At my best guess I own roughly 800 DVDs and Blu-Rays. 60 vinyl record albums, 500+ CDs, and 250 paperback movie novelizations. I own several thousand comic books. I own hardcovers and softcovers. I own Lego sets, action figures, and more. I own things. Things from my childhood. From my teenage years. From my grownup ones. Tangible physical things I can hold in my hand, pull off the shelf, and read, listen to, or watch.
Physical things are good. They force you to engage with the left hemisphere of your brain; the mechanical, structured, analytical one. I would argue that owning physical media is a good that streaming simply cannot preproduce effectively.
Why? In the era of digital downloads, streaming services, the internet why do I hold on to his archaic thing called “physical media” in an era when stores like Target and Best Buy are doing away with their DVD and Blu-ray sections?
There is an answer. Frankly if there was not I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it. And it’s the story of this album:
Codeine Velvet Club were a band that was an offshoot of another band, The Fratellis. Fronted by Johnny Fratelli and Scottish singer Lou Hickey, they released one album in late 2009, and split the following year.
Their self-titled debut (and only) album is one of my favorites of that and indeed of any era. They had a poppy, punky lounge-act era of snappy tones, melodic, all-around fantastic in my opinion anyway.
Here’s the song and video that first grabbed me. I encourage you to watch and listen all the way through.
They followed ‘Hollywood’ with ‘Vanity Kills’:
And that was pretty much it. Johnny went back to The Fratellis; Lou became a solo artist and remains one today, mostly playing in and around her native Glasgow.
I discovered them through Spin Magazine who in the late 2000s would release free downloadable playlists of songs by up and coming bands into compilations and “Hollywood” was on one such compilation. I liked what I heard and after perusing my record shop – in this case the itself now long-gone Virgin megastore in Times Square, walked out with this very copy of the album.
Front to back and top to bottom Codeine Velvet Club is gold. From “Hollywood” which kicks off the first side, to their cover of The Stone Roses’ “I Am The Resurrection” that closes out the second. It’s an album and band I have returned to a great deal in the (gasp) fourteen years since I first heard it and them.
What does this have to do with my various collections of physical media?
Because you can no longer hear this album through conventional means. You won’t find it on Spotify. You won’t find it on iTunes or Apple Music. You can find used copies on eBay and Amazon, and can listen to the entire thing if you go to YouTube. But otherwise owning a copy of this tremendous collection of music is difficult verging on impossible.
We’ve entered an era where we are pushed to give up owning things in exchange for paying for access to someone else’s library. We’ve traded convenience for access that can be changed at any time at any moment with no warning. The tech and media companies are like the overlords of the great 60s sci-fi anthology series “The Outer Limits”. They control the horizontal and the vertical. And for a monthly subscription fee it can be yours. But always for a fee.
The irony here is that over the last several years my physical media collecting has diminished. I’m no longer compelled to grab the hot new release when it’s right out of the oven. I can wait for it to come down in price, or can pass on it altogether. Unless a special edition is coming from Criterion or it’s a film I really enjoyed, the itch to watch a movie again is scratched by a single viewing, not ownership. While there is something reassuring about being able to pull a film like Gladiator, Mad Max, Moonraker, The Great Escape, or Friday the 13th (Parts 1 through 8) off my shelf and throw it on some rainy afternoon, most often I can just “rent” it essentially from the library I frequent.
But owning that physical media has proven to be a boon in one way as it spurred me to finally decide on what my next book is going to be.
Many of you have written to say how much you’ve enjoyed the CELLULOID HEROES series I’ve been running on-and-off on this website since 2022. After much soul-searching and much shelf-examination I realized there’s a much grander story to be told about the movies I love, and the movie-going experiences that solidified those specific films as some of my all-time favorites. From Star Wars and E.T. The Extra-terrestrial to Back to the Future and Batman, to Reservoir Dogs and Boogie Nights, to The Bourne Supremacy and Pan’s Labyrinth, to Inside Llewyn Davis and The Irishman, every film has a personal story attached to it and I am preparing to tell those stories and a lot more.
The tentatively titled CELLULOID HEROES: A GEN-X JOURNEY THROUGH FIFTY YEARS OF CINEMA has no publisher as of yet. It doesn’t even have a completed first draft. But it is my current long-term project; one that dominated 2023 on a research level (because I actually had to watch the forty-five films I decided to write about) and will dominate 2024 on a writing one.
My criteria was simple: each film had to be a movie I first experienced in a theater; it had to be a movie I’d seen multiple times in the years since; and it needed to be a movie I owned a physical copy of. That third part was the easiest to decide on, thanks to the substantial physical film library I own at home. What wasn’t as easy was picking those forty-five films. But I got there in the end and revisiting some favorite films of mine was one of the highlights of the year that was.
So on that note posts to this website will slow down a bit over the coming while. I may tease out some Celluloid Heroes work here and there and anything else that sparks my creativity but for not it’s going to be nose-to-the-grindstone-write-this-damn-thing on the book, and another project I’m developing with a production company that I cannot discuss as of yet.