The DVD Revolution: Movies, Culture, & Technology
(Wesport, CT, Praeger, 2005, $44.95, 179 pages, ISBN
0-275-98387-0)—Anne Cremieux, Paris X Nanterre
Barlow’s The DVD Revolution, movies, Culture,
& Technology, looks into how the sweeping propagation
of the DVD has changed the way films are watched, made,
and studied. Because the art of cinema has always been
so dependent on technology, the idea that technological
advances affect the conception and reception of movies
is readily accepted and as Barlow clearly states, the
DVD is only on more step after the advent of sound,
color, television, or the videotape.
book is divided into seven chapters that Barlow declares
can be read in any order one may wish. Indeed, much
like the bonus features on a DVD, the various chapters
are units onto themselves.
linear structure of the book is nevertheless quite natural.
The introduction defends home viewing—as opposed
to seeing films in the theatre—as both perfectly
respectable and almost as old as the film industry.
first chapter gives a history if home viewing, leading
to the introduction of the DVD and its quick success.
The main asset of the DVD, as opposed to TV broadcast
or video, is its authoritative stance in terms of respecting
the original film—its aspect ratio, its language,
and its content—quite simply a blessing after
several decades of pan-and-scan, truncated credits,
deleted or blurred images, and censored scenes.
second chapter focuses on Henri Langlois of the Cinémathéque
française, and the man’s struggle for film
preservation regardless of subjective criteria of cinematic
quality. Barlow hails Langlois as a film enthusiast,
rather than a scholar or a historian, and as such, as
a man ahead of his time. Indeed it is clear from the
onset that much like Langlois and Tarentino, his two
heroes and main points of reference, Barlow is an enthusiast,
not only of film itself but of the DVD and all its extra
features, an attitude which, according to him, is an
important aspect of the DVD revolution.
is made clear in the third chapter entitled “DVD
Fan Culture.” Here Barlow reports on the deployment
of enthusiasm that the DVD has triggered, focusing on
the DVD collectors who, unlike videocassette collectors
of the past, need not be ashamed of their addiction,
since the DVD, having by and large replaced the short-lived
laser-disc, is the tool of the connoisseur. Barlow shows
how DVD technology is complemented by the Internet,
offering a few insights as to how this might yet evolve
in the future, with greater interaction from would-be
filmmakers practicing their editing skills on deleted
scenes or alternate soundtracks.
fourth chapter focuses on the marketing of special edition
DVDs, making an assessment of the kind of films chosen
to be honored by a special edition and the kind of features
these higher-end DVD products offer. Barlow goes into
a fascinating albeit limited survey and analysis of
bonus materials available on a number of classic DVD
releases, not shying away from giving them the same
serious attention usually reserved to the films themselves.
It is by far the longest chapter, and certainly the
core of a book that does not only concern itself with
the impact of DVD technology, but with the artistic
production the DVD has spawned, in particular concerning
the craft of cinema. Barlow explains how Criterion,
a pioneer both in Laserdisc and DVD releases, first
included technical information for film students, critics
and scholars. But as the book repeatedly ascertains,
a large part of the greater public have become great
fans of the “making-of” genre, delighting
in the minute details of set-design on a Jeunet and
Caro film or the special effect innovations of the Lord
of the Rings trilogy. Barlow argues that the educational
aspect of the DVD is constantly being augmented, impacting
on the reception of films in general.
fifth chapter is a continuation of the fourth, with
a specific detailed analysis of the audio commentary,
now a set feature of any high-end DVD release. As in
the previous chapter, Barlow offers a grid of various
types of audio commentary, with their purpose, and their
limits. He makes an interesting distinction between
improvised commentary as opposed to scholarly, filmic
analysis, wisely expressing a preference for striking
just the right balance between the two. Examples of
vacuous comments by directors and actors, as well as
overly analytical hairsplitting between directors and
scriptwriters, are both amusing and enlightening, much
like the ideal DVD commentary Barlow is hoping for.
sixth chapter deals with the use of the DVD in scholarship
and in the classroom, again with possibilities for the
future as both scholars and students become more technologically
literate and can illustrate their research, lectures,
and presentations with home-burned DVDs. Barlow points
out how the DVD now allows for precise reference to
films in the same way that books have been traditionally
studied, with somewhat heightened issues of authenticity
given the variations in versions and formats. He envisions
a time when publishing a book about film, without its
accompanying DVD, will have become unthinkable. No such
DVD accompanies The DVD Revolution, and one
can easily imagine why.
final chapter gives serious yet inconclusive answers
to a question yearning to be answered since the very
beginning of the book, concerning copyright. Barlow
does not take a dogmatic stand in defense of the author/auteur,
whether in this last chapter or throughout the book,
on the contrary. A historic view of copyright tends
to suggest that it is a lost battle, that will be fought
by great corporations to its bitter end. Yet Barlow
does not affirm it so, being too wary of unexpected
technological changes to predict anything with certainty.
His book is both an illustration of the unfortunate
disparity between quoting the written word and the moving
image, while demonstrating that one may do without,
as he describes images readers will undoubtedly have
the urge to go back to—putting the quality of
their own DVD collection to the test.
DVD Revolution gives a thorough analysis of the
impact of the DVD on American film. It will be useful
especially to film students and scholar interested in
keeping up with new technology when it comes to theory.
Barlow himself is well-versed in theory, though he does
not let it burden his prose, and leaves a good list
of suggested reading in the bibliography. Somewhat in
contradiction with the feel of the book, there are no
pictures to rest one’s eyes upon, possibly because
Barlow would have been too frustrated not showing clips.
The book’s weaknesses lie mostly in the peripheral:
parallels with the printed word and with previous technological
changes are not thoroughly convincing, often seeming
hasty and easily overturned. But when it comes to the
DVD itself, and everything directly connected to it,
Barlow’s concise and well paced book is a thorough
presentation and analysis of the questions at stake,
with only one doctrinaire theoretical positioning: DVDs
are cool, and they’re here to stay.