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Criterion’s Flash Sale: Just Say No

Criterion's Flash Sale: Just Say No

Shortly after noon yesterday, my Twitter feed lit up with the kind of activity only one type of news can ignite. The Criterion Collection had announced one of its 24-hour flash sales and my fellow film journalists flocked to the site’s online store and began stocking up on 50 percent off goodies.

Soon I was flooded with purchase suggestions and screenshots of carts full to varying degrees, and per usual when these events come along I couldn’t help but browse myself. Doing so inevitably led to placing temptations into my own cart and entering the promo code to see precisely how good of a deal I would receive.

$20 for the Blu-ray of “Days of Heaven,” my favorite Malick film to be given the Criterion treatment? Sounds pretty good. $62.50 for the “America Lost and Found: The BBS Story” box set? Hell, that’s just under $9 per film… $7 if I slum it with the DVD version.

I still had some birthday money left over and there was a little extra in the checking account. Why not go ahead and click that beautiful green “Proceed to Checkout” button?

Likewise per usual at this juncture, my mind became crowded with questions, each one a pin ready to poke holes in what at first seemed like an easy decision.

How often would I really watch these movies? What about the ones I already own, many of which I’ve seen once, maybe twice since purchasing (and even fewer whose bonus features, often a key selling point, I’ve exhausted)? And what about all the movies I haven’t seen that I keep putting off, often in the name of revisiting old favorites?

The more I think about it, the less cultivating a personal film library has a place in my life. Would I love to own the complete Criterion Collection? Of course. Is the cost feasible? No. Is owning the entire thing even rational? That depends on the person, but strictly from a film-watching perspective, I don’t think it is.

It’s a shift from where I was 10, even five years ago, but one that’s a combination of packing up and moving an ever-growing number of discs almost yearly from 2002-10 (college, grad school, and a string of one-year leases); the rise in affordable streaming services; my librarian past and seeing the benefits of a communal film collection (especially since many North Carolina systems have entered into a consortium); becoming friends with more film enthusiasts, each of whom have their own personally tailored collections from which they’re eager to loan; and the cases of a sizable collection of films I already own staring at me whenever I sit down to watch something.

Through these factors, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t need to own a film to feel ownership of it. Once I’ve seen a film, no one can take that experience away from me. Watching something grants me entrance into a community with whom I share that common ground and if I want to refresh that knowledge, that can easily be accomplished without bringing an extra possession into my home, no matter how impressive the transfer or enticing a bonus feature.

I make an exception for each new Wes Anderson film, though even those go unwatched for a year or two with many of their supplements yet unseen. So, yes, I pre-ordered the Criterion edition of “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” but did so because it was a film I’d been anticipating owning in that format since its theatrical run, not because it happened to be part of a 24-hour special offer.

As such, apart from the cost/space/time issues of physical ownership, the problem with these Criterion flash sales is that they attempt to convince film lovers that they should buy discs because they happen to be on sale that day. That’s not to say certain people don’t keep a wish list, save up, and wait for these semi-regular events to occur, but the majority of us impulse-purchase consumers swarm simply because the sale is upon us, a rush that blinds us (myself included) of the fact that most of the standalone Blu-rays are available on Amazon for $25 on a given day. A similar feeling transpires with Black Friday and Cyber Monday purchases, inducing a frenzy of “why not?” orders without pausing to answer that question. 

Before finalizing that purchase, consider how much instant access to a particular title is worth and how often that impulse arises. If those factors line up with the cost, go for it. Personally, I’d rather utilize the aforementioned non-purchase options or invest $8 and dedicate a month to knocking out some blind spots on Hulu Plus’ Criterion Collection channel, though that’s a challenge all its own.

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