Friday, January 11, 2008

What to do with a movie library?

One of my great joys, while growing up, was visiting my aunt and uncle in the holidays. Ted was a serious film buff (among other things), and the room where I used to stay was packed from floor to ceiling with books and magazines about movies, which I used to read voraciously. In fact, it would be fair to say that Ted's collection of movie books was largely responsible for me doing what I do today.

From as early as I can remember, I used to plough through magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland, and I knew my way through the canon of German Expressionist films before I'd seen any of them. I could tell you all about the making of Gone With The Wind or Wizard of Oz, I knew what the concept art for Fantasia and King Kong looked like, and names like von Stroheim, Eisenstein, Griffith, Pickford, Chaney, Fellini and Bergman tripped off my tongue with the fluency of a seasoned student of film. I used to read the screenplays and shooting scripts of all my favourite RKO horror films, and knew by heart the production notes of the masterworks of Welles, Hitchcock and de Mille.

This library was an absolute treasure trove of information. It was far larger and more expansive than anything my local library could offer me, and the best I was likely to see outside a film school. (In fact, I didn't seen anything to rival it until I visited the American Film Institute last year and saw what was on their shelves.)

Ted died just before Christmas, and left me his library, but sadly, I find myself wondering what to do with it. Aside from the practical issue of where to put a thousand or more books, I begin to wonder how many of those books I would ever look at now. The Web offers so much information that this enormous stack of books is no longer a collection of information you can't get anywhere else. And, what's more, the Web's easier to use. DVD extras also provide so much background material, in a more friendly form, that I'm less inclined to read a book about the making of a film than I used to be.

There's a side of me that would love to own such a library, but on the other hand, it doesn't seem nearly as useful or as interesting as it did ten or twenty years ago. Maybe it's one of those side-effects of progress, and books are, regrettably, becoming as obsolete as vinyl LPs, reel-to-reel tapes or slides.


Carl said...

Maybe you need to scan all those books for easy, searchable, electronic access. :) You'd just also need a small army of Santa's off-season elves to do the grunt work ... ;)

Actually, before a recent big move, I scanned a bunch of borrowed, mostly OOP reference books and things from my collection of photocopied articles. The bonus that makes them actually now more useful than trad-style printed matter is that the scanner's built-in OCR was good enough to make them pretty searchable without any effort on my part. Very handy! I guess I need to keep back-ups, in case of disk doom, but equally a good house fire would wipe out my dead-tree library, too.

Until that killer e-book reader arrives on my doorstep, though, I'm still on paper for reading fiction. :)

Matt Kelland said...

Agreed, fiction is still best on paper, but the Net wins hands down for reference. Until they make an e-reader I can use in the bath and don't care about leaving on the train.