Chagrined promotion of others (or DVD pricing strategies, part 1)
A selection from the Tyler, Texas Black Film Collection, consisting of movies made for segregation-era black theaters by black artists, has been preserved and put onto video by Southern Methodist University. Although I recognize both the specific titles cited in the AP article and I know some stuff secondhand about the director of MURDER IN HARLEM (Oscar Micheaux), I’ve never seen any of the “race films” made in the silent and early sound era.
So obviously, it’s great that these films are being preserved, put on disc and distributed to museums and schools. I suspect from what I know of Micheaux that he wouldn’t be to my taste, but I’d love a chance to look.
However, it doesn’t look like SMU really wants me or other members of the general public to buy or rent these discs in the open marketplace. The cost is $250 for a 3-DVD set. Ouch. I agree that the potential market for these films is probably small, but it’s not as though there’s a studio’s need to make a profit from the small number of expected sales, the commonest reason for exorbitant pricing. SMU did the restoration under a grant. Confining these films to institutions is false to the populist nature of the medium, particularly for “race films,” which were not made by the sort of heavily-capitalized major studio that could afford to lose money on some “prestige” or “artistic” films.
I’m certainly not gonna pay $250 for anything short of the missing nine-hour print of GREED. And I’m not a normal person. I’m the sort of person who’ll watch a film he’s pretty sure he won’t like just because he thinks he “should.” Who’ll watch a film just because he wants to sample a genre or style he’s never seen before (I went to see a 30s Yiddish-theater melodrama at a film festival last year). Who’ll plunk down $20 to buy a film sight unseen just to be a completist for a favorite director (Tsai Ming-liang’s REBELS OF THE NEON GOD, I’m thinking of specifically). If *I’m* not willing to consider such a purchase, how many others would? What’s the point of Ossie Davis saying the films show the “ ‘do-for-self’ spirit of blacks just after the turn of the century. They had to make do with nothing. And look what they did’,” if people are priced out of access to what these artists did?
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