That sinking feeling….
As much as the Film Buff’s operation is a product of the efforts of numerous people, I still bear a certain over-arching responsibility to keep our organization generally aimed in the right direction. It’s my job, for example, to navigate our little company through sometimes-uncertain waters, charting a path that keeps a multitude of considerations in mind. That said, it’s all too easy to get lost in the minutia of the day to day operation of the shops and lose track of the big picture. Routine has the unfortunate implication of causing us to sometimes miss the forest for the trees. In a nutshell, my role is to keep the Film Buff solvent, nothing more. To accomplish this, it falls within my realm to research, track, order and make available the product mix necessary to keep our customers well-served, our stores well-stocked, our suppliers paid, our staff employed, our taxes paid and our enterprise viable.
It’s taken us more than a decade of trial and error to find a working balance between the broad appeal of mainstream movies and the art house exclusivity of independent, foreign, historical and niche filmmaking. Our monthly orders are further complicated by finding the right balance of DVD and Blu-ray product and by the need to recognize the slight difference in customer taste that exists in the 60 city blocks that separate the Film Buff East from the Film Buff West.
I would never have guessed, for example, how the passing of some long-forgotten actor or director sparks a nearly instant demand for their films… for exactly 4 days. A Marx Brother’s film retrospective playing at the Lincoln Center, a Sunday New York Times article about Budd Boetticher, or a TIFF/Cinemateque/Lightbox screening all ripple through our shops in a spell of renewed/temporary interest in movies from cinema’s giant dustbin. Martin Scorsese’s recent Hugo drew people to the early works of the silent era and Spielberg’s Adventures of Tintin to the animated French series from the ’90s. As you might expect, sequels tend to revive interest in the originals that can last for weeks, if not months. The awards season ignites interests in the earlier works of the nominees. Staying on top of all these audience triggers is a bit of a challenge and I find myself reacting to them more than I’d care to admit.
The latest spike in interest in a specific title – one that I missed completely and shouldn’t have – is James Cameron’s risible Titanic – sparked, of course, by its theatrical re-release in 3D this weekend. Years ago, I wrote how proud I was that our lone VHS copy of Titanic hadn’t left the store in over a year, but as the memory of just how awful a film it is fades with the passing of time, I should have seen a rekindled demand for it on home video coming. I didn’t (or maybe didn’t want to) and as a result we have exactly 1 copy of it on DVD to share between the stores. The DVD was yanked from distribution last fall (the studios do this to drive herds of humans into the theatres, and it works) and, as a result, our collective response to the nearly endless inquires to rent it over the past couple of days has been
“… sorry, it’s rented”, or worse yet, over at the FBE the response is “… no, we don’t have that one”
Had I been on my game, I’d have picked up a few extra copies last fall, before it went out-of-print, but I didn’t. It didn’t dawn on me that beneath the part of Titantic that you can see… is a massive, pent-up demand lurking just below the surface, and just like the Captain Edward John Smith, I didn’t react quickly enough to steer the HMS Film Buff into safe waters. The consequences are admittedly minor in our little skiff, but I can’t be missing these icebergs all the time, or we will go down.
And, according to some arcane bit of Cinematic Law, apparently I have to go down with the ship.
On the upside, next weekend something else will be all the rage and Titanic will rest, once more, at the very bottom of the interest ocean.