Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Coming Soon To Home Video Part 5: I LIKE Streaming!
Posted by Chris Santucci
Last year, my Netlix did something magical. It made some recommendations and introduced me to something new and special. With just two remote presses, I watched a fascinating documentary that traced the history of cinema, the creation of The Library of Congress's National Film Registry, and the daunting, miraculous tasks of film preservation. How did it know I was so nerdy? Shortly after, I posted a review of the film, These Amazing Shadows. Within 24 hours, I received a post response from the film's co-director, Kurt Norton, who expressed his gratitude for lauding his film. All thanks to Netflix.
In my last installment of "Coming Soon", I defended physical media (DVDs and blurays). Some readers misconstrued my statements as an attack towards streaming. Being a subscriber of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu Plus, it's safe to argue: I like streaming. In a world where streaming has invaded the homes and bitten a chunk out of retail, I still find room for both options.
Streaming services continue to offer a dizzying amount of content. They nourish the appetites of the even most fervent film-fans; filling the voids left behind by the dying rental chains, like Blockbuster, and the sluggish film industry, even if, ironically, it's partially to blame for both.
Despite Netflix's shift to television (and my physical library ballooning past 1,700 titles), I continue to stumble across gems; unseen films that are either rare or completely unavailable in the physical media marketplace. Movies that will never reach the bluray presses are being given a second life. Despite its license hassles as of late, Netflix and its competing services continue to add films from all eras and genres. Recently WB unveiled its own streaming which provides access to a wealth of niche, classic and even mainstream titles; some that have been unavailable for decades. Feeling nostalgic for the 1980's "Pac Man" cartoon?
As I began to contemplate, there were may factors about streaming services that should strengthen the medium.
Perhaps the biggest benefactor is the injured independent circuit. In February, Netflix reached an agreement with The Criterion Collection, Gravitas Ventures, Kino Lorber, Music Box Films, Oscilloscope Laboratories and Regent Releasing. This deal has enabled small, unconventional films to find the widest audience available. Suddenly, small films coming out Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics are now being promoted with the same pedigree as The Avengers. Rather than chase blockbuster darlings, Netflix is reaching out to promote films that we have not seen or even heard about.
This unadulterated indie publicity is a real boost over cut-throat pre-streaming environment when there was grueling catering and deal-making between the starving indie-makers, the glutinous studios, and the conservative theatrical chains. Even during the all-too-brief independent films surge in the 90s, film mavericks like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh lived and died by their ability to seduce a distributor. Failure meant, at best, the film went straight to home video. Projects budgeted for hundreds of dollars had to campaign like politicians-- at heavy expense and risk.
Tarantino himself once said that "the best way to get a movie made is to MAKE A MOVIE!" But, if you asked him about the next step, he'd probably tell you to get your movie SEEN! Facebook and Youtube now allows anyone with a camera and Internet access to create and display their creations. I'll admit: Most of these projects are bad -- and I mean bad. Most are simply mediocre; copycats of legitimate films. However, I have also been exposed to thousands of films driven by hungry and talented folks who deserve a more lucrative career than Michael Bay.
Most of talented individuals suffer from the misapprehension that 11 million Youtube means instant stardom and monetary gain. Of course, streaming services provide near-infinite competition. It's still a tough market to penetrate. Therefore, the streaming model remains a consumers market.
The Internet has empowered viewers with options. You can find stories and documentaries that pertain to nichiest of interests. For example, I googled for videos that traced the history of Godzilla and found a Youtube channel that chronicled every last one of em -- all 29 films from 1954 all the way through the dreaded 1998 remake! Two hours of love, sweat, tears poured into critiquing a history of Japanese fleeing from a man in a rubber lizard outfit. It was the kind of video that was clearly done out of love and not for hopes of cash flow; the kind of stuff that doesn't make the Discovery Channel. I even found a channel that chronicles the history of the Superman films. There was one that included hours of critical discussions. Even Supergirl was on tap!
With a wealth of unique video materials and accessibility. I must confess that streaming has eaten into my blu-ray/dvd buying habits, especially in regards to television. Recently, I pawned my DVD seasons of "Cheers" and "Family Guy". Owning these on DVD did not seem necessary. But there are exceptions.
For example, HBO continues to maintain high standards in its home video releases. Its releases of "Game of Thrones" contain masterful sound and video quality and a slew of extras. These releases serve as a reminder as to why blu-ray surpassed streaming, when done propertly. But even shows like "Game of Thrones" would be less enticing if Netflix or Hulu offered the full seasons. "Alf" will never be a blu-ray seller.
But Netflix fills in that hole. But I've become more picky about film ownership. I watched Fast Six in the theater twice. My second viewing revealed the film's moderately short legs. My lack of enchantment meant that I won't revisit the film anytime soon. A purchased bluray would merely collect dust on a shelf. In this case, Netflix serves as a viable option. The film is just a rental.
Netflix is obviously diverting away from licensing studio films and focusing on television and original programming. However, all of these streaming options still retain a vast film library that far exceeds anything offered in our now extinct brick-and-mortar rental stores. The reason I subscribed to Hulu Plus was not because it offered programming from Comedy Central and Discovery, but due to its partnership with the Criterion Collection. For just $8 a month, you can view nearly every film provided in Criterion's library. It offers novice movie-watchers a chance to see some gems; films that don't receive broadcast opportunities on television. It helps us poor movie-watchers to remain enchanted, consumed, immersed -- and frugal.
For streaming and physical media to co-exist, studios must recognize the disparity between its audiences. In many ways, Netflix has become this generation's VHS -- it services the casual movie-going public. Bluray is the new laserdisc -- it's destined to be a niche market that caters towards cinephiles who care wholeheartedly about quality over convenience. As long as blu-rays are treated as disposable fodder, the contrasts between streaming and disc will slowly fade, with the former winning the final battle. Recently, I passed a Best Buy and noticed the blu-ray shelving space was reduced to merely two isles. Specialty stores are as out-of-date as Blockbuster. But online stores like Amazon serve as the perfect infrastructure for the waning collector market.
Recently, my local Blockbuster closed. I mourned purely based on nostalgia. It was the same store that first introduced me to Star Wars, Chaplin, Raging Bull and many others. Without it, I would not have had an opportunity to expand upon my cinematic palette. But Netflix continues to serve -- and, in many ways, surpass -- what rental chains once offered. It continues to introduce me to films. It will introduce a fresh generation to film, such as those I just mentioned. There remains a place for movies, no matter the delivery method. How could I hate streaming? It serves as the new bridge between a history of the 20th century to generations in the 21st century and beyond.
And if it helps my friend, Kurt, get his film These Amazing Shadows seen and noticed, then Netflix is okay with me. Just remember: If you love the film, you can always purchase the blu-ray. You're welcome, Kurt!