Thursday, April 15, 2010

Contracted Cinema

One of the larger Barnes and Noble stores in the San Francisco area closed recently, and I realized that I missed browsing in a bookstore.

I also miss browsing in libraries, seeing what's next to what. Now it might be too late. So much of our research is in finding what you (think you) want online and ordering it for delivery or to having the local branch hold it. Get an email, drop in and check it out and leave. No time to search, since it's not local anyway.

It was over 10 years ago when I first read about the bookstores complaining about Amazon. How people would go into their stores and browse, figure out what books they wanted, hold them, fall in love with them, then go home and order it online for 25% less.

This drain would put the smaller bookstores out of business unless they could get their inventory into (itself bought by Amazon) or had room for a coffee shop in the back (which kept the Borders' open in my neighborhood). Now with Google Books you don't even need the book. You search by keyword and it brings up the section of the page that it shows up in. It doesn't show you the whole page, let alone the whole book; that's for copyright reasons - don't want to give it away for free. There's your citation. So you never see the page, the book, or the books sitting next to it that might be as relevant, more relevant, or at least instructive.

In the old days you might go to the Animation section to look for a book on Donald Duck but you would see 25 or 30 others including ones on Warner Brothers or the Fleischers or Windsor McKay. Some were old and some were new; even if you never picked them up you had an idea of what the scope of the field might be, from "Z for Zagreb" to "Expanded Cinema," sitting there daring you to figure out what they were. They somehow had to do with animation, and when the topic came up a year later you were familiar.

I must have seen 200 copies of "Expanded Cinema" in my life but I never bought it or had one in my house. I didn't need to. It was everywhere. By picking it up every so often I know it's about the avant-garde/video scene in the late 60s and early '70s, about verite and experimental animation, and Buckminster Fuller was involved somehow. The fact that there are so many copies indicated that this mattered at some point. The fact that it was such makes it culturally important, even if its 40 years old now and technology may have made some of its practical insights historically quaint.

A hard-cover on Amazon now goes for over $70 bucks - the paperbacks are still around for $20, a relatively high price for something that was a dime-a-dozen in the '80s. If you look up "Animation" or even "Experimental Animation Books" in Google this book doesn't come up. No one's linking to it and no one's selling it.

The only way to find it is to go to an old used bookstore that has been in business long enough to have acquired a copy 20+ years ago and still has it next to novelizations of "Myra Breckinridge" and books by Amos Vogel. Those two are at the far end of the alphabet as well, and are entryways into expanded cinema of their own.

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You can also read about the joys of browsing here.

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