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1 6 1 THE RISE OF THE MOVIE GEEK DVD Culture, Cinematic Knowledge, and the Home Viewer One of the most successful horror films of 2002 was Gore Verbinski’s The Ring, a remake of the 1998 Japanese film Ringu, which had itself become a cult classic among fans of horror films and Japanese cinema. In The Ring, Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) faces the challenge of identifying the source of a mysterious videotape that kills anyone who watches it exactly seven days later. Rachel learns about the tape after her niece, Katie, dies and she overhears a group of students discussing the tape. The film then depicts Rachel’s investigation, in which she discovers the story of an isolated young girl known for her mysterious powers. But the most memorable scenes in The Ring are those that feature characters fixated on various screens, the television sets and computer monitors that have come to dominate our daily lives. Throughout the movie, we see extended scenes showing Rachel fast-forwarding, rewinding, and pausing the videotape on an editing machine with the hope of identifying clues about her niece’s death, thus placing emphasis on the VHS format over its digital counterpart, even though DVD players had been commonplace in the United States for several years. Appearing a few years after the launch of the DVD format, The Ring seems to offer an allegory for the obsolescence of the VHS format, while also presenting a film culture much more identified with private, domestic screenings than with public moviegoing.1 In fact, this image of isolated domestic audiences watching movies at home is a crucial structuring device from the very opening sequence T H E R I S E O F T H E M O V I E G E E K 1 7 of the movie. After an establishing shot of Katie’s upper-middle-class suburban home, Katie and a friend are shown blankly staring into a television screen positioned to occupy the same space as the camera, the flickering blue light of the TV set reflected in their impassive faces. As Katie stares blankly into the screen, she remarks, in what is the opening line of the film, “I hate television,” proceeding to criticize the banal shows and misleading commercials offered on TV. It is no accident that Katie’s remark about that most invasive home media technology opens a film about media technologies, especially given the rivalry between the two media; however, rather than merely privileging film as a superior storytelling medium to television, the scene also establishes the idea of suburban life as reproducing fragmented, isolated communities, with teens and families disconnected from each other. In fact, as the scene unfolds, we realize that Katie and her friend are watching TV in her bedroom, separated from the rest of the house. Thus, the power of this scene derives from its ability to tap into the perception that home entertainment centers have fed into the fragmentation of audiences, with people choosing to watch movies in the comfort of home rather than seeing movies collectively, visually depicting the post-9/11 cocooning described by Barbara Klinger in her discussions of domestic movie cultures.2 Such perceptions were fed by the mass-marketing of the DVD, which many observers have identified as one of the causes of the turn toward consuming movies at home rather than in theaters. However, the film also offers another model of spectatorship, one that has become readily identified with DVDs and their careful packaging of cinematic history. In order to make sense of the videotape, Rachel turns to her former boyfriend Noah, a self-described “video geek,” in order to identify clues that will lead her to the source of the tape. Thus we see Rachel and Noah repeatedly watching the tape and taking note of details, such as parts of the image that are hidden from the screen. While these references generally operate in service to the film’s larger detective plot, they also help to illustrate the emerging figure of the film geek, the film fan or cinephile educated on the language of film via the commentary tracks and making-of documentaries that are now included on most DVDs. In fact, around the time that DVDs were becoming popularized, New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell was moved to argue that regular home audiences were being transformed into movie geeks, a status that was normally accessible only to a “moneyed...


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