Wednesday, August 22, 2007

You know what, we really get screwed in Europe

Now that I've finished Uni, I've had to cut back on my spending on certain luxuries, namely DVDs. I spent a good deal of my student loan on films in Fopp in an effort to improve my film education and I now struggle to justify such expenditure. At least on films which I've never seen. Now I can only really justify buying films I know I like and leave discovering new films to the cinema and renting them. However, whenever I go to America on holiday, I take advantage of the very good exchange rate and invest in films and TV series which I just can't get over here. Over the last few days I've watched a handful of them and I can't help but think that we are really missing out.

This time around I purchased the two TV series made by Judd Apatow, director of Knocked Up and The Forty-Year Old Virgin, named 'Freaks and Geeks' and 'Undeclared'. I may dedicate a whole article to those two shows since they are both very good, but I will say that it is a terrible shame that not only can these two shows not be purchased in Britain, they have never even been screened on any channel over here. Because of this I can understand why the series has never seen a DVD release here, but that doesn't mean I feel any better about how much people are missing out.

A much bigger oversight, though, is that some films which are considered genuine classics, many of which were released over here at some point, have not been released on DVD. The film which immediately springs to mind, mainly because I watched it today, is Robert Altman's 1975 opus Nashville. An ensemble piece about the intersecting lives of country music performers and hangers-on in Nashville, it is a hugely ambitious film about not only the country music scene but also politics, the American dream and the state of America in the immediate aftermath of the Watergate scandal and it presents an interesting snapshot of America at a very specific point in its history. It is widely regarded as Altman's greatest film, was a fair hit on its release and it has never seen a DVD release. Every one of Uwe Boll's celluloid abortions is available in pretty much every Blockbuster, but you can't get a film which is so well regarded for love nor money. Well, you can get it for money. And 'love' but that is called 'prostitution' and is technically illegal.

Of course, commercial success is not a necessity in getting a DVD release, Boll's inexplicable proliferation on the digital format attests to that, so we also don't get early minor classics that may not have been terribly successful from directors who have gone on to great success. Take Robert Zemeckis, Oscar-winning director of Forrest Gump, Back to the Future and the forthcoming Neil Gaiman/Roger Avary-scripted Beowulf. To look in HMV, you'd think that his directing career started with Romancing The Stone. In reality, Zemeckis made two films beforehand which he co-wrote with his Back To The Future co-hort Bob Gale; I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand, as the name would imply, is a Beatles-related film. The plot revolves around a fictionalised version of the Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and the efforts of a group of New Jersey teenagers to get into the show. It's a very simple idea for a film and it is a work of real technical skill and is one of the most enjoyable films I've ever seen. As with his later films, most notably Forrest Gump, Zemeckis mixes archive footage and newly filmed scenes to terrific effect, making it really seem as if we the viewer are watching the Beatles performing for the first time. The film has a terrific verve and sense of fun to it and is a hugely impressive debut. Used Cars is an altogether different beast. An R-Rated comedy in which a sleazy used car salesman (Kurt Russell) tries to keep his workplace in business after his boss dies is a dark comedy and a surprisingly biting satire. Again, it's a brilliantly made film which is incredibly funny. However, both films were flops on their release due to poor marketing and made Zemeckis and Gale box office poison for about 4 years. Both films are available on DVD in the US despite their lack of success, why can't they get a release in Europe?

Even directors who are incredibly popular have films from their back catalogue which aren't available here. The most notable example is Steven Spielberg whose 1979 film 1941, scripted by the aforementioned Zemeckis and Gale, can only be imported. It's most notable as Spielberg's first flop, but other directors' flops are available on DVD. You can get Howard the Duck here. Howard. The. Duck. Why then, can we not get films which are genuine curios from the careers of some of the world's most prolific and beloved filmakers? These are a very select few choices, of course, but it is indicative of how many good films just aren't available to the average person in the UK.

The obvious response to these questions would be 'why not import and stop whining you poncey student bastard?' but I'm not concerned about that. If someone is going to import a film you can be pretty certain that they are a fairly serious film fan who wants to see these films and will spend sometimes considerable amounts of money to do so. My concern is with casual film fans who are missing out on some really fantastic, often very accessible films which would appeal to huge numbers of people if they were given a chance. As I've already said, I Wanna Hold Your Hand is one of the most incredibly fun films I've ever seen and it really saddens me that it is not available for more people to watch. It doesn't really matter if film fans can't walk into a shop and buy a copy, they'll find a way around it, but that so many people are deprived of really enjoyable films is a terrible shame.