Monday, November 14, 2016

Thunder-"Struck"? Or Just Aww-"Struck"?

A brief shoutout this week to the newest struggling major-player in the Streaming Subscription-verse--
Filmstruck, a new service that debuted on Oct. 19, finally made its peace toward being a professional service this past week, by officially cutting their old exclusive ties with HuluPlus.  It's now a new monthly subscription-streaming film service on its own, picked up by the doctor and slapped on its hinder, and ready to be cord-cutting viewers' latest monthly a la carte television substitute.
(The mission statement by co-partner Criterion:   FilmStruck launches October 19,

I'm not paid to promote it, in fact, I'm still the grudging skeptic who thinks it's not quite what it's cracking itself up to be yet, until all the kinks are ironed out...BUT, knowing where it comes from, I'm still willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, and push that doubt on others.  The service is still a desktop/tablet service, although in their rush to bring the service, better apps for the living room are still in development--We're promised AppleTV in December, and Roku boxes, Chromecast and X-Box/Playstation game-console streaming apps "early in '17".

For all of a lot of misleadingly gratuitously-snooty "mission" press about "Bringing independent films to the public" (we're already drowning up to our online eyeballs in "independent films", thank you, and not good ones, now that the studios have taken the mainstream films away from Netflix and Amazon Prime), we're getting this for a much more simple and realistic reason:
Criterion and HuluPlus used to have a partnership, back when Hulu Non-Plussed was still a struggling, mostly public-domain streaming service, and was grateful for some actual exclusive deal (in addition to a short-lived deal for Miramax films) that would give them some competition with the Instant Netflix titan.  Well, that was then--Hulu is now its own corporate giant, has since folded its modest old free-with-ads desktop roots to become a nation's Network-Rerun Binge-Addiction on Roku's and smart-TV's, and partnerships are a little more of a serious negotation.
Turner Classic Movies tried to branch out its own streaming service, but like most private channel-streaming, eg. HBO or Disney Channel, never got past a few desktop/streaming apps, and still required a premium-cable subscription to the network...Which was becoming more of a defeated purpose now that viewers were using streaming as an excuse to drop their cable services.  The new mission was to partner the two streaming orphans to create a TCM and Criterion service, although the "and" is still a bit forthcoming in the works.

Current new subscribers are offered a choice between monthly streaming the "Filmstruck Collection" at $6.99/mo., or an upgraded "The Criterion Channel", including Criterion's collection of rare classics and Janus foreign films, for $10.99/mo.  
At the moment, I don't quite know what the difference between the two is, as TCM won't be involving itself for another few months (until it can fold its own service)--And apart from a few rare inexplicably random films that used to play Hulu's otherwise-empty Movie page, and might or might not show up on Criterion's label next year (Mad Max?  Shakespeare in Love?  On a Clear Day You Can See Forever?) much of Filmstruck's catalog as we speak seems to be just a more limited selection of what's already on the Criterion Channel page.  If that's what you get for your ten bucks, well, that's as much as most already pay monthly for Netflix, and I can GUARANTEE you'll find more actual vintage movies.
Those with a shelf of Blu-rays already know the Criterion name, and buying a Criterion disk to some fans was like buying a rare wine bottle at auction, whether you'd ever drunk that vintage or not.  Those who don't know, oh, come out from hiding under the bed, it's not all Ingmar Bergman and Max Von Sydow grim-reapers playing chess.  (Although they do have a bad habit of forcing "The Seventh Seal" down our throats.)  Criterion's mission is to create a sort of "in-home film school", with all the titles your professor might make you write end-of-term essays upon, and takes a wide intuitive sweep of what films meet that bit of history--We get almost the entire filmographies of Bergman, Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa available, right next to David Cronenberg's "Scanners" and "The Brood", the comedies of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, "Time Bandits", "Gimme Shelter", and even the Beatles running through the train station in "A Hard Day's Night".  If it's classic--and more accurately, if it's had an arthouse restoration in the last twenty years--it's probably on Criterion disk.  

Just to go off on a nostalgic side note:  When I was in college, movie study WASN'T in the home.  If you (like me) took a semester of film at NYU or Boston's Emerson College, it was like signing on to some mad-monk discipline, and because you were mad and monkish enough to do it--They didn't give you a syllabus of DVD's, or even VHS tapes, to look up at the college library, for the simple reason that they couldn't back then.  It was the early 80's, and if you had to watch a film for that week's lesson, you sat in an audience every Tuesday and Friday and watched it in a theater.  Fortunately, the college had its own private screening-room theater to watch it in...That was the cool part.  (Oh, you chose a Friday-afternoon class, if you could help it.)
Remember when you were in sixth grade, and the substitute teacher just turned out the lights and put on a video instead?  That wasn't a class, that was a reprieve period that you sighed relief that you got to blow off.  To go to a film class, you sat in the private campus screening room with your classmates (the newer big spiffy universities would have their own big stadium-seated theater, but small enough to be private; the one we had at Emerson was an old Boston-antique room on the third floor fitted for old wooden theater-seats), and watched a big movie screen on the wall, where film would be projected.  Yeah, watching movies for our credits, we thought, we're doing something right--And some of us had actually taken the major or minor not to be lazy about it.  We knew we'd be there to watch the WHOLE movie, no switching the channel or bathroom breaks, because it was a movie...And as such, we were all conscious we'd have to watch Dr. Strangelove or Mean Streets or La Strada knowing we smart cool people would asked to analyze it later for what the professor would insist we learn from it.  Ohh, sure, sure, we'll be analyzing it, but right now, we're having fun being a room full of Smart Movie People, with no disrespectful cellphone idiots who don't understand the true faith.  It became a sort of collective attempt to see who could foster a better hive-mind sense of Movie Smartness.
I haven't been back to film college since then, so I don't know if the technology is still there since the DVD and video projector, but it installed in me the last great generation of  the Cool Audience:  If you're going to watch an old movie right, watch it in the dark holy padded-seat temple with thirty or forty other people who are there to improve themselves with it.

Of course, that was then.  Like the Millennials say, we had to.
Nowadays, Film Study has pretty much become a correspondence-course:  You take your disk home and watch it, and write your essay later.
If that's the field we play on now--and if streaming makes the school syllabus as available in the home as Blu-ray disk does (not a replacement, just a free sample!)--it doesn't make it any less of an in-home course.  I know I'm probably losing a few people here by saying "Try an in-home study course in the classics!" by making it sound like online Phoenix University, but it's really a lot more fun than that.  It's still movies, after all.  You're still in one big, big campus screening-room theater, just that you can't see the other people in the audience.
If you see a classic-movie press photo for Filmstruck's Criterion movies, there's a 2 out of 3 chance it'll be from either A Hard Day's Night or The Seven Samurai...Well, there's a reason for that:
Some classics aren't just classics, they're also GOOD--And they'll leave you a lot more energized in your seat than trying to punish yourself binging the third season of Daredevil.  If you've ever met a foreign-movie buff who tried to get you to watch Da Classics, he's probably tried to sell you on at least one Kurosawa film to start off with.  You have only one viewing of Samurai, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Throne of Blood (the Shakespeare one) or The Hidden Fortress (yes, "the Star Wars one") to convince yourself that other countries with other cultures and histories knew how to make "real" genre movies--yes, with action, not just standing around to make arcane visual symbolism--fifty or sixty years ago, the same as we did in commercial Hollywood...Just that they were there, and you were here, and you probably didn't find out, is all.
And we already mentioned a few months ago, even a Silent or two, courtesy of Chaplin, Lloyd or Fritz Lang won't hurt either.

Cutting the Cable Cord can be a handful of monthly streaming subscriptions, and even if having only two or three (and being able to drop the services you don't watch) can be too many, at least you get some actual CHOICE for your "New online revolution of choices".  You can watch a film people before you have heard of, or you can chat online about how a season binge of Stranger Things is the coolest thing on Netflix right now, just because it's the only thing you can find on Netflix right now...Your call.
Education begins with curiosity.

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