Clas­sic lms get booted from Net ix.


Newsweek International - - NEWS - BY ZACH SCHONFELD @zzzza­aaac­c­c­chhh

REED HASTINGS, the Net ix CEO who co­founded the com­pany long be­fore “streaming” en­tered the pop­u­lar lex­i­con, was born in 1960, a fairly re­mark­able year for lm. Among the clas­sics re­leased: Al­fred Hitch­cock’s Psy­cho, Billy Wilder’s The Apart­ment, Stan­ley Kubrick’s Spar­ta­cus and Michael Powell’s Peep­ing Tom.

In the vast world of Net ix streaming, there’s one movie from 1961 avail­able (the orig­i­nal Par­ent Trap) and one se­lec­tion from 1959 (Com­pul­sion), but not a sin­gle lm from 1960. It’s like it never hap­pened. Nei­ther, for that mat­ter, did 1968, 1963, 1955 or 1948. There are no Hitch­cock

lms on Net ix, no clas­sics from Ser­gio Leone or François Tru aut. When Deb­bie Reynolds died last Christ­mas week, griev­ing fans had to turn to Ama­zon Video for Sin­gin’ in the Rain and Su­san Slept Here. You could ll a large lm stud­ies text­book with what’s not avail­able.

As of this month, Net ix o ers just 43 movies made be­fore 1970 and fewer than 25 from the pre-1950 era (sev­eral of which are World War II doc­u­men­taries) on its streaming plat­form. If you’re one of its 4 mil­lion DVD sub­scribers, you get a much wider se­lec­tion, but the com­pany is in­creas­ingly shift­ing to streaming and orig­i­nal con­tent. And what does that say to a lover of clas­sic cin­ema? “That those movies have less to o er,” says Nora Fiore, the 26-year-old writer be­hind a blog de­voted to old lms, The Ni­trate Diva. “It’s a ter­ri­ble mes­sage to put out there.”

Net ix, which just turned 20, ex­panded into streaming in 2007. For the next few years, Fiore was thrilled by the eclec­tic o er­ings, many of them thanks to the com­pany’s part­ner­ship with Cri­te­rion Clas­sics (that ended in 2011, when Cri­te­rion struck a deal with Hulu). “I saw Breath­less for the rst time on Net ix,” she says. “I saw Jules and Jim. They also had some re­ally weird stu that you got the feel­ing they bought with a pack­age, like Specter of the Rose, a Poverty Row lm noir about a mad bal­let dancer.” By 2013, Fiore had can­celed her sub­scrip­tion, switch­ing over to Fan­dor and Warner Archive.

Stephen Prince, a cin­ema stud­ies pro­fes­sor at Vir­ginia Tech, re­mem­bers his dis­tress over Net ix phas­ing out its archive of world cin­ema DVDS as the shift was made to streaming. “Now, we see the dan­ger in­her­ent in this change—an em­pha­sis on main­stream, con­tem­po­rary movies,” he says, “mak­ing lms of the past or from other cul­tures less vis­i­ble.”

Gone are chains like Block­buster or the quirky DVD rental stores that turned Quentin Tarantino into a lm fa­natic. That means if you don’t live in a place with mul­ti­ple venues for clas­sic cin­ema— like New York, Los An­ge­les and Austin, Texas— ac­cess­ing non-con­tem­po­rary lms takes e ort. Prince has seen this re ected in his stu­dents, who are “heav­ily bi­ased to­ward what’s new and what can be streamed on por­ta­ble de­vices. What isn’t avail­able to stream es­sen­tially doesn’t ex­ist. I’ve had stu­dents ask if it’s OK to watch Ver­tigo on Youtube.” (No.) When he taught a course on hor­ror movies, a stu­dent who had watched The Shin­ing only on a lap­top “was as­ton­ished at how pow­er­ful it was when seen big.”

Why are Net ix’s clas­sic o er­ings so lousy? “I be­lieve their read­ing of the mar­ket and the vi­cis­si­tudes of ac­quir­ing ma­te­ri­als from the stu­dio’s

lm li­braries are key fac­tors,” says Jan Ols­son, the Swedish lm scholar and au­thor (most re­cently) of Hitch­cock à la Carte. Trans­la­tion: Streaming rights are ex­pen­sive, and Net ix prob­a­bly doesn’t think the au­di­ence for old lms is big enough to make it worth­while. (Net ix de­clined to com­ment for this story.) The longer an­swer re­quires a deep dive into copy­right law and the le­gal prece­dent of

the rst-sale doc­trine, which made it easy for Net

ix to rent out tan­gi­ble me­dia (DVDS) but does not ap­ply to dig­i­tal dis­tri­bu­tion.

It’s a co­nun­drum: The in­ter­net prom­ises a cen­tury’s worth of mul­ti­me­dia at your nger­tips but ruth­lessly priv­i­leges what­ever got re­leased yes­ter­day. Some lms have got­ten left be­hind in ob­so­lete-for­mat hell. “There are movies you ba­si­cally have to break the law to see,” says Fiore of, for in­stance, the fa­mously un­avail­able Joan Craw­ford ick Letty Lyn­ton (1932).

You can nd clas­sic cin­ema if you know where to look. Ama­zon has a pretty ro­bust streaming cat­a­log, but the $2.99 price tag per rental makes it less at­trac­tive. (The Ama­zon Prime se­lec­tion, free for Prime sub­scribers, is more lim­ited.) Film­struck, a streaming ser­vice launched by Turner Clas­sic Movies in 2016, has a great archive—a cu­rated mix of clas­sic, for­eign and hard-to- nd movies—but it’s geared to­ward the cinephile niche not the gen­er­al­ist (in the not-so-dis­tant past, they could stum­ble on the plea­sures of clas­sic lm sim­ply by ip­ping chan­nels on TV).

“The gap be­tween ‘ca­sual lm fan’ and ‘ lm his­tory bu ’ has never been harder—or more ex­pen­sive—to bridge,” critic Todd Van­der­wer ar­gued in a 2016 piece. Van­der­wer ’s con­clu­sion: “It’s never been eas­ier to see clas­sic movies—but it’s never been harder to be­come ob­sessed with them.”

When did in­ter­est in movies made be­fore, say, 1980 be­come such a weirdo niche?

IN EARLY , Net ix rolled out a clever new fea­ture: View­ers could press a but­ton and skip open­ing cred­its on TV shows. It made sense; when you’re bing­ing six episodes of its orig­i­nal drama Stranger Things, watch­ing the same cred­its se­quence over and over gets tire­some.

Then, this past May, Net ix ex­panded the fea­ture, let­ting view­ers skip past the ti­tle se­quences of cer­tain movies as well. Cinephiles were horri ed: Th­ese se­quences of­ten pro­vide in­ven­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties for bril­liant lm­mak­ers, from the snowy des­o­la­tion that opens

Fargo to the chill­ing close-ups that suck you into

Ver­tigo. Why would you skip that? “When we lose ti­tle se­quences, we are los­ing some­thing of artis­tic value,” lm critic Noah Git­tell wrote in

The Guardian.

For lm bu s, this ill-ad­vised op­tion was more than a stum­ble. It seemed in­dica­tive of a com­pany that un­der­stands al­go­rithms but not au­teurs—a com­pany de­tached from the cul­tural and cu­ra­to­rial knowl­edge com­men­su­rate with its enor­mous dis­tribu­tive power. In other words, Git­tell wrote, it signi ed that Net ix “lacks rever- ence for cin­ema his­tory.” It was a mi­nor mis­step but a ma­jor ex­am­ple of the in­creas­ing dis­com­fort cinephiles have with Net ix’s dom­i­nance.

Net ix be­gan on Au­gust 29, 1997, as a sort of mail-or­der Block­buster, based on the hunch that con­sumers were sick of late fees. (Net ix’s found­ing myth is that Hastings got the idea after pay­ing Block­buster a $40 late fee for a lost copy of Apollo 13.) By 2007, Net ix had shipped more than a bil­lion DVDS; the com­pany was pro ta­ble and grow­ing. But Hastings had loftier am­bi­tions. “Movies over the in­ter­net are com­ing, and at some point, it will be­come big busi­ness,” he said in 2005. His com­pany’s goal, the soon-to-be bil­lion­aire added, was “[to be­come] a com­pany like HBO that trans­forms the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try.”

That goal has been achieved. The wa­ter­shed mo­ment was 2013, when Net ix’s rst piece of orig­i­nal pro­gram­ming, House of Cards, be­came a crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial hit. Orange Is the New Black—now with its fth sea­son avail­able for streaming—fol­lowed that sum­mer. Four years later, Net ix is spend­ing $6 bil­lion to add both orig­i­nal and li­censed con­tent in 2017, and like HBO, it has ar­guably be­come more syn­ony­mous with tele­vi­sion th­ese days than lm. (When young peo­ple col­lo­qui­ally talk about “stay­ing in and watch­ing Net ix,” they of­ten mean binge-watch­ing TV episodes, whether it’s 30 Rock or an orig­i­nal sit­com.) There’s a cot­tage in­dus­try of dig­i­tal me­dia ded­i­cated to track­ing what’s com­ing and go­ing on Net ix ev­ery sin­gle month.

Once a dig­i­tal li­brary, the com­pany now op­er­ates more

like a deep-pock­eted stu­dio. The uni­ver­sal power of bore­dom guar­an­tees that any piece of Net ix pro­gram­ming will be watched by mil­lions sim­ply by virtue of be­ing plas­tered across the home page. Con­sider the re­mark­ably lu­cra­tive part­ner­ship with Adam San­dler. In March, the ac­tor signed an­other four-movie deal with Net ix (a cost to them of $320 mil­lion or more). In April, it was re­vealed that users had spent more than half a bil­lion hours watch­ing San­dler’s movies. They made min­i­mal cul­tural im­pact, but for the mil­lions brows­ing Net for con­tent, the mar­ket­ing is un­beat­able.

What gets left be­hind is the cu­ra­tion model of old. “Net ix’s mis­sion state­ment has changed,” says the vet­eran lm critic Leonard Maltin. “Their fo­cus is on orig­i­nal con­tent. They’re no longer fo­cused on serv­ing their for­mer cus­tomer base.” Fric­tion be­tween Net ix and seg­ments of the lm com­mu­nity spiked into out­right hos­til­ity in mid-2017. In May came the open­ing-cred­its scu e. That same month, at Cannes, the sight of the Net ix logo drew boos from cranky fes­ti­val at­ten­dees dur­ing a screen­ing of Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, one of two Net ix lms en­tered into fes­ti­val com­pe­ti­tion (the sec­ond was Noah Baum­bach’s The Meyerowitz Sto­ries). Crit­ics and judges grum­bled be­cause the lms hadn’t got­ten a proper the­atri­cal re­lease. Fes­ti­val di­rec­tor Thierry Fré­maux even­tu­ally ruled that fu­ture movies with­out the­atri­cal re­lease in France would not qual­ify for the pres­ti­gious Palme d’or prize. Cannes jury pres­i­dent Pe­dro Almod­ó­var fur­ther bashed Net ix, as did di­rec­tor Christo­pher Nolan, who, in an in­ter­view the fol­low­ing month, vowed never to work with the com­pany be­cause of its “point­less” strat­egy and “bizarre aver­sion” to the the­atri­cal ex­pe­ri­ence.

There are plenty of rea­sons to like Net ix, and ad­vo­cates, par­tic­u­larly among in­die lm­mak­ers and pro­duc­ers, see it as a vi­able alternative to tra­di­tional Hollywood. Okja is a ne ex­am­ple. The quirky and crit­i­cally ac­claimed satire, hailed as the streaming plat­form’s rst great orig­i­nal lm, wasn’t cheap to pro­duce. “I don’t think any­one would have made this if it weren’t for Net ix,” the movie’s screen­writer, Jon Ron­son, told Newsweek in May. He couldn’t imag­ine a tra­di­tional stu­dio fund­ing it.

The Okja model might be in­te­gral for the in­de­pen­dent lms of the fu­ture, but does it have to come at the ex­pense of the past? Per­haps Net ix will one day re­al­ize a vi­able mar­ket still ex­ists for old movies. Maltin, how­ever, isn’t tak­ing any chances. “Frankly, this is why I’m keep­ing all my DVDS,” he says. “And it’s a pain in the neck, be­cause they take up a lot of space.”

+ Net ix ne­glects the work of Hitch­cock (left) while cham­pi­oning that of San­dler (above), who re­cently signed an­other fourpic­ture deal with the com­pany.

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