Crazy Hobbies Series #1: Inside the Lives of Intense Criterion Collectors
December 12, 2018
In a whole new series here at Lifestyle Asia, we will be dissecting the different types of “collectors” and the prized items they are trying to amass. Whether they are crazy car collectors who spend millions on vintage vehicles, wine connoisseurs who pull all the strings to obtain a rare bottle, or foodies who fly first class just to accomplish dining at the world’s 50 Best Restaurants, these hobbyists pull all their resources together to achieve personal satisfaction. To start off the series, we will be diving into the niche world of the Criterion Collection, a luxury home video company “dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions of the highest technical quality, with supplemental features that enhance the appreciation of the art of film.”
You may be asking: why would we consider a home video label in an essay about crazy hobbyist? I will tell you why, but first a short history lesson. The Criterion Collection was established in 1984 by founders Aleen Stein, Robert Stein and Joe Medjuck, as a company that produced multimedia CD-ROMs with educational content for schools. Eventually, the company repositioned itself as a home video distributor, where they acquired the rights to obscure and forgotten films, publishing restored versions on laserdiscs. Some of their earliest titles included Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) and monster classic King Kong (1933). Dubbed by the public as “film school in a box”, these laserdiscs were the first to present these movies in their original aspects ratios. These were also packed with informational booklets and special features such as making-of documentaries and audio commentaries. They were considered the very first company to coin the term “Special Edition”.
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The Criterion Collection steadily released editions of obscure films over the years. Today, they release five new additions to the collection every month. As technology improved, so do the quality of Criterions. From laserdiscs, it became DVDs. Now, many of the collection can be found in the superior Blu-Ray format. According to the film community, being invited to be a part of the Criterion Collection is top honors. It means that your film is culturally and aesthetically relevant, worthy of high-definition remastering, an expensive restoration process, and bespoke premium packaging. At the spine of each Criterion case, there is a number indicating when that particular film was inducted into the collection. For instance, the latest release, Euzhan Palcy’s A Dry White Season (1989), is Spine #953 (the 953rd movie to be released by the company). The first ever Criterion released on a modern format such as DVD is Spine #1 Grand Illusion (1937), which now sells online for hundreds of dollars.
Now, the question still remains: Why are Criterion collectors worthy of being part of our Crazy Collectors series? Apart from the obvious financial aspect of collecting over 950 (and counting) films, it is the lengths that collectors go through to obtain the films that is quite remarkable. A modern Criterion Blu-Ray costs anything between $39.00-$300.00 a pop, depending on the edition (a single disc edition or box set). If a collector only decided to get the single editions, that would cost them roughly $38,110,47 (approximately P2,019,854.91) for all 953 Blu-ray or DVD spines. Take note, that does not even take in consideration the extremely expensive box sets (the latest is Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema with a retail price of $300.00), Out of Print titles (like Grand Illusion and all the laserdiscs), and the five new additions released every month. Criterion collectors are wild hunters. They are people with money who travel the world or haggle online intensely, looking for that single Criterion that would complete their collection.
In the Philippines, there is a blossoming Criterion Collection community. Although smaller than that of Japan, Singapore and even Hong Kong, the niche home video brand has found fans on our islands. I, your humble writer, has recently forayed in the mission to completing my personal collection. I started in November of this year, and am now I proud owner of 45 Criterions, including one pricey box set edition called The Essential Jacques Demy.
Over the course of my hunting, I have met several film aficionados with similar goals. Many of these collectors are more intense than their western counterparts. In the US, collectors are treated to two yearly sales at Barnes and Nobles, which offer Criterion titles on 50% off every July and November. Here in the Philippines, there is no such thing. Criterion collectors have to settle with Facebook groups and niche chatrooms and websites such as PinoyDVD. Intent on completing their collections, they go far and beyond, spending hundreds of thousands of pesos just to get their Criterion high. Listed below are some crazy things Filipino Criterion collectors have done for their love of the brand:
- Online shopping in bulk – the simplest way to order Criterions are through online websites such as Amazon and eBay. Certain members of the local community have standing orders with these websites (particularly Amazon), which immediately ship them the collection’s newest additions. Out of Print titles, which go for hundreds of dollars, can be found on eBay. Several of these collectors have amassed the COMPLETE Criterion Collections. And we’re not just talking Blu-Rays…but also the laserdiscs and DVDs as well.
- Buying trips abroad – I’ve been guilty with this particular thing. Although my buying trips have only been to Hong Kong, others buy first class tickets to the US just to participate in the yearly Barnes and Nobles sale. I asked one, “Why not just order everything online instead of spending additional cash on a plane ticket?” The answer: “It’s all about the high of seeing and feeling the physical media at the store, and purchasing it at the counter.”
- Opening side businesses to accumulate more wealth – Collecting anything will surely put a hole in anybody’s pockets. For luxury items, sometimes the credit card limit is not enough. In the case of Criterions, the discs themselves are very expensive, and shipping from sellers in the US adds extra costs. Some local Criterion collectors have opened “side hustles” just so they can have their regular dose of Criterion movies. Although many already have the money to buy everything in one go, collectors are also realists, noting that dropping almost two million pesos in discs is unreasonable. Side businesses help them in many ways.
Although we’re only scratching the surface of crazy collecting, Criterion collectors are interesting because they belong to such a niche market of individuals seeking out physical media. One Criterion collector told me that most of them collect these films because of their love for the art form of filmmaking. Although the hustle in getting every piece in the collection makes it fun and exciting, it’s enjoying the films that fuels this passion, first and foremost. Being a collector myself, I wholeheartedly agree. There’s nothing better but sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying the wonders of world cinema, presented by Criterion in the most ideal way.
I hope you enjoyed the first part of our new series entitled Crazy Collectors. For 2019, we are preparing a number of stories on different collectors in depth. This includes interviews with people from Manila’s car community, intense foodies, and designer bag aficionados.
For more information visit www.criterion.com
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