DVD technology has served as a catalyst for film history. Many titles from the Hollywood archive, as well as European, Asian, and other world cinemas, have been released on DVD, often with "special features" including critical commentary, outtakes, production documents, directorial and other cast and crew testimonials, and multiple viewing choices such as subtitle languages and aspectratios. In many instances the digitized sounds and images restore the films to something approximating their original forms. The DVD market provides an important stimulus for expensive restoration projects.
The influence of video on film scholarship and the teaching of film studies should not be underestimated, as the advent of DVDs is only one step in a process that began with the introduction of video as a tool for preserving and distributing film titles. This has been especially important for films that are marginal to the mainstream, including American B movies and cult films, Japanese and other Asian films dating back to the 1930s, and the many riches of other world cinemas, experimental cinema, and documentary cinema. Video markets have enabled the circulation of titles among collectors and scholars interested in film as a cultural phenomenon. Many of these obscure titles have long since been unavailable on film, and it may be a long time before they are released on DVD.
Film analysis was once performed on Steenbeck editing machines, using reels of fragile celluloid. Since the 1980s students and scholars have been able to view the wealth of film history on videotape, which is much more amenable to repeated viewings, rewinding, and freeze-frames. Celluloid film is an extremely delicate material and rapidly deteriorates with multiple projections, making the teaching of film difficult and expensive. Few educational institutions were able to provide the facilities for film viewing, or for film collections, often relying on poor and decaying prints shown on faulty projection equipment. Videotape is not a permanent medium either, and DVD technology, too, will no doubt eventually show its material weaknesses; but in the mean time these technologies are an invaluable means of preserving film history and making it accessible. It is largely thanks to electronic media that film studies has been able to find a place in educational institutions around the world.
Video is not necessarily a competitor with film, or a poor sibling, but perhaps an extension or augmentation of film, especially as it evolves into digital technologies. Video has enabled us to see film differently, perhaps as something that is disappearing, but also as something sensual, a communal experience that takes place in a dark crowded theater. The cinema is a place we have to go to, but video has become part of the world around us.
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