Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Against the stream

A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.
-G. K. Chesterton, ripped out of context from The Everlasting Man

I am not as enthusiastic about Netflix Watch Instantly as others.

Streaming video may be the wave of the future. It does seem likely at this point. The Cable/Satellite "bundle" model will hopefully die.

For almost ten years now, I've said that I would be willing to pay at least $10 a month for Turner Classic Movies. For the past ten years, this has not been an option. I can either pay $50 or more for a bundle of channels that I actively despise or I can live without TCM. I've chosen to live without TCM.

I like streaming video. I don't like the limitations of streaming video. The buffering and the poor to average a/v quality are far away from any point at which the format could rival DVD. Out in the country, I've got a decent high speed network set up now, but Frontier's DSL lines just can't always handle streaming video, especially at peak hours.

Besides the quality, the biggest issue I have with streaming via Netflix is that the Watch Instantly selection is crap. Sure, it's decent enough if you're not too discerning about what bad 80s film you'll watch for nostalgia's sake or if you just want to catch up on a lot of TV shows from the past decade. That's not why I like Netflix.

The reason that Netflix is appealing at all to me is the relatively inexpensive ease of access that it provides to nearly every classic and foreign film available on DVD. Their selection for movie rental in any format is an unrivaled achievement which is, quite simply, astounding. We are currently living in a "golden age" of film availability. I can't imagine going to a "streaming only" option that meant limited options. If I have to deal with a limited selection, I'd rather go back to renting at the local independently owned video store.

I realize that I'm in the .00001 percent of people on Netflix who are renting films from 1929 exclusively. Seriously, the next 20 films in my queue are all from 1929. I'm amazed that that is even possible. Ten years ago, I doubt if I could have found 5 of these titles to watch AND I would have had to pay a ton of money just for the privilege to see them in what were probably sub-par mutilated versions on VHS or bad 16mm prints. DVDs had been around for about three years, but the opening up of studio back catalogs to the extent that we see now was still a ways in the future. DVD has now arrived, more or less. Streaming has a long way to go.

Netflix Watch Instantly offers 4 feature films from 1929 via streaming, as far as I can tell.

Pabst's Pandora's Box is there in what is most definitely not the Criterion transfer and is for whatever reason 2 minutes shorter than the DVD version.

Hitch's Blackmail is the same so-so transfer that I watched on an Image DVD.

Dwan's The Iron Mask is a mutilation, the travesty of a re-cut done in 1951 that cuts out all of the inter-titles and replaces this with voiceover narration by Fairbanks, Jr. This re-cut version clocks in 31 minutes shorter than Dwan's cut. I can guarantee you right now that there were not 31 minutes of title screens in the film.

Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera is also present. It appears intact, but I can't tell.

That's it. Those four are my options for "instantly" (I have to use the parentheses since "instant" takes on a new meaning on those nights when buffering is incessant) viewing films from 1929.

Part of the thrill of having DVDs is also that there is still a physical object to be handled and to be shared with others. CR5 Movie Club started as a DVD Exchange Experiment where we would swap DVDs for a week. I suppose that swapping flash drives would have worked just as well, but something seems lacking. Still, I could get over this if I had to.

My real problem with digital delivery at the moment is that it currently leads to less access, not more. I'm also not sure why I'm being asked to pay more for my DVD plan than the Streaming folks are being asked to pay if all of that extra money is being used to subsidize the cost of streaming video. Why not offer a cheaper DVD-only plan as well for those of us who think of streaming video as a nice novelty at the moment, but can really live without it? Moving from a huge DVD library to a relatively tiny streaming library just doesn't make sense to me.

I'm not too pessimistic about the future of film availability. I'm still waiting for that TCM-only subscription plan. When that arrives, I'll have the biggest dish on any roof this side of Hollywood.


Ben, I've enjoyed your recent posts. If you didn't notice yet, check my sidebar here. I've made you an honorary CR5 Movie Club Member! Hopefully, Brandon will give you a warm welcome soon. I've given up on Jason. He's always running off with that hussy Facebook.

Brandon, I'm off to finally watch that Arcade Fire video RIGHT NOW!

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