DVDs Like LPs: The Musical Biopic Website and the Contemporary Film Collector

Curator's Note

This page from the official website of El Cantante, the 2006 film about salsa singer Hector Lavoe, is a condensed representation of the musical biopic.  Here, the advertising accurately conveys the genre’s nostalgic representation of past mass media in addition to past entertainers.  Lavoe is resurrected not just through Marc Anthony’s performance but through the remediated appearance of the LP record.  El Cantante’s advertisers chose an interesting moment—in which many consumers no longer desire physical copies of film and music—to visually present the film as an LP.

Through the twentieth century, collecting has figured as the primary mode of musical fandom.  The emergence of the home videocassette in the 1980s facilitated the emergence of movie collecting as well.  Though the development of the DVD in the late 1990s initially increased home movie purchases, sales in recent years have been poor.  Downloadable digital content has largely displaced the CD and DVD, which no longer appear so compact or convenient.  No company represents the trending status of the DVD more clearly than Netflix, whose digital streaming of films and home delivery of DVDs in flimsy envelopes treats movies more like Jamesonian “fragments in flight” than fetishized collectibles.

El Cantante’s website works against the current consumer tendency to prize the possession of the latest mass media delivery systems (e.g. computers, portable digital media devices, and digital video players) more than physical libraries of movies or music.  The site tries to convince the contemporary film fan that the DVD purchase remains a worthwhile investment.  The remediation of the LP as animated Internet icon tries to grant the DVD a solidity and permanence belied by its appearance on an Internet site.  The DVD, appearing in guise of an LP, is marketed as nostalgia for an era in which physical libraries of media content were more common to media consumption.  The fact that the site sells a film biography makes Walter Benjamin’s admonition that collecting is an attempt to “reanimate the past” especially relevant. The site tries to generate longing not only for the 1970s and the LP, but for the early 2000s and the DVD.

Comments

Ian Peters's picture

Collecting and the Digital Age

Thanks for a fascinating post, Jesse.  The battle between digital and hard copy entertainment is something that will undoubtedly continue to in the coming years. Has a similar nostalgic spin used in marketing this film’s DVD release been seen in any other films that have come out recently? Oftentimes DVD releases are attractive due to the bonus content that is available on the discs (and thereby stand out from the downloadable), but I have not even considered the use of nostalgic collecting in the process.

Cadillac Records and Ray

The site for Cadillac Records works similarly.  It foregrounds a 45rpm record on nearly every page and adopts a visual style that anachronisitically mimics the record covers of jazz label Blue Note Records.

Ray’s website (no longer online) also featured LPs and a link to an EBay auction where memorabilia from the film set could be purchased— another way to sell to the consumer who still wants material objects to mark their fandom.

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