I’m in the bizarre, unenviable position of having too much to do, yet not being able to do any of it. I’m waiting on too many phone calls or e-mails to be returned, I have a teleconference coming up in two hours, which would be an okay space to pop in a movie but I’d feel like I was cramming it into that space, like a book slapped on top of other books on a shelf just to get it out of the way. That’s a bulky, cumbersome analogy, but I’m also operating on short sleep rations, so that’s all I’ve got.
So I might as well just ramble on here.
At the end of the year there was another “streamageddon” panic when a bunch of movies got cleared off Netflix Instant. Cooler heads attempted to prevail, some pointing out that licensing arrangements usually began or ended at the, yes, beginning or end of the month, and we seem to go through this at least twice a year when a bunch of licenses expire. A lot of the movies come back, some don’t.
Link that to something I see at least once a day on Twitter: “What? Why isn’t (Caddyshack/1941/insert name of movie) on Netflix?”
Then tell me again how physical media is dying.
Well, I’m going to admit that you have a point there, at least, but I think it’s largely because certain people want it to die, not because of any need or essential evolution of entertainment.
Up to roughly a hundred years ago, if you wanted to hear Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, you had to go to a concert hall where it was being performed. If you didn’t live within easy traveling distance of one, or they were playing Mozart that evening, well, tough. No glorious Ludwig Van for you. The invention of the gramophone mitigated that somewhat, though admittedly the scratchy wax cylinder was a poor substitute for a symphony orchestra in the same room as the listener. New technology would work toward closing that gap in experience and quality.
I was struck at one point last year by a critic talking about seeing The Seventh Seal at an art house in the late 50s, then having to wait years for the opportunity to see it a second time. To a modern film buff, that sort of experience is almost unthinkable. My copy of Seventh Seal is not ten feet from my desk. I can watch it again any time I want.
Yet, this is the same experience one gets from streaming media services. Am I somehow to believe this is better?
Netflix cannot provide access to every movie everyone might like to see at any imaginable point at any time; that is simply impossible, so they of necessity attempt to maintain the most commercially viable mix they can. I’ve seen my fair share of odd, non-commercial movies on Netflix, so I can’t complain too loudly – but it still can’t beat a large collection curated by myself, for myself.
Where streaming does beat that, I will admit, is in the realm of clutter. I sit here typing this, surrounded by stacks of books and movies. If they ever, like in some EC comic book or episode of Twilight Zone decided to turn on me, I’m doomed, hopelessly outnumbered. The huge stacks of Marvel Essentials and DC Showcase Presents have already tried to end me twice. This, however, is the choice I made: movies I want to watch, books I want to read. There is some point I am going to require a viewing of Evil Roy Slade, some point where discovering the exact issue of Teen Titans the Mad Mod first appeared will be paramount. This is how I shape my world, and move about in it.
The general move toward streaming and that intellectual construct they call “The Cloud” is a move toward licensing content rather than selling it. I have somewhere around twenty books on my Kindle, and Amazon has proven they can rescind my access to any of these books at any time. I didn’t buy them, I only rented them, apparently. There is no such muddiness of ownership with a physical book. I have exchanged money for an item, which I can now deal with as I see fit; I can keep it, resell it, give it away, use it to level out an uneven table, or – heaven forbid – burn it.
Physical media is not, I think, truly going away, at least not in my lifetime. I’ve been hearing the death knell tolled for DVDs for quite some time, and the only real evidence I’ve seen there is the vanishing of Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores. But that’s been the death of a mode of business, not the medium – they could not keep up with the one-two blow of streaming and Redbox kiosks, which offer, once more, convenience at the cost of choice.
If you’re a film buff, if you’re a collector, the realm of physical media is still quite robust. The last year or two has seen enormous growth in boutique labels catering to those markets. Warner Archive and its highly successful Made on Demand discs of vault movies, largely ignored in any realm except Turner Classic Movies (until they launched their own streaming service). Outfits like Vinegar Syndrome, Grindhouse Releasing, Code Red, Severin, Scream Factory and old friends like Blue Underground and Synapse, all producing niche product of outstanding quality.
So basically: streaming has a place on my buffet, but until A) their inventories truly proliferate, and B) I no longer have to pay an arm and a leg for broadband internet so I can enjoy such services at the same consistent level of quality as physical media – it’s going to stay at that subsidiary steam table with the egg rolls and the fried bread, while I’m concentrate on the entrees of the main table.
Dammit, now I want Chinese food.