Looking for the definitive DVD collection.
May 16, 2008 8:45 AM   Subscribe

A single DVD collection defining Modern Cinema?

I'm taking an extended break from work, wanted to take a casual interest in film up to the next level, and was hoping that someone could suggest a single collection, if it exists, that might help me towards this goal.

From casual interest in the past I'm aware of Janus' offering, The Essential Art House, but was curious if there were other, perhaps broader offerings?

I realise that I could pick up DVDs from folks like Criterion, Amazon or even smaller DVD stores, and frequently do. I'm also aware of smaller, either genre or director focused collections, already have several myself, but the problem with those solutions is I'm doing the selecting. And I don't know what I'm doing!!

Ideally I'd like to make a single, large purchase of DVDs, hopefully a collection that is well regarded by those working in the field, a set of films that would help one gain a solid overview of modern cinema.

If a single purchase isn't doable (I understand the logistical and licensing issues), then what offerings should time & resources be focused on?
posted by Mutant to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't believe that there's anything like you're describing out there in a single purchasable gigantic box.

so, in the interest of helping you out with plan b, I recommend watching Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession.

It's a documentary about The Z Channel (the first real independent film broadcast channel) run by this mad genius with probably the best taste for film ever. Movies that were panned when they came out, but were lauded much later he loved right from the start. Directors, interviewed in the documentary, talk about how much remarkable film he introduced them to through his channel (for instance, tarantino talks about how the video store he worked in had bootleg tapes of Z Channel broadcasts in the back that he would take home and watch incessantly, etc...)

The reason I mention this, and the reason I treasure the film so much, is that it's full of discussions of the films he would show, and so many of them were ones I hadn't known of before and which I netflixed specifically after seeing that documentary. They are among my favorite films, now. Heaven's Gate, Le Magnifique, so many others. It's really an incomparable film, for a tragic and incomparable man.
posted by shmegegge at 8:54 AM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not exactly what you're looking for, but I bet you would like Treasures from American Film Archives.

Re: buying DVDs, DeepDiscount.com often has better prices than Amazon or the Criterion site.
posted by Cucurbit at 9:15 AM on May 16, 2008

Best answer: Oh, and you also might like Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941.
posted by Cucurbit at 9:18 AM on May 16, 2008

Best answer: Sounds like you're looking for the no-longer-available Criterion Collection Gift Set. See also: United Artists 90th Anniversary Prestige Collection.
posted by designbot at 9:33 AM on May 16, 2008

Best answer: Also no longer available: Warner Classics Mega Collection.
posted by designbot at 9:36 AM on May 16, 2008

What's "modern" cinema? Movies have only existed for about a century. I can't imagine trying to understand cinematic language without looking at silent films.
posted by grumblebee at 9:48 AM on May 16, 2008

It might help if you would define "modern" and "broad." Does Janus not fit because it has old stuff or because it doesn't have popular films of less critical acclaim? Anyway, if the problem is that you don't trust your own selection, why not just look at any number of film lists (e.g. AFI's Top 100, or Ebert's) and buy the films on those individually? Is what you're after really the collective box they all come in, or the savings of buying them in bulk?

Regardless, you're definitely going to have trouble with "a collection that is well regarded by those working in the field," as it presumes a significant amount of agreement. That's not going to happen with any collection that offers significant breadth or depth.
posted by aswego at 9:54 AM on May 16, 2008

Best answer: 1001 Movies you must see before you die, the list of which I believe is from the book of the same name.
posted by FreezBoy at 10:21 AM on May 16, 2008

Best answer: Another list to throw on the pile, and one that addresses the "well-regarded" criterion (no pun intended):

Sight & Sound Critics Poll - every 10 years (last poll 2002) the magazine Sight & Sound polls the "world's leading film critics" for a list of the best films of all time. Cross this list with the AFI & BFI 100s, and you've got a start.

Just buy the films individually (or request them through your library system -- these are the kinds of lists libraries use to build their own DVD collections...)
posted by alb at 10:35 AM on May 16, 2008

"Modern" as in recent or are you talking about "Modernist"? Modernist films can be broken down into many subgenres mostly because that genre itself is so encompassing that it would be difficult to collect a good representation.
posted by JJ86 at 11:04 AM on May 16, 2008

Response by poster: Wow some totally excellent suggestions here so far guys - many thanks!

I do like Janus, but (perhaps wrongly) feel that 50 films isn't enough. I'd like to see as many films as a solid film maker would, ones that would be highly regarded by many in the industry.

I admit the query is wide open to subjectivity, but in my field (I'm a banker) there are books that we'd all agree are classics, very influential and must reads if not must haves. I'm looking for a DVD collection(s) that approximates the same for film.

I'm sure we've all had the experience of seeing a film and catching references back to other films, and I'd like to gain a solid (wide) understanding of the influences that those gifted folks actually making the films have been subjected to.

I have to persue the links provided so far. Maybe the most pragmatic route (as a couple of you have suggested or alluded to) would be to make my own, driven by these suggestions.

posted by Mutant at 11:21 AM on May 16, 2008

Best answer: I'd suggest calling up your alma mater or a check out the syllabi of film history programs. Those will give you the good basic background, but trying to find a definitive list isn't likely to happen, especially since film folks [that's what my degree is in] tend to really dig their own particular niches. I'll just offer a few suggestions from the early days of film since I could spend days compiling a list if I had the time:

The Magic of Méliès

German Expressionism:
Pandora's Box
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

I've also been reviewing all of the Criterion Collection films, so if you want to read a couple and get an idea of the kinds of films you'd like that might be a good tack to take. Also, I'd be happy to chat via email over the course of time to help you fill in any overlooked areas. That's pretty easy to do. If you're looking to build a gestalt knowledge I'd advise that a conversational experience would be the best route to take, as I doubt you'll find a collection or list that will meet that requirement and also explain the context of the films in the canon as well.
posted by sciurus at 11:57 AM on May 16, 2008

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