Monday, 21 March 2022

12 Years Of NUTS4R2


Physical Excavations

12 Years Of NUTS4R2

Okay, so it’s Friday night and I just discovered my 12 year blog anniversary is only three days away... not a month or so as I’d thought. So, faced with something of a rush deadline for this post (anniversary posts and additional 100 count posts being something I like to keep as a separate entity from a standard review), I thought I’d talk here about something which has been worrying me as of late... the switch from physical releases to streaming services. And not just for movies too... but for their soundtracks.

Okay, so streaming services got very popular over the pandemic... so did physical services actually, with record sales of Blu Ray and DVD players but, yeah, they're still far from the popularity, with the kiddies, of the streaming services. And I think this is a bad thing, not just from my end as a consumer who wants a movie (or indeed score) in a proper physical release but, also because I think the switch towards streaming is going to harm the art of film making to a certain extent.

I write this as various labels renowned for their physical releases... companies like Criterion, Arrow and even the BFI... have started up streaming services. They often have licences for other labels to stream alongside their own product too... I think the Arrow one has stuff produced by Severin and/or Vinegar Syndrome, for example... so I can half see the appeal. But it worries me that these companies are starting up these services, not only in direct competition with all the usual (some might say ‘evil’) suspects like Netflix, Disney and Amazon Prime... they’re also competing with the option of buying one of their own physical releases over their streaming alternative. Now, as far as quality goes... yeah, HD streaming looks fine but I still think a decent Blu Ray blows it away when it comes to quality. That’s only half of my worry though.

Firstly, labels like Criterion, Arrow, Vinegar Syndrome, Severin, Eureka Masters Of Cinema, 88 Film, Indicator, Second Sight, 101 Films and various other boutique labels are producing high quality product for various film-makers and in terms of physical releases, at present... we’ve really never had it so good. Although, with the current trends, I don’t expect that to last. Reading between the lines on comments I’ve heard from label producers from listening to a few podcasts, there seems to be a sense in the industry that film makers want their films to be released on decent quality Blu Rays with a slew of extras right now because many of them feel this is the last shot at a physical release they’ll have, to get their film looking the best it ever could. A kind of library copy for the future, if you like, showing the film in all it’s glory as opposed to what its possibly shoddy future on streaming is, if indeed it has one. So I believe physical media is the preferred choice for the majority of movie makers in the industry at the moment.

And lets look at those extras. There are various documentaries about a product, some invaluable commentary tracks (mostly the best commentaries are on older films but, yeah, everything becomes an older film at some point, right?) and various other extras which give the purchaser a very good look at not just the movie but the historical context of the film too... via digital press books, trailers, TV spots and even, in the case of many Indicator releases, the 16mm film projector cut down versions for selling commercially to collectors in the 1960s and 1970s. Now, I know some streaming services do carry the odd film with a commentary track or some kind of ‘marketing extra’ but, a lot of them don’t (I would suggest the majority of them don’t but that really is just a guess based on what I’ve read about them)... so we’re heading towards a time, once physical media production and the hardware which can access it has ceased production, where all this extra content could become a thing of the past... or only found as relatively low quality versions on the likes of YouTube but, rarely made specifically for a release anymore, I’d wager. And, hey, I get it! If you’re a casual movie watcher then you probably don’t watch most of this stuff anyway (and I don’t often find the time to explore that many of the extras as I’d like)... but for people who really love and appreciate film, this scenario is a bit of a nightmare, truth be told.

Not to mention the many horror stories I’ve read over the past few years on the likes of Twitter, where people are no longer able to access the film they want on any streaming service and so have gone shopping for the physical release, only to find it’s out of print and fetching silly money on the secondary market. These people have had the range of choice removed for them because they didn’t snag a longer lasting physical copy while they were still able to. They find their favourite film is no longer streaming at the present and, if it’s a relatively obscure film which means a lot to just a handful of people, based on the number of times it was streamed in the past, there’s a good chance it won’t be returning to a streaming platform anytime soon... or indeed, possibly ever. Bye bye favourite movies. 

 Look at what's constantly shown on the former terrestrial TV stations these days, if you don't believe me... where the same old films are repeated over and over within days of each other.

Also... and I think I’ve mentioned this before on this blog over the years... streaming is either going to kill the art of film or, at the very least, dumb it down somewhat... at least in terms of what will get green lit. At the moment, various film makers are loving companies like Netflix and Apple because they are funding films they want to make which they probably couldn’t get the money for at other studios not wanting to take a risk (for now)... Duncan Jones’ Mute springs to mind. But let’s just take that movie as an example of something which got funded which, as it happens, is a really good movie. Well for starters, it’s not available on physical media and, just like most of, say, Disney’s various TV shows, probably never will be. But most people haven’t got the money to subscribe to a load of different channels showing the content which that service has got the license to exclusively. Who has the money for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple, Disney Plus, Shudder, HBO etc?

So, sticking with the example, many people haven’t seen Mute (legally... I myself only managed to see it because I caught one of only a few screenings at a cinema one weekend in London, on very limited performances). Most people don’t know what they’re missing and don’t care... but what that leaves us with is a movie which is making ratings numbers just from people who have whatever channel it’s on. It doesn’t have the chance of a proper box office take in both a wide release pattern cinematic venue (where people can usually see content from all the studios and independents without having to turn up at a specific cinema only showing one brand of film) and it doesn’t have the blind ‘I fancy that’ buy of a person walking into a shop or trawling Amazon and getting interested in purchasing a physical copy behind it either. It’s not something which has had a shot at being displayed on people’s shelves in their home for some significant time and, subsequently, nobody is going to remember it 20 years from now.... they’ll remember the films that they have at home in plain view or the ones at their friend’s house.

And Netflix and their competitors, who are all doing very well right now, opening their own studios etc... won’t have a bottomless money pit forever. If they can’t make films which are giving them Avengers or Star Wars or Spider-Man levels of money at the box office, they’re going to eventually stop bankrolling those big budget spectacles (which, like ‘em or not, is arguably one of the things that cinema is all about... I’m sure Georges Méliès would agree with me here) and settle for less risk projects. Given to producers, directors and artists who are willing to settle for less.

So, yeah, the shape of film will change because you can’t keep taking risks on projects which don’t, through their venue, have a shot at getting back a big return short term. And, okay, yay! We might get more independent, low budget movies for people who like to watch characters talking about ideas and love stories and various other lower budget things... which are also what cinema is about. But, unless we can somehow create a receptive culture where a significant chunk of young audiences, which account for the bulk of cinema and, I suspect, streaming revenue (in whatever form that takes) can get into this stuff ... then the audience won’t be there for those movies a lot of the time... they’ll have switched to computer games (which is where the future of cinematic storytelling may be anyway but, yeah, I’m not yanking on that thread here, today). So, films will run the risk of dying out or become the rare, deluxe item that are catering to a smaller percentage once more... just like current physical media enthusiasts. Except, in this scenario, the newer stuff with the smaller budgets and no attention to bonus features will lose out considerably to the cinematic legacy of what made a mark before, rather than what will be the current shiny thing, in whatever form that is. So we will still be talking about Star Wars and James Bond movies, for example, fifty years from now whereas, various other non-historical franchises will possibly crash and burn.

So, anyway, that’s my cheery warning of a thought to film lovers and a shout to buy all the lovely, rescued and restored, bonus features clad physical media releases while you still can. Some of those recent box sets of the last few years such as All The Haunts Be Ours, The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee, Shaw Scope, Marlene Dietrich At Paramount, Sam Fuller At Columbia, Cinematic Vengeance, Mae West In Hollywood, Hemisphere Horrors, The Al Adamson Masterpiece Collection... and a whole host of others I could name, are absolutely worth their weight in gold and, if you get the opportunity, you should take advantage of these releases while you still can. Pretty soon their ilk may not be seen again.

Anyway, that’s my 12 year anniversary post written and hopefully some of you will be reading this in a few days time (Monday 21st March 2022). And if you are, thanks so much, once again, for reading and, yeah, there should be some interesting reviews coming up very soon. 

Thanks for dropping by.

No comments:

Post a Comment