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The Weekend Hobby Thread | Main | Saturday Overnight Open Thread (7/15/23)
July 15, 2023

Saturday Evening Movie Thread 07/15/2023 [TheJamesMadison]

The End of an Era

It was sometime between 2003 and 2006 that I first got my Netflix DVD subscription, well before streaming was anything like a reality to the masses. It was a gift from my mother for Christmas, and I have kept the subscription ever since, save the fifteen months I lived in Italy when I kept the subscription on hold (needing to resuspend every ninety days, a process that somehow wiped my history from their system despite it still very much being the same account). I knew that the business had been dying for a few years with the increasingly regular occurrences of movies in my queue going from available to having long waits to being placed in my "Saved" section to even disappearing completely (the Randolph Scott film The Tall T is the big example I remember following a pattern like this), and it was with a sense of melancholy that I opened the email from Netflix a few of months ago declaring the death of the subsidiary.

Once the streaming option became the standard for rentals, the writing was on the wall for a subscription based DVD by mail service. The DVD by mail model was a transitionary model between the brick by mortar option and streaming, and it was probably the most important development in my own personal movie discovery. So, I came away from this twenty-five year period with some thoughts.


I once wrote about the Future of Home Video (I predicted stuff like what happened to The French Connection way back then which made my look at the future somewhat dour), and in it I described the rise of video tapes as the explosion of access, but the rise of the DVD era was a revolution in quality. It was also a revolution in getting smaller films to larger markets since the actual production costs of a DVD were very small, especially in comparison to the manufacturing costs of the plastic case and magnetic tape that was a VHS. Yeah, I'm skipping Laserdisc because consumers did, too.

On the one hand, this allowed for a renewed revenue stream of home video where they could sell Blade Runner again with a heftier package of extras, a largely new thing, and even a new cut of the film that was easy to access through a menu. However, this also lead to studios digging deep into their vaults to master their large portions of their libraries, but who was going to buy a large, single release of some Randolph Scott westerns? The proper response was to do minimal work to clean up the scans of the prints, put a dozen films on a handful of discs, and then sell them all at once in one package. Movies that never even imagined releases on VHS because of the cost and their relative obscurity were suddenly viable entries on collections sold for cheap.

This was one of the most important things to happen to film preservation. Suddenly, if I wanted to catch something like The Tall T, or The Desperate Hours, or Only Angels Have Wings, or, heck, The Conqueror, it became that much easier. I didn't have to catch a film festival in NYC, or manage to record a 3am showing on Turner Classic Movies. I could buy a disc from a shelf at Wal-Mart. Or, alternatively, I could use Netflix DVD.

Netflix, just Netflix

When I got access to the Netflix platform, I knew exactly what I was going to get first. It was Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War, a South Korean war film that Ain't It Cool News (it was a very different time) had championed for a hot minute. After adding that to the queue, I started doing the normal thing and rating movies I knew while adding movies to my queue. I was a precocious young man who thought he knew everything about movies, and yet I was piling film after film I'd never seen (really randomly) until the queue was over two hundred films long. I quickly learned some level of humility as I started the cycle of three movies at a time, the process of returning and getting new films with the post office meaning I got a new movie every day the mail ran, I really realized how little I knew.

What Netflix DVD did for me was make a large swath of film history open to me in ways that no other delivery method of the time could come close to. What were the alternatives? Netflix's main competitor at the time was Blockbuster, the brick and mortar dinosaur of a business where you went to a retail location and looked through their selection to find an entertainment. What kind of entertainment did Blockbuster hold? It was a whole store. It must have been a lot, right? Do you remember what Blockbuster held? It was the last hundred movies of box office note and then the most popular older movies. The depth was not there. However, Netflix, using warehouses of sleeves without concern for customer experience in the physical space could hold thousands of films, and they could even send films from other warehouses in other parts of the country. It wasn't the whole of cinema history, but it was far larger than what Blockbuster could offer. Each film wasn't fighting over retail space, but warehouse space, and that's a much cheaper fight.

What other competitors were there at the time? There was what retailers could house, but that was almost exclusively just new releases. Libraries? Those were probably the best competitors, but even now I find that the knowledge of the populace of the selection from libraries to be thin, though the selections are actually quite decent (the library system in my hometown of Charleston, SC does its own small interlibrary loan program, transporting materials across libraries within the system all the time). And, that was about it. Netflix DVD exploded in popularity for a time, though its big selling point in advertisement wasn't about the size of the library but no late fees.

Eh. I'm used to having my own reasons for liking things.

Transitional Model

I don't know if the Netflix team knew they were building something transitional when they started the mail service, planning a streaming service years before they proposed one to the public, but that's what happened. I remembered not really knowing what to make of streaming at the time, being cautious about major predictions because I simply didn't know how technology would advance to the point where streaming was widely adopted. Well, that played out as we all know with Netflix being the first major player in the space followed by the increasing competition from other players, escalating to the point we have now where there are several major players all competing for a space of questionable financial merit. (I've long thought streaming as practiced now is a giant money pit, and recent moves by the biggest players, cutting costs and writing off major investments, have provided evidence that I may be correct.)

However, there's no denying the actual effect of streaming. At a minimum, it has completely replaced the rental model. Instead of renting individual films, people tend to subscribe to individual streaming channels where they make selections based on that library while, occasionally, renting or buying individual films through certain services like Amazon.

So, it was in that environment that Netflix, which had tried to spin off the DVD service as a separate corporate entity some years back, has decided that the DVD service is at an end. I knew that its days were numbered, but I assumed that it would limp along quietly for a couple more years, at least. Instead, they decided to shutter the doors in September. It doesn't seem logical to feel anything about this, almost everything that Netflix could offer being available online in one form or another, but I'd be lying if I said that, even though my viewing habits have changed in the past twenty years, that I don't think I'll miss the random delivery of random films in my mailbox. It took the guesswork out of what I was going to watch, and it introduced me to so much.

A Quick Request

For those kind enough to have purchased my book, please consider leaving ratings and reviews at the retailer or Goodreads. They really help. Thanks!

Movies of Today

Opening in Theaters:

Mission Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part 1

Movies I Saw This Fortnight:

These Three (Rating 4/4) Full Review "This feels like Wyler finally getting to a place where he could make the movies he felt were closest to him in some way." [Amazon Prime]

Dodsworth (Rating 4/4) Full Review "If I were his contemporary, I'd anxiously anticipate every single film he put out. As a man living decades after Wyler's death, I get the joy of having all of his films to watch all at once, and I'm really, really enjoying it." [Amazon Prime]

Jezebel (Rating 3/4) Full Review "I can easily imagine in lesser hands than Wyler both of them kind of just falling apart, but Wyler kept them together and created solid entertainments out of them both." [Max]

The Letter (Rating 4/4) Full Review "It's a ripper of a noir." [Max]

The Heiress (Rating 4/4) Full Review "Really, this might be Wyler's best film." [Library]

Roman Holiday (Rating 4/4) Full Review "That it lost to From Here to Eternity for Best Picture makes sense since the Academy likes to award dramas over comedies, but I would have probably voted for Roman Holiday." [Personal Collection]

The Children's Hour (Rating 4/4) Full Review "The Children's Hour is great, using its added wrinkles of accusations of lesbianism to the full hilt to give greater depth to what's going on." [Hoopla]

The Collector (Rating 3.5/4) Full Review "Anchored and entirely carried by two fine performances from two fine, young, English actors, The Collector is a solidly good and tense time at the movies." [Library]


Email any suggestions or questions to thejamesmadison.aos at symbol gmail dot com.
I've also archived all the old posts here, by request. I'll add new posts a week after they originally post at the HQ.

My next post will be on 8/5, and it will talk about the directing career of William Wyler.

digg this
posted by Open Blogger at 07:45 PM

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