HOLLYWOOD — Most religions feature a concept called contagious magic. It works on the supposition that if you have physical contact with a person, you can inherit their wonderful qualities. This is why some primitive tribesmen would eat the hearts of their bravest enemies, to absorb their courage. It’s why Catholics cherish relics (toes, bones, even clothes) of the saints, to soak up their holiness.
Showbiz is a religion for many people, so it’s no surprise that contagious magic is everywhere.
Steven Spielberg, for example, paid a hefty sum in 1982 for the original Rosebud from “Citizen Kane” even though it would cost a fraction to re-create that sled. But the magic of the film, it seems, is only carried by the actual props.
Of course, most people can’t buy Marilyn Monroe’s dress or the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” (and how many pairs of those damn shoes are floating around anyway?). So people collect movie posters, soundtracks or books.
But the ultimate in contagious magic is the DVD: Thanks to modern technology, you can own more than a part of the film — you can own the film itself.
Art and soul
You can possess Stanley Kubrick’s films (and the Warner Home Video collection is a must). It doesn’t matter if you only see each pic a few times in your life. By owning them, you can become a part of Kubrick. He is a part of you. You can eat the heart of Stanley Kubrick, so to speak.
It’s easy to forget that for the first eight decades of the film business, there were no VCRs or DVD players. To see an old fave, a film devotee would have to haunt revival houses or set his alarm for a 3 a.m. TV airing.
Videocassettes changed all that. But in the back of your mind, you always knew that tape is perishable. DVDs have the aura of immortality. Somehow, you feel that if you outlive a nuclear war, your DVDs will survive as well.
DVD geeks — and you know who you are — tout the “added-value” extras that come with DVDs. But c’mon, who really cares about that stuff? How many people really want 11 hours of supplemental material on “Shrek” or “Fantasia”? How often are you going to watch that “making of” documentary on “Family Man” or listen to William Friedkin’s running commentary on “The Exorcist”? You don’t want his comments, you want his film.
This fall, the Criterion Collection will release “The Lady Eve,” “Shanghai Express,” “That Obscure Object of Desire” and “8½.” They will all have plenty of extras, and that’s swell, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. These are great films. I gotta make them a part of my life. I want ’em. You want ’em. You can watch them. You can study them. You can touch the box that holds the film. You can sit naked and run the smooth, shiny discs slowly over your body.
Er, uh, not that I’ve done that. I’m just saying, you could if you want to.
DVDs are magic (contagious or not). Even if you’re not spiritual, you can revel in the visuals and sound, which are sharper than anything that’s been available for ages. The letterbox versions! The aspect ratio! Optical image quality! The digital technology! I don’t even understand half these terms, but I appreciate them. And chapters mark off various scenes, so you can call up your favorite moments in a few seconds, without the guesswork of videotape’s fast-forward.
Yes, I know it’s only a matter of time before a new technology is invented that will be more compact and efficient, and DVDs will go the way of phonograph records and eight-track tapes.
And, yeah, I know that movies-on-demand is imminent, so I can watch any film I want at the push of a button or two or 10. But MOD will be like a public library; you can read any book you want, but it’s not the same as owning a book.
It’s all about magic. Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, Cabiria, Monty Python, Emma Peel and Bonnie & Clyde are now in my house. I have gotten in touch with my inner geek. I own these works. I own their magic.
And people who don’t have DVD players — they can eat their hearts out.