Film­struck hits the buf­fers

The Observer - The New Review - - Sfiulmbject -

It’s with a mea­sure of guilt that I write this week’s col­umn, nine months af­ter I re­ported on an ex­cit­ing film stream­ing site that had been newly launched in the UK. “Is the fu­ture Film­struck?” the head­line asked.

Sorry, we jinxed it. The US-im­ported ser­vice, which spe­cialises in clas­sic and art­house cin­ema, and has be­come par­tic­u­larly beloved by film buffs for its dig­i­tal hous­ing of high-end Blu-ray la­bel the Cri­te­rion Col­lec­tion, will cease op­er­a­tions glob­ally on 29 Novem­ber, the plug hav­ing been pulled by the bean coun­ters at Warner Bros Dig­i­tal Net­works and Turner Broad­cast­ing. If you’re one of the (ev­i­dently too few) peo­ple who took out a sub­scrip­tion, you have just un­der three weeks to gorge on a menu that runs the gamut from The Big Sleep to Force Ma­jeure. The UK site was only get­ting started, with just over 200 ti­tles in its li­brary; the loss to film lovers State­side, where the num­ber had swollen to nearly 2,000, is es­pe­cially sore.

The rea­son for the shut­down was de­liv­ered in chilly cor­po­rate-speak: Film­struck was “largely a niche ser­vice”, its op­er­a­tors said, from whose demise they would “take key learn­ings… to help shape fu­ture busi­ness de­ci­sions in the di­rect-to­con­sumer space.” The real mes­sage be­neath that waffle is colder still: “Who watches old movies any more? Sorry, folks, it’s just not worth it.”

The on­line cinephile com­mu­nity has ral­lied to­gether in an at­tempt to prove them wrong. An on­line pe­ti­tion, Keep Film­struck Alive, had gained 30,000 sig­na­tures at the time of writ­ing, pro­moted by such film­mak­ers as Barry Jenk­ins, Guillermo del Toro and Rian John­son. “We will find a way to bring it back,” Del Toro tweeted, though if he does, it likely won’t be with the help of Warner Me­dia, which an­nounced plans last month for a Net­flixri­valling stream­ing ser­vice – to which Film­struck was pre­sum­ably re­garded as a pid­dly dis­trac­tion.

These are dark days for on­line ac­cess to clas­sic or spe­cial­ist cin­ema. The world of stream­ing, which once seemed to open lim­it­less pos­si­bil­i­ties for ar­chiv­ing and ac­cess, ap­pears in­stead to be nar­row­ing, ham­pered by com­plex li­cens­ing re­stric­tions and cyn­i­cal com­mer­cial con­cerns. As Net­flix pours ever more re­sources into its boom­ing fac­tory of orig­i­nal con­tent, its pool of ex­ist­ing films – the ser­vice’s rai­son d’etre when it was a hum­ble DVD rental ser­vice – is dwin­dling. (The first films that came up when I clicked on its “clas­sics” header were Four Wed­dings and a Fu­neral, The Break­fast Club and the Bar­bra Streisand ver­sion of A Star Is Born.)

Ama­zon Prime Video has a deeper, al­beit un­pre­dictable se­lec­tion, de­signed more for spe­cific search­ing than idle brows­ing, while its sub­scrip­tion op­tions are less stream­lined and more ex­pen­sive – with a num­ber of ad­di­tional film chan­nels charg­ing sub­scrip­tion fees atop your Prime sub­scrip­tion. Among those is Fan­dor, an ex­ten­sion of a ro­bust ser­vice for clas­sic, in­de­pen­dent and for­eign film in the US; the UK out­let’s li­brary, how­ever, has dwin­dled to a pal­try few ti­tles.

Bright spots re­main, many of them fre­quently spotlit in this col­umn. Mubi’s ro­tat­ing se­lec­tion of cu­rated al­ter­na­tive cin­ema – 30 films on of­fer at any given point, with a new one added ev­ery day – re­mains in­valu­able, while its pay-per-view rentals se­lec­tion is un­der­val­ued. The home­grown BFI Player con­tin­ues to ex­pand and di­ver­sify, while pub­lic do­main ar­chives such as In­ter­net Archive and Pub­lic Do­main Movies are murky gold­mines. But the lack of a broadly well-stocked stream­ing ser­vice for sub­ti­tle-friendly view­ers whose love of cin­ema pre­dates Star Wars is sorely felt as Film­struck ex­its the scene. Even many main­stream clas­sic ti­tles are far harder to track down on­line than they would have been in the video age.

Cinephiles who once hoped that dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy would usher in an era of de­clut­tered shelves are left to their li­braries of phys­i­cal me­dia. (A good por­tion of my own DVD col­lec­tion would be awol on the in­ter­net.) Even that se­cu­rity blan­ket is frayed, how­ever. As some­thing of a cos­mi­cally cruel joke, in the same week that the Film­struck bomb­shell landed, John Lewis an­nounced it will no longer be sell­ing DVD play­ers.

The Big Sleep (1946) with Bog­art and Ba­call, stream­ing now on Film­struck, but not for much longer… Getty Images

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.