 2: Book Of Shadows, a flawed but intriguing sequel. I’m glad to have it. I also bought Transcendence, 2014’s rather slow sci-fi film from Wally Pfister, which I look forward to revisiting despite it being savaged – I wonder if it plays better a decade on. Others I grabbed include 2001’s military drama Men Of Honor, Blow by Ted Demme from the same year and Waltz With Bashir, the original 2008 Israeli film which I’ve always heard good things about.

Finally, I now own Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 2 (but not Vol. 1 yet), Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America from 1984 – a lovely two disc edition and a film I can’t wait to experience. Ronny Yu’s 2000 Brit thriller The 51st State, with the strangeness of Samuel L Jackson sharing the screen with Ricky Tomlinson. Sean Penn’s excellent 2008 drama Into The Wild, Guy Ritchie’s underrated 2015 adaptation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., John Martin McDonagh’s superb 2014 drama Calvary and Marion Cotillard-starring French drama La Vie En Rose from 2014.

Phew. That’s a big haul even for me, but some real gems landed this time around. It won’t always be this amount but all this for just over a tenner cannot be sneezed at.

Current collection number after this haul: 1,320.

I would love to know what you’ve been collecting lately and what you think of the films listed here, and what you think about physical media, collecting, and so forth. Let’s get a dialogue going in the comments!

You can find A J. on social media, including links to his Patreon and books, via here.

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