Okay, so I’m being deliberately overly dramatic. But I have had it with online film and TV providers such as Netflix and Film4od. As well as contributing to the demise of HMV, Blockbuster and countless independent rental stores, they continue to threaten the beloved institution that is the cinema, and more fundamentally also threaten our ability to make informed and critical choices.
Although I am more than willing to pay for films I can see why people are tempting into streaming them illegally; in the last few days streaming sites have failed to provide me with the films I want to see. Film4od has become particularly infuriating. If you search for a film not in their catalogue the following message appears:
Although I have no problem understanding that a site cannot offer every possible film a customer might wish to see (that’s what shops were for in the good old days), I refuse to have my viewing habits dictated by sub-standard software. To the Film4od site ‘spectacular now’ is merely a search term in no way connected to James Ponsoldt’s 2013 film, and so it can only provide me with highly irrelevant alternatives.
Not that there aren’t good films on Film4od and comparable sites (though I found the original selection on Amazon’s recently launched Instant Video service disappointing). These sites offer a predetermined selection much like a restaurant’s menu. Just as anyone serious about food would hope for a menu to have been designed by a top chef or at least one knowledgeable about food, I wish film streaming sites could be curated by movie experts. Thankfully, one such site does exist – BFI player hosts films recently shown at their Southbank cinema, as well as other topical collections. For instance, throughout this year’s Cannes film festival last year’s highlights were available to watch online at reasonable prices.
Netflix, Amazon’s Instant Video and Film4od, however, entice customers with a few new releases (47 Ronin being a case in point above) or high-profile award winners (12 Years a Slave) and round out their catalogues with flops and B-movies like 2004’s King Arthur (32% on Rotten Tomatoes) and 2000’s Where the Heart Is (35%).
Sadly even buying DVDs is most easily done through the shop-quashing giant that is Amazon these days. In an ideal world I’d much rather buy them from a shop (maybe even an adorable independent one where the owner greets me by name), but the size of Amazon means it’s always the last resort if I can’t find films anywhere else.
It’s not all bad. Frustrations aside, I’m pleased to see Amazon have both increased and improved their selection, though the inclusion of the entirety of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing just about justifies the price anyway. But I’ll be watching on DVD.
All this reminds me of a scene from one of my favourite films, Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, based on Daniel Clowes’ awesome graphic novel of the same name.
This witty little moment which is not even central to the film’s story sums up a lamentable side effect of capitalism and the dominance of huge corporations in the retail world. Despite the ignorance and catalogue-dependence of this fictional video rental store employee, however, I often find cinema and bookshop staff to be highly knowledgeable about the entertainment they are selling, just as they should be.
The exchange above is also symptomatic of Ghost World’s daring satire on the entertainment industry it was partially reliant on. This is best exemplified by Enid’s behaviour during her brief stint working in a cinema, which riffs on an experience Ghost World’s viewers might have undergone minutes before seeing the film.
Right, better stop before someone predicts that my sentence will end with “meaningless consumer-driven lives”, as in 10 Things I Hate About You.
If you’re looking for something great to watch ignore the streaming sites’ suggestions and pick anything highlighted in bold – that is, if you trust my recommendations. But hey, you don’t have to let someone else choose for you. Least of all some faceless company.