In a 2010 interview with The Daily Mirror, Prince declared that “The internet was completely over.” In 2010 he was more referring to the idea of putting your music online for consumption and taking issue with iTunes and companies like it for not paying artists their fair share for what they were giving the music aggregate. Early in the decade, Prince had been distributing his music online himself and getting 100% of those profits (or something close to it) back to him. For a while he actually saw it as a viable avenue for artists to make money and the public to consume and find their media, but when corporations (and to an extent, piracy) started to be more of presence, he decided that the days of the internet being this wonderful avenue for distribution, consumption, and discovery were over and that the best ways were still the old ways,* the artist holding all the cards and the audience buying their music physically. He was ahead of the curve in that department seeing as by the time of his earth-shattering death, most artists will tell you that making a living off of fractions of a penny for streams on Spotify and Apple music is a joke and serves more as advertisements for the inevitable long tour they’ll have to do to really make their money.
Of course what Prince was talking about had more to do with fair pay for artists and control of their catalogue than it did with corporations controlling the flow of film and television history and media literacy but the sentiment is the same. The promise of the internet streaming movies is a failure and maybe it’s time to go back to what works and what’s sustainable.
I know I won’t change the world with a blog post on a college repertory theater’s website but I think the death of a streaming service that strived to fill a gap and fulfill a promise that other more widely used services failed to do so deserves at least a shout-out and conversation starter. TCM and Criterion set out to do something no other streaming company had the heart or resources to do, which was make film history available to anybody who wanted it for a fair price and without the use of an algorithm. When it launched back in 2016 I was kind of skeptical. I was already a little burned out on the idea of yet another streaming service. You see, as it became abundantly clear that every company with a handful of properties and enough capital to launch some “original” programming would start its own streaming platform to stay caught up with the giant hovering shadow of Netflix, I knew we were heading towards a future for film and television that would just be a feeding frenzy of corporations providing consumers with a small pile of things they already know or like instead of a mountain of things consumers might enjoy or wish to discover.
When Netflix began, it started as an alternative to Blockbuster’s slightly antiquated ways of renting out videos to people. It succeeded in killing Blockbuster and most (but not all) of what remained of the mom-and-pop video rental store, and set it sights on not only becoming an alternative to cable or even digital rentals, but also a replacement to the moviegoing experience as a whole. In 2007 they began the streaming revolution and for a while with Hulu and later HBO GO/Now, it looked like maybe streaming could become a viable option for finding cinema if you coupled it with a disc subscription. But as Netflix started discouraging the use of physical media (they tried making the disc rental a separate service briefly), and acquiring rights to fewer films made before the ’70s and ’80s in favor of replacing it with their own original content (their algorithm had your data and now they were going to use it), people got the sense that Netflix didn’t have even a faint interest in being a place for film, but a content machine that simply wanted you to feel so drowned in movies and shows that the idea of using another streaming service or leaving your house to see a movie was absurd.
Then Filmstruck came, with its deep back catalogue of Warner Bros. titles and Criterion’s massive amount of licensed films, shorts, and shows (a good portion of which didn’t even have in-print physical editions) and a team of people who sat down and curated all of this to make it easier for you to dip your toe somewhere you may have not without some guidance. It was a godsend for someone like me who had all but turned back to spending too much money on physical media instead of disappointingly surfing 1 of the 4 streaming services I have access to. For a couple of years I thought maybe the dream of streaming as a resource wasn’t gone.
But with Warner Bros being acquired by AT&T and the complete restructuring of their business model to get rid of anything niche that can’t compete with Netflix and the other looming soon-to-be-giant-of-streaming, Disney, I think it’s time that we admit that maybe the old ways of watching and discovering film are still the best and most protected at this point. I’m talking about venturing out into the world and taking physical media home with you or going and supporting any locally run theater, repertory house, or screening group you have in your neck of the woods. I know not everyone can afford to buy every movie they want to watch, or make the time to go out to a theater multiple times a week (or month for that matter). We’re all busy and overworked but let me go through some options for those looking for some.
Buy What You Love
This option of course is the one with the most assumed privileged. People can barely afford to pay their bills let alone drop $20 on half-priced Criterion or Shout Factory Blu-rays. Yet, if you have disposable income and you want to have the peace of mind that something you bought can’t be taken away from you because a company decided they didn’t want to make it available anymore (this is becoming increasingly common), this is your best option. Also hit up secondhand media stores! Most things are under $20 and people get rid of good films all the time. Call it community recycling.
Go To Repertory/Local Theaters and Free Screenings. Take A Few Chances
Here’s the great thing about small, locally run theatrical venues and events: they’re mostly run by people (i.e. weirdos) who love movies. Like maybe they love them a little too much, but they’ve seen quite of few of them and they’re putting on these screenings generally because they get pleasure and pride out of seeing a large group of people come together and watch a movie together and hopefully get something out of it. Also, screenings like these are filled with people who, like you, don’t want to have a bad time so you’re less likely to have the talkers and cellphone users that keep you away from your local AMC or Regal Cinemas.
Yet, while it’s great to see comforting classics like Beetlejuice or The Sting on the big screen, maybe every once in a while take a chance on The Virgin Suicides, Miracle Mile, Ran, Night of the Hunter or some other slightly obscure but interesting sounding piece of cinema. These movies are being shown because the people behind them are hopeful you will enjoy them as much as they did. The better these screenings and theaters do, the more mega chains see that people are interested in coming out to see If Beale Street Could Talk or something like it. Also, I hear Bloomington’s got a pretty good university cinema.
If You Have A Local Video Rental Store, SUPPORT IT!
Before Netflix killed Blockbuster, Blockbuster had pretty much killed the locally owned video rental store that boomed in the ’90s. These weren’t all good but they had the advantage of being unhomogenized like Blockbuster was. They’d all get in the moneymakers but depending on the taste of the staff you could have a store that had a huge amount of one type of movie but little of another type. Take for instance a video store I frequent. There’s a welcome cornucopia of obscure horror titles and genres (I had literally never heard of Nunsploitation before I started renting here) but an odd lack of Jerry Lewis films. Things like that give the store character! However that makes these stores sound like they’re not well rounded and an invaluable resource, which they are. Also, at this point stores like these keep in stock thousands if not tens of thousands of titles. Even Filmstruck couldn’t boast numbers like that (as of February of 2018 they had 1,600 titles). These stores are increasingly rare at this point, so if you have one in your neck of the woods you should drop by one on a Friday night and grab a few things. You also get the added bonus of talking to a real human being (once again, weirdo) who loves movies and can recommend something to you that you wouldn’t otherwise have sought out.
LIBRARIES, LIBRARIES, LIBRARIES!!!
This to me is by far the most valuable resource on this list. Libraries are miracles. Multiple forms of media up for the borrowing; public resources that are either free or incredibly cheap; incredibly generous check-out times; reasonable penalties for being late (my library caps you at $10 worth of late fees and lets you resume checking out things if you pay at least $1 of the late fee); refusal to give the NSA your account information; and a bunch of people who are there to help you find what you need. I love these bad boys. There isn’t a week in which I don’t check something out from my local library. I pay my taxes so it only make sense that I take advantage of the seemingly neverending resources.
As far a film is concerned, librairies may not have as many deep cuts as a video store does, but they keep a wide breadth of film history in stock and with interlibrary loan, some public libraries can get movies from sister branches if you know what you are looking for. Most of the time if there’s something a little more obscure you’re looking for you can request it and (in my experience) if it’s in print, they’ll get it for you 7 out of 10 times. Lastly, libraries have joined the streaming age and if you have trouble getting out of your house to watch a film, check out services like Kanopy and Hoopla. They might have something you want. All you need is a library card which usually only requires an ID and proof of address, and if you don’t have that they offer other ways to allow you to check out materials. As people (myself included) are encouraged to buy as much as they can, we forget libraries are there to take the strain off of you financially and help you enlighten yourself to all the world’s knowledge and wonderful possibilities. And don’t get me started on how much you have at your fingertips if you have access to a university library.
I wrote this because I was devastated by Filmstruck’s demise and felt like with all these companies merging and monopolies moving onto the media landscape, we were dooming ourselves to a market that values late 20th century IP instead of film as a whole, which meant we were going to start losing films to history. If companies don’t want to restore or stream these things then what could we do? Then I remembered that we already have infrastructures in place and people who care enough to keep that from happening. So maybe it’s time to let the old ways thrive once again. Put films back in your physical control instead of living at the whims of a corporation. I’ll always love and cherish what Filmstruck did and I hold out hope that Criterion will find another home and Warner Bros. won’t banish their back catalogue to the phantom zone for properties they can’t reboot off brand recognition. Yet, I think I’m gonna trade in the 0 and 1’s for a disc in hand or a crowd of people gathered around a screen a little more often.
*Prince did eventually put his music on the streaming service Tidal, but that is a streaming service specifically designed to give artists a proper cut of streaming revenue.
If you live in Bloomington, Indiana and want to get out and see more films from local groups putting on screenings, you can find screening information and upcoming events for the IU Cinema, Ryder Film Series and Cicada Cinema here, here and here.
If you’re a Bloomington resident and want to finally check out the Monroe County Public Library and grab a handful of films, browse their website here to find out how to get a library card.
Vulture Video has no official website but you can follow them on Twitter here, where they’ll keep you up to date on store hours and what they got in stock.
If you don’t live in Bloomington and somehow stumbled upon this post, then I hope you take the time to explore all these avenues and in your own neck of the woods!
David Carter is a film lover and a menace. He plays jazz from time to time but asks you not to hold that against him. His taste in movies bounces from Speed Racer to The Holy Mountain and everything in between.