Chapter 9: Some Blithering

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.

netflixageddon0413At 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.

Then again, sometimes you don't want any Ludwig Van.

Then again, sometimes you don’t want any Ludwig Van.

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?

Ooooh dear.

Ooooh dear.

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.

kindle-largeThe 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.

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5 Comments

  1. I got a letter from the Nielsen conglomerate the other day, asking me to take a survey on my viewing habits. This made me chuckle, because it basically marked my one year anniversary of cutting the cable. I say this only in that I agree with you on every point about physical media, but I just wanted to add that what I pay for internet, Netflix, Hulu and the Warner Archive Instant is about half of what I was paying for cable TV. And to be honest, streaming has saved me a ton of money on films that I would’ve had to buy to see and there are too many discs in this house that have been watched once and only once.

  2. The size of my house, the amount of movie collection clutter the Baroness will accept, the fact that I’m a librarian (and thus someone else’s collection of movies is pretty easy for me to access) and my determination to not be like my various hoarder relatives has mostly stopped me from collecting a huge collection-but I can see the appeal. I can also see how the current undependability of the streaming options out there makes it an unsatisfactory replacement for physical media. In my professional life the only real reason I see to replace physical with digital is because people use the digital more…but from a healthiness of our budgets standpoint, the digital options out there are awful for us, and affected by similar market whims as people’s personal digital collections. Bah. Bah I say.

  3. Basically, my Netflix streaming is the equivalent of what cable offered me, and since I haven’t had cable since the turn of the century….

    I’ve got basic DSL, so the quality of the video that comes through my screen is okay, but hell, I was raised on VHS, so I ain’t complaining. Still, I tend to watch mostly tv shows and the occasional odd movie who’s DVD is out of print. I still use Netflix’s DVD service more than anything, and I’ve been watching more and more of the movies I own, simply because, hey, there was a reason why I bought them in the first place. I *like* them. I actually went through my 300-plus collection about a year ago, using the rule if I knew I never was going to watch it again, it goes. Six DVDs got culled. That’s it.

    I really believe that streaming by Netflix, Hulu, and others is simply creating a new form of television, where you control the programing and face little or limited commercial interruption. When those services began creating their own new shows, I felt like that was confirmation. At some point down the line, those services will be more like a old network– a mix of original programming, events, and selected libraries. Only, those libraries will be a lot deeper than anything the networks 30 years ago could get their hands on. And television became a supplement to me more than 15 years ago.

    That isn’t going to replace movie collection; it’ll probably only replace movie rentals. It’ll be more expensive to see that odd movie you heard of, but a DVD won’t be available to rent ’cause they went out of print somewhere around 2007 and the last battered copy got removed from Netflix’s warehouse. And forget going back to the indie rental place with the cavern of videos built up over more than decade; they’re either out of business, or they’ve sold out that inventory. So, that will suck.

    And now I seriously want to watch Evil Roy Slade. Thanks a bunch, Doc.

    • Always happy to spread the gospel of Evil Roy Slade.

      Know, however, you have given me heart. I’ve been slowly culling my own collection since about the beginning of December, using similar guidelines (and also discs that got upgraded to blu-ray, except for the rare DVD that had different, unusual extras). To date I’ve cleared out about 100 discs, and now I feel positively draconian in my efforts.

      • I think some of that is because I was wary of the blind buy. I used Netflix heavily a decade (!) ago simply to see movies before I bought them (as well as rent worn VHS from Wonder Book and Video before they sold them all off), and I’d say nearly a fifth of the discs I own came from discovering them on Netflix first. So, it’s harder for me to part with them, because with a few exceptions,they were movies I just had to own rather than ones I just wanted to see. The ones I culled were either ones I made mistake with (looking at you, Moulin Rouge) or blind buys that didn’t work out (thanks for those 90 minutes of pain, Death and the Compass).

        That said, I have two small stacks of blind buys that I haven’t watched yet, so that list might get bigger. I’m finding that I’ve become a bit more particular in the films I’ll give my time (which is sad, given how many times I’ve watched Jade Warrior in the past year).


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