To stream, or not to stream, that is the question!
I recently started listening to the podcast Operation Kino. I really dug the podcast, but after listening to only a few episodes the hosts decided to change things up and rebrand themselves as Fighting In The War Room. One of the last episodes of Operation Kino I listened to had a discussion about the landscape of online streaming. This is a topic that has been brought up on a number of podcasts I listen to lately, and what the folks at Operation Kino had to say was the straw that broke the camel’s back I suppose. I’m hoping that what I write doesn’t sound like I’m singling them out in a negative way, because I do really respect and appreciate what the good folks at Operation Kino, or Fighting In The War Room if you will, are doing.
While I usually think of David Ehrlich and Matt Patches (I’m leaving the other hosts of Operation Kino, Katey Rich and Da7e Gonzales, out of this article as they did not take the side of their compatriots) as very knowledgeable and thoughtful critics, I had trouble stomaching their tirade during this episode. Their argument was that online streaming is a wasteland where there are absolutely no quality titles worth watching, especially classic films.
I’m a big streaming guy myself, and view it as a valuable addition to any cinephile’s life. My initial reaction was to dismiss Misters Ehrlich and Patches opinion and regard it as ignorant. However, to do so would constitute being ignorant myself. Instead I decided to do some quick research and then launch into an argument based on said research.
Of note is that I’m not using all streaming services for this article. I’ve been told that Fandor, Mubi, Warner Archive Instant, Watch TCM, and a few other On Demand or streaming services have great selections, but I don’t have access to them. I decided to restrict my article to the streaming services I can access on my PS3, and to restrict myself even further to the two streaming services targeted during the episode. That means I’ll only be looking at films streaming from Amazon Instant and Netflix Instant. Redbox Instant, Hulu Plus, and Crackle are also available on my PS3, but the hosts didn’t acknowledge Crackle or Redbox Instant. They did mention Hulu Plus, but only briefly in saying they had a good selection thanks to their partnership with The Criterion Collection.
I’m also limiting myself to films that come with a subscription, not one day rentals or films you have to buy on an individual basis. I’m keeping my search time in the five to seven minute range. Also, since the hosts vehemently ranted about pre-1950s films and documentaries, I’ll only be including those titles in the lists below.
With those caveats in place, here’s a quick breakdown of some titles available from these services
A Farewell To Arms (1932, Frank Borzage)
Judge Priest (1934, John Ford)
Stage Door Canteen (1943, Frank Borzage)
Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh, 1924, F.W. Murnau)
L’Age D’Or (1930, Luis Buñuel)
Cabiria (1914, Giovanni Pastrone)
Wings (1927, Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast & William A. Wellman)
The Navigator (1924, Donald Crisp & Buster Keaton)
Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)
Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)
The Philadelphia Story (1940, George Cukor)
My Man Godfrey (1936, Gregory La Cava)
His Girl Friday (1940, Howard Hawks)
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939, Frank Capra)
Metropolis (1927, Fritz Lang)
A Night At The Opera (1935, Edmund Goulding & Sam Wood)
Die Puppe (The Doll, 1919, Ernst Lubitsch)
A Star Is Born (1937, Jack Conway & William A. Wellman)
Asphalt (1929, Joe May)
Drums Along The Mohawk (1939, John Ford)
The General (1926, Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton)
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928, Buster Keaton & Charles Reisner)
Harakiri (1919, Fritz Lang)
Faust – Eine Deutsche Volkssage (Faust, 1926, F.W. Murnau)
Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens (Nosferatu, 1922, F.W. Murnau)
Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder)
Duck Soup (1933, Leo McCarey)
The Lady Vanishes (1938, Alfred Hitchcock)
The Naked City (1948, Jules Dassin)
Bride Of Frankenstein (1935, James Whale)
Sherlock Jr. (1924, Buster Keaton)
Call Northside 777 (1948, Henry Hathaway)
A Night In Casablanca (1946, Archie Mayo)
Tell Your Children (Reefer Madness, 1936, Louis J. Gasnier)
The Mummy (1932, Karl Freund)
The Wolf Man (1951, George Waggner)
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947, Elia Kazan)
Raw Deal (1948, Anthony Mann)
All About Eve (1950, Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
She Done Him Wrong (1933, Lowell Sherman)
Of Human Bondage (1934, John Crowemwell)
Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel, 1930, Josef von Sternberg)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939, John Ford)
I Was A Male War Bride (1949, Howard Hawks)
Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout The Ages (1916, D.W. Griffith)
Stachka (1925, Strike, Sergei M. Eisenstein)
Frau Im Mond (Woman In The Moon, 1929, Fritz Lang)
Go West (1925, Buster Keaton)
Zemlya (Earth, 1930, Aleksandr Dovzhenko)
Orlacs Hände (The Hands of Orlac, 1924, Robert Wiene)
Room 237 (2012, Rodney Ascher)
Burn (2012, Tom Putnam & Brenna Sanchez)
A Band Called Death (2012, Mark Christopher Covino & Jeff Howlett)
We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks (2013, Alex Gibney)
Best Worst Movie (2009, Michael Stephenson)
Jiro Dreams Of Sushi (2011, David Gelb)
Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010, Banksy)
Restrepo (2010, Tim Hetherington & Sebastien Junger)
The Queen Of Versailles (2012, Lauren Greenfield)
Shut Up And Play the Hits (2012, Will Lovelace & Dylan Southern)
After Porn Ends (2010, Bryce Wagoner)
The Thin Blue Line (1988, Errol Morris)
Senna (2010, Asif Kapadia)
Religulous (2008, Larry Charles)
Bill Cunningham New York (2010, Richard Press)
Baseball (1994, Ken Burns & Lynn Novick)
How To Survive A Plague (2012, David France)
Marwencol (2010, Jeff Malmberg)
Bridegroom (2013, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason)
Seven Up! (1964, Paul Almond)
Into The Abyss (2011, Werner Herzog)
In Film Nist (This is Not a Film, 2011, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb & Jafar Panahi)
Undefeated (2011, Daniel Lindsay & T.J. Martin)
Style Wars (1983, Henry Chalfant & Tony Silver)
Hoop Dreams (1994, Steve James)
I limited myself to twenty five titles per list, and obviously the quality of these films is all subjective. Some of them I have seen and do think are great or at least of a higher quality. Others I haven’t seen, but they come with a reputation of being must see or great motion pictures. However, with the amount available to stream on either Amazon Instant or Netflix Instant I feel like subjective quality isn’t a factor that matters as far as the films I chose.
It’s important to put these lists into context. Without context they are nothing but lists, and lists don’t really tell us much. With that in mind I’m going to use some paraphrased quotes (sorry peeps, I don’t have the time or the inclination to sit down and transcribe a podcast conversation) to hit home some points about my conclusions.
“There’s nothing out there, Netflix is a shit hole, there’s nothing out there. Amazon Prime is a shithole with nothing out there.”
“Netflix has nothing made before 1950.”
That’s first quote is how Matt Patches began his rant against the selections available on streaming sites. I think the fifty, seventy five if one counts the documentaries, films I’ve provided show this not to be the case. Now, keep in mind that I limited myself to titles from before 1950 and only gave myself around five minutes to seek out titles to “watch.” Remove those restrictions and I have no qualms saying that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of quality titles available to watch streaming on either Amazon Instant or Netflix Instant.
The second quote is from when David Ehrlich decided to join the conversation. Seeing as I limited myself to only titles (at least in the two non-documentary lists) that were pre-1950 there’s absolutely no way I can agree with Mr. Ehrlich’s statement. There were plenty of great pre-1950 titles I left off both lists. There aren’t as many pre-1950 titles as there are modern titles, I’ll give Mr. Ehrlich that much. However, on the whole I never have a problem finding a great pre-1950s title to watch when I’m perusing either of these two streaming services.
“There are no movies on Netflix. There are a lot of documentaries, but there are no great documentaries, it’s all shit documentaries.”
Mr. Patches was very adamant about this point, accusing Netflix Instant of only carrying documentaries like Super High Me. I haven’t seen that documentary, so I can’t vouch for its quality. I have seen most of the documentaries on my list, and the ones I haven’t generally carry a reputation for being great. That’s twenty five high quality documentaries, and again there were plenty more I left off of the list. I used to be very anti-documentary, I was a Neanderthal who couldn’t appreciate the form and style of a documentary. Watching documentaries on Netflix Instant helped to change my regressive opinions about documentaries. Browsing through the documentary section on Netflix Instant I kept finding interesting titles to check out in the future, on this front I call shenanigans on Mr. Patches’ opinion.
“Can never find anything good, it takes a lot of digging.”
“Spent an hour and a half on Netflix Instant trying to watch a good classic film, and I just went home.”
The first statement is from Mr. Patches, while the second comes from Mr. Ehrlich. I wonder in this case if the two are confusing the typical cinephile problem of not being able to decide what to watch with not actually being able to find anything to watch. Maybe they aren’t, but I know that in about fifteen to twenty minutes I was able to find seventy five titles to either check out for the first time or grant a rewatch to. It didn’t take much digging on my part, I actually had to delete movies from all three lists to keep them at a manageable number. There’s plenty to watch on either Amazon Instant or Netflix Instant, classic, modern, documentary, or otherwise.
“Based on expectations set… Netflix sells itself as a repository of cinema… I feel lied to and betrayed because it’s not that… Obviously you can find some good movies, but it’s not where their interests are.”
The above collection of quotes is supplied by David Ehrlich, and this is where I find myself in agreement with him. I’ve had this conversation often, and yes, I do find Netflix Instant disappointing as an all-encompassing streaming service. I don’t believe they are there yet, and that’s why it irks me when Netflix proper talks about eliminating their disc rental service. This doesn’t translate their streaming service into being a wasteland where no quality titles can be found. The content is pretty darn good, but were Netflix Instant to be all that Netflix chose to offer their selection wouldn’t pass muster.
The broader point of the conversation on Operation Kino was that of steaming services versus video stores in light of the recent closing of all non-franchise Blockbuster’s. I do believe there is still extreme value to be found in the video store. I frequent my local Family Video, and if there were a small, independent video store near me I would frequent that as well. We don’t need one at the defamation of the other, that’s where my main issue with the thoughts of Misters Ehrlich and Patches presents itself. The old Blockbuster that I used to go to in no way has the variety of movies to watch as I can find on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, or Crackle. This is a situation where both hands can adequately feed the consumer. Video stores and streaming can coexist and work together to provide the cinephile with the most possible films to experience.
There isn’t one central repository for streaming movies, and that is sad. I would love for there to be a day where Fandor, Mubi, Crackle, Warner Archives Instant, Redbox Instant, and any other streaming services were merged into one service that could provide for all of my cinephile needs. That day has not yet arrived, and due to the nature of the film industry will most likely never come to fruition. In the meantime the myriad of streaming services are providing plenty of quality films for cinephiles to devour.
I really did enjoy Operation Kino, and am really enjoying Fighting In The War Room. Matt Patches and David Ehrlich are two critics, and cinephile minds, who I do view as voices worth seeking out. That being said, I find them in the wrong when it comes to their idea of streaming services as a giant wasteland. To call streaming services a wasteland is the worst kind of hyperbole, and does a great disservice to those of us who listen to, and value, the opinions of Misters Ehrlich and Patches.
I think the idea that streaming services lack good content is silly. It seems like people get angry if something in particular isn’t available and connect it to nothing good being out there. I don’t stream movies that often (I still pick up DVDs from my local library most often), but that’s as much a habit if anything. I also sometimes find Netflix and Amazon to be buggy, and nothing’s worse than having a movie stop working after watching it for an hour. Also, I don’t have as much time to watch movies if I’d like, so maybe I’d find there to be more limitations if I was watching a bunch of movies from Netflix each week. That isn’t really the case at this point.
I watch a bunch off of Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, and Crackle as well at this point. I also still rent from our local video store, and use Netflix’s disc service. I’ve considered giving Redbox a go, and if my library carried anything other than VHS I’d use them as well.
With that being the case I can say that there is decidedly not a limitation factor even while using the streaming services a lot. Heck, my DVD queue for Netflix currently has something like 75 titles in it that are available to stream through some subscription site or another. The content is present in the streaming landscape, even if one uses said services frequently.
I’m also generally a fan of streaming, so much so that I don’t even have regular TV service, instead I have both my bluray player and computer hooked up to my HDTV complete with wireless keyboard and mouse for nice comfy chair computer surfing.
I also would love to see an all encompassing streaming service to include the biggest bang for your buck as far as watching movies goes, because if you can only afford to choose one of the paid subscription services, you can’t always get what you want to watch. And of course there’s also the less talked about option of unofficial streaming services which are free, but often include overly-intrusive ads and have varying quality, and that does include movies that are available on YouTube which haven’t been hit by a copyright takedown notice.
The all-encompassing streaming service is the dream. It would be a glorious thing, but alas I think it’s more of a dream than an attainable reality. As it stands I use every method I can to find films to watch, but it would be nice if it were easier.
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