Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Organise! The Story of One Man's Obsessive Journey through Film

The organisation of one's media collection of choice is a tricky business, particularly for the obsessive individual. After one's film collection reaches a certain size, the organisation of DVDs (or Blu-rays) seems necessary in order to keep track of all the delightful goodies that have accumulated over the years. This also applies to a music collection, an obsession no better commented on than in Stephen Frears' High Fidelity (currently occupying space number 213 on my DVD shelf), in which Rob, the owner of a record store, rearranges his music collection in autobiographical order as a way of recovering from a nasty break up. I can personally recommend re-ordering your stuff in this way as a glorious tonic for all sorts of crises. Curiously, I have never encountered anyone who organises their book collection as obsessively as Rob does with his records, or I do with my films. Perhaps it has something to do with the relative newness of the medium of film, or the primacy of film and pop music over literature as the dominant cultural outputs in modern society.

As High Fidelity's Rob would certainly attest, at one point or another the obvious and frankly amateurish alphabetical method of DVD organisation will simply no longer cut the mustard for the obsessive collector, and a more obscure method of organisation must be adopted. For example, one associate of mine  asserts that organising films by studio is the way to go. Certainly, not only is it aesthetically pleasing to see all the little 'Warner Bros.' and '20th Century Fox' logos all lined up together, but also, you get a sense of the kinds of films that those studios produce. For the film obsessive, this is a fine way to organise your movies. However, it is not quite sufficient. Nor is organising by director, actor, or other single creative entity, as the titular alphabetic pandemonium ensuing from placing Raising Arizona (written and directed by the Coen brothers) before The Birds (directed by Alfred Hitchcock), is simply not an acceptable aesthetic proposition. Even worse, the logical conclusion of such a filing system would mean splitting up film series that were not always made by the same people, for example, Alien (directed by Ridley Scott) and Aliens, (directed by James Cameron) or Superman: The Movie (Richard Donner) and Superman II (Richard Lester). No, no, no, this aesthetic violence will not stand.

My solution, therefore, is to return to the classic alphabetical system (by title), but cross-referenced by director, cross-referenced by franchise, cross-referenced by studio, and if I'm feeling particularly sexy, cross-referenced by producer. Or, to put it less like a madman, my DVDs are allowed to sit in eye-pleasing alphabetical order but only on the strict condition that they take into account the main creative force or forces behind the film. No, wait, that still sounds mad. Right, listen: we start with letter 'A', so The African Queen might come first. But then we look at the director, which in this case is John Huston, so he gets to have his films The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre next. They still nestle happily under 'A', like disc-shaped cuckoos fooling their surrogate mother alphabet, whilst simultaneously satisfying their own urge to cluster with their directorial kin. So now we've put Huston together, we can move on to the next film in alphabetical order, let's say Alien. This is followed by Aliens, even though they were made by different directors, because splitting up a franchise would be fucking mental. When the franchise is complete, then, and only then, do we return to the director, so we now get Blade Runner (Scott), and then The Terminator (Cameron). Are you following me? Excellent, then I'll continue.

Usually, a director is the main creative force behind a film, directing, as you might expect, most of the major decisions that are made during the film-making process. However, sometimes other entities, like writers, producers or even studios are as, if not more important. A good example of this would be the Disney studio. Films made by Disney are one of the most recognisable, and iconic, types of movie in the world, transcending the usual distinctions of genre, director or actor to become, simply a 'Disney Film'. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a single director or writer from any of the myriad Disney films I've seen, but we all have a clear understanding of what a Disney film is. In my catalogue de films triomphante, it makes far more sense to group Disney films together and more or less disregard their directors. This leads to other, lovely little crossroads where creative auteurship is not so clean-cut, like the spate of gangster films that Warner Bros. produced in the 1930s, or the classic Universal horror pictures such as Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, and Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff and directed by the legendary James Whale. These groups are fascinating (no honestly, they really are) because, while they belong to the horror and gangster canons that Universal and Warner Bros. studios fostered, they also belong to the separate, but contiguous, canons of their directors, writers and stars, not to mention the stylistic canons of their historical periods. It's good to be a bit obsessive about how you organise your movies (and music and books, for that matter) because when you are all these little connections are forced to surface. They pull at each other and fight for dominance. They all demand attention like two interminable, simultaneous itches, and it's essentially impossible to satisfy the demands of each. What is particularly fascinating about films is that the creative process is such a collaborative effort, perhaps more so than in any other artistic medium. Organising your films properly is a way of revealing that lovely big, aesthetically pleasing, cacophony of order. The process exhumes the collaborative, thematic and historical links that tie films together in a great big, interconnected spiderweb of cinema. Plus, it's an evening, ain't it?


  1. I wrote a huge response to this when I was in the mood for that sort of thing, and lost it like a foole. Now I'm not so in the mood to write a huge response, but do feel I need to be true to the urge of my former self (i.e. me at about 1130 today), so here goes:

    I believe that the reason that people tend to (over)organise their CDs, or their DVDs, or whatever, and NOT books is that each item in a collection of CDs or DVDs or records is basically the same size and shape (like Pogs), and particularly in the case of CDs or DVDs, they're sort of hard shiny plastic things (like Pogs), and look very neat and tidy in a row (like Pogs). You can change the order, and they still look neat and tidy (like Pogs). With books, they're all different shapes and sizes (like people), and some of them are a bit wibbly from being in the bathroom too long. Some of them are a bit knackered from too much love (like people, or soft toys). Some of them are huge and unshelvable, some of them are tiny and can be stacked upon themselves within the shelf. Some of them need to be laid down on top or underneath, and some of them have flowers or four-leafed clovers pressing inbetween layers of tissue paper in amongst their pages, and need to be laid flat and squished under lots of other heavy books. Books, therefore, are organised according to wherever the hell they fit, and once you've got them in some semblance of order it's quite nice to leave well alone and be thankful you don't have to do that again for a long time. People also tend, I think, to have more books than CDs or DVDs, and so it's a bigger task, and less likely to be the sort of thing you fancy doing per heartbreak or episode of excessive boredom. It's not, you see, that we love them any less. Quite the opposite. You may be right, when you suggest that it's because CDs and DVDs are shiny and new (like Pogs)... I'd add that with them being newer, maybe there are just fewer of them, and so maybe it feels that it's possible to have a nice, tidy, Complete Collection. I'm sure people collect books from certain publishers where they're all the same height and design, and then they'd have ideas about the sort of order they should be in, because it would be easier to rearrange, wouldn't it?... a bit like collecting all the Mr Men books, so that you can have them all lined up in the bookshelf and it says 'Mr Men', or something, on the side. Maybe if you only had Penguin Orange Spines, you might find yourself arranging them chronologically by date published, date set, by age of principal character, by first line, last line, popularly abbreviated title, or whatever. I don't know. Have you ever been to Keel Row Books, in North Shields? They've got a room full of Orange Spines, wall to wall, floor to ceiling. It's bizarre. You start thinking you are one, and acting a bit like one. Anyway, never mind. Did you ever collect Pogs?

  2. This is amazing. I think you're right. I was three Pogs away from a complete set (version 1) when some thieving cunt stole half of them when I was in year 4. The police investigation is ongoing.

  3. I have a total compulsion with finishing collections (Beatles albums, Dubliners LPs, World Cup sticker books, etc) and I think I attribute this to Movie Myths about Shankara Stones and the like: I expect them to glow or levitate when I bring them all together. My psychiatrist thinks I'm fucking cool.