Trying to pull a Soundscapes with Queen Video

Back in the day I tried to get Howard Levman, the owner of Queen Video, interested in becoming a kind of Soundscapes for indie-video selections at TPL. For a few years now, the library has run the Make Some Noise/Take Some Noise project, which involves in-library concerts (the former half of the title) and curated local CDs (the latter). Soundscapes did the curating, and I can attest that they knew what they were doing. My suggestion was that Queen Video do something similar with videos.

No answer. This is a tad disappointing, as fully a third of the video suggestions I eventually turn into blue forms come from having held a video case in my hand at the Bloor St. store. It’s a gold mine.

Perhaps we could try this with Suspect Video.

Filling in the gaps of lesbian and gay films

This has been a lengthy and unpleasant odyssey, but I have been filing blue suggestion forms for lacunæ in the library’s collection of gay and lesbian films. Why?

A library carries, among other things, foundational literature, because we accept that the canon is important for cultural transmission and education. Plus these things actually circulate. Those young kids down in Parkdale who “don’t like labels” and barely consider themselves gay will at some point realize they are deluding themselves. At that stage in their lives, they will wish to begin to understand their own culture. For that, we will stock books by Rechy, Merlis, White, but we will also stock foundational cinema.

If TPL can buy endless micropress volumes of lesbo cop erotica and gay poetry, it can bloody well buy important gay movies. Indeed, if it can and does stock a bunch of crapola from Wolfe Video and Strand Releasing, it can buy what I suggest.

My attitude can be summed up as “A library isn’t a library without Paris Is Burning.”

What the system already has

Some of these I suggested.

  1. Gregg Araki (various; a couple of suggestions refused categorically)

  2. Another Country

  3. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

  4. Broken Sky

  5. The Closet

  6. Death in Venice

  7. Dog Day Afternoon

  8. Edge of Seventeen

  9. The Hours and Times

  10. Derek Jarman (various, but not enough)

  11. Kiss of the Spider Woman

  12. Looking for Langston

  13. Love and Human Remains

  14. Not the Midnight trilogy: Midnight Cowboy, ⁓ Express, ⁓ in the Garden of Good and Evil

  15. My Beautiful Laundrette (in cold light of day, terrible)

  16. My Own Private Idaho

  17. Orlando

  18. Our Lady of the Assassins

  19. Philadelphia

  20. Relax… It’s Just Sex!

  21. Rock Hudson’s Home Movies

  22. Small Town Gay Bar

  23. The Talented Mr. Ripley

  24. Taxi zum Klo (one copy!)

  25. Tongues Untied

  26. Urbania

  27. Valley of the Dolls

  28. Wilde

Plus important recent movies like Weekend and the best documentary of the 21st century, How to Survive a Plague. (And atrocities like Keep the Lights On and Laurence Anyways. But every time I mention the latter, I get a handful of angry Twits from Xavier Dolan. I love him anyway.)

What seems to be commercially unavailable

The library has to be able to buy a certain quantity of brand-new DVDs in one fell swoop. Historically TPL has been unwilling to buy from second-tier vendors, preferring, to the point of absurdity, to buy straight from an original distributor or, more often, Amazon. (And they take one look at Amazon and try to bounce a blue form because Amazon says only one or two copies are available. That’s why I always include proof – sometimes ignored – that a title is commercially available.)

Nonetheless, the library managed to get its hands on two documentaries that seemingly really were commercially unavailable – Paragraph 175 (not orderable) and Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride (too expensive). This hasn’t been explained to me and I know it’s pointless to ask.

Anyway, these items seem to be genuinely unavailable from a first-run distributor:

  1. Apartment Zero

  2. Bear Cub

  3. Being at Home with Claude

  4. Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (!)

  5. Cruising

  6. An Early Frost

  7. Flawless

  8. The Hanging Garden (a crying shame)

  9. In & Out

  10. J’ai tué ma mère (rights locked up by the dodgy Here TV)

  11. Lost Language of Cranes

  12. Love! Valour! Compassion!

  13. Metrosexuality

  14. Party Monster (documentary)

  15. Prick Up Your Ears

  16. The Sum of Us

There are a couple of cases in limbo.

  • My blue form for Head On came back with neither a yes nor a no, and a followup mail went unanswered, as nearly all of them do.

  • What about Paris Is Burning? Jennie Livingston answered my inquiry and told me she owns Canadian rights and could, in principle, burn copies for TPL directly. And – this one’s arguably even more important – the only source for a DVD-quality DVD of the seminal Canadian English-language feature, Winter Kept Us Warm, is from its director, David Secter. I don’t know the status of either of those and, again, it borders on useless to ask.

These should be coming in

I have filed blue forms for these, and expect a yes on all of them.

  1. Beautiful Thing

  2. Beefcake

  3. Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss

  4. Chuck & Buck

  5. The Night Listener

  6. The Object of My Affection

  7. Party Monster

  8. Plata quemada

  9. Wonder Boys

I’ve got a longlist of about 30 more, many of which are marginal at best.

Library Wonks

I ran this by Linda Hazzan, who thought I must be joking, but I’m not: TPL needs a Library Wonks blog where MLSs and the like can discuss the inner workings of the system. It’s not as though there isn’t an audience for topics of that sort. (My original question concerned how TPL decides which branches get which items. It’s apparently done by humans and produces self-fulfilling prophecies and stereotypes for smaller branches. Let’s explore that in detail!)

Then, inevitably, the library would need an associated Twit: @TPLLibraryWonks.

Tell me this isn’t a good idea.

The library that doesn’t buy single copies of anything now buys quite a few single copies

Back when I toured the Front St. processing plant, I was assured the library never buys single copies of anything. I knew that was false at the time and it has certainly remained so.

The new variation of this model involves buying single copies of the books I suggest via blue forms. They’re willing to do that even when books on similar topics have 15 copies. (That’s what makes me think I’m being singled out. There’s obviously demand for the topic, and the books aren’t interchangeable.)

MLSs, mistresses of the sidelong glance and conspicuous throat-clearing, are adept at passive-aggressiveness. So yes, they’ll take my suggested titles seriously and buy nearly all of them. One copy each, in many cases, or just two. There’s really no way for these items to circulate, since you have to walk by the items in their home branches (typically TRL) to even know they exist. (And actually, not “walk by” them – scan the shelves and notice the book just by its spine.) Lose those and you’re left with nothing.

“Lose” here can mean all sorts of things. The wonderful volume The Lost Album: A Visual History of 1950s Britain contains cards and tickets embedded in its cover and includes life-sized replicas of instruction manuals and wartime ration coupons.

Double-page spread showing four-inch-high kraft ration book bound inside

I didn’t even know the library bought this book until I bumped into it on the new-release shelf on second-floor Reference. I had my guy check: Yes, it’s the sole copy. So I went through the whole thing, with delight, and handed it in at the front desk.

Where is it now? Who the hell knows? Want to put a hold on it? You can’t.

Disposition of Blu-Ray discs

Since the library doesn’t lend Blu-Rays, yet some films are available solely as DVD/Blu-Ray combo packs,

  1. doesn’t that leave a small pile of orphan Blu-Ray discs?

  2. couldn’t they just be shipped to Calgary, which does lend Blu-Rays? (They’d have to print out their own jackets and so on to be inserted in cases, but TPL does that for its own items, so I don’t see that as a barrier.)

I asked Susan Caron about this and, not atypically, got no response.