You never forget your first

What was the first DVD you purchased?

The Psychic Killer. Qu'est-ce que c'est?
  • The Psychic Killer. Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Having resisted the costly conversion to higher-quality, dual-sided aluminum LaserDiscs, and with thousands of titles already committed to miles of polyethylene VHS ribbon taking up half the apartment, I was reluctant to make the switch to digital versatile discs.

A DVD player didn’t take up permanent residence on my TV stand until early 2001. Jim Hemphill was good enough to give me one of his hand-me-downs. What a machine it was! You go out and hammer nails with it all day, come back and it will cut dead center focus.

Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe: Chapter One, Part 1 of 3

The decline of physical media has driven the price of DVDs down dramatically in the past few years. Initially, I had one steadfast rule: no upgrades. Buy only what wasn’t already in the VHS vault. The first pre-recorded video cassette I priced was Annie Hall, but the $99.99 sticker kept me at bay. (At the time, blank tapes were fetching $20.) Why rent when you can record? Thus began a VHS collection that at its peak numbered over 4000 little black plastic coffins.

All that’s left is a box containing 100 or so tapes wedged in the corner of my closet, mostly old Academy Award telecasts and Jerry Lewis Telethons. In it, there’s a copy of Sam Fuller’s Park Row, recorded off Cinemax in the six-hour mode. I couldn’t resist taking a look. Remember back to a time before cable, when rabbit ears ruled the airwaves? You’ve settled in for a commercial-plagued Sunday matinee when halfway through the telecast, the glaucomatous reception is worsened when Mom decided to run the electric vacuum. Add to that more creases than my tuchas after a hot bath and Park Row begins to resemble skid row.

Putting the cart before the horse, there were two DVDs in the house before there was a player. Thanksgiving, 2000 found me thumbing through the bins of a boutique joint in Studio City called Dave’s Video, the Laser Place. The prices were so astronomical, they made Tower Records look like a 99 Cent Only store. What auteurs laid the foundations? Hitchcock? Renoir? Welles? Scorsese? Ozu? Buñuel? Powell & Pressburger?

Psychic Killer (1975)

Try Beebe and Danton.

Ford Beebe spent his career on the bottom half of a double-bill, churning out one indistinguishable B picture after another. There on Dave’s teensy sale table sat the Image Entertainment three-pack of Flash Gordon serials, priced to move at $19.95. Beebe co-signed the final (and my favorite) installment, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. As in Parts 1 and 2, the thought of direction never entered the picture. I’m in it for Charles B. Middleton’s quintessential performance as Emperor Ming T. Merciless.

Ray Danton holds a dear place in my heart. I had the honor of hearing Budd Boetticher call him, “the most egotistical prick it’s ever been my displeasure to work with.” (Gilbert Roland was a close second.) With over 100 TV and movie roles to his credit, Danton’s titular performance in Budd’s The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond remains his one essential contribution to the art of cinema.

Dave Kehr called Danton’s second directorial effort, The Psychic Killer, “a film so bad it’s educational,” a line I’ve appropriated as my own more times than I care to remember. Carious memories of a decomposing cast — Jim Hutton, Aldo Rey, Paul Burke, Julie Adams, Nehemiah Persoff, Della Reese, Neville Brand, and, in his first and only sex scene, America’s most respected movie doctor, Whit Bissell — and a quoted price of $9.95 sealed the deal.

Whit Bissell, M.D.

Whit Bissell, M.D.

In this case of Blu-rays, I’ve tried to hold true to my original “no upgrades” policy. (The rule doesn’t apply to Scorsese.) Of the 6000-plus shorts, cartoons, and features currently in the collection, only 60 or so are on the latest optical disc storage format.

Tashlin led the Blu-ray charge with One Touch of Venus, a sparkling 1948 romantic comedy (featuring a flawless Ava Gardner) that he co-wrote while making the leap from animator to live-action director.

You never forget your first. Tell us yours in the comment section.

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