When I started working in streaming in the late 90’s I was always met with the term “Content Is King”. I thought a lot about that term and began to slowly understand that this term was really misleading. What they really meant to say is that quantity is king when it comes to streaming. In 2001 I started doing tests for studios and managed to get the rights to get releases from the top 4 studios at the time. I spent a lot of time preparing “Terminator”, ‘Starship Troopers” and “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” for what I thought was an interesting bundle of offerings. I flipped the switch and then waited for the money to come in.
Crickets, nothing, nada, zip. Oh, movies were being watched all right, B movies and exploitation cinema were being consumed by the pound, but studio movies did nothing. I thought about this and thought about it hard. To be honest this has been the pattern from the advent of video streaming. Movies are released on stream, there is a short burst of activity, then it goes into full decline. Episodes of “Friends” is the number one offering, repeat viewing in half-hour bites of six awkward newly minted adult pals making their way in life in the Big Apple. For streaming, binge-watching is what is happening. Nothing really is thought about, nothing is being reflected on and nothing is being savored.
In a Harper’s Bazaar article Martin Scorsese did on that cinematic master Frederico Fellini he spoke out rather loudly on the diminishing of the term “Cinema”. There was a plaintive quality to Scorsese’s words, much like a call to a family member announcing that a loved one’s last days were upon them.
From the Scorsese Harper’s Bazaar article, “Those of us who know the cinema and its history have to share our love and our knowledge with as many people as possible. And we have to make it crystal clear to the current legal owners of these films that they amount to much, much more than a mere property to be exploited and then locked away. They are among the greatest treasures of our culture, and they must be treated accordingly.”
I agree and I believe the tradition of Cinema must be rebuilt. These movies must take back their rightful place on the large screens of movie theaters.
I am so very lucky that in my life I got to sit in arthouses and watch Truffaut, Fellini, Herzog, Anderson, Kubrick, Micklin-Silver, Varda, Kurosawa, and Ozu. The wall of these usually small theaters oozed cinema and in many ways, it was like going to church. There was a sacredness to the experience that unfolded on a simple screen. There was a presentation of a cultural banquet laid before the view, an expression of emotion and differing perspectives. It was joyous and it brought Cinema in its many manifestations as a major topic of conversation in our society at the time.
With the advent of VHS and DVD, Cinema began to be relegated to shelves in a dark part of the video store. When the rental chains took over, Cinema diminished further. The rise of the accountant and MBA began and the arthouses quickly retreated and went away. It’s not that these movies were less important nor did they cease being Cinematic, they just were harder to sell to a mass audience so as a result, these chains stopped trying to rent them. These movies retreated to the borders of their own country and we as moviegoers were being denied Cinema on an increasing level.
One of the last movies to create a wave of enthusiasm in the decreasing number of arthouses, was the 1991 Italian comedy Mediterraneo. On a small Greek Island sitting in the middle of the Aegean Sea during World War II, an Italian ship leaves a handful of soldiers to defend it. Their mission is to spot enemy ships and to hold the island in case of attack. The ship is destroyed as it makes its exit and in a flash, its connection to the outside world is destroyed. The soldiers initially believe that the island is deserted. However, they discover that the islanders have been in hiding, and the soldiers, winning the trust of the locals, gradually become part of the community. As the Italians ease into an idyllic existence, they begin to forget about war and pursue a life in the blue waters of the Aegean. The war ends, the Italians are forced to leave the island and have to retreat back to reality. The movie ends with the following title. “Dedicated to all those who are running away”. For me walking into a movie theater is an escape, a release from the everyday.
When you go see a movie like “Mediterraneo” it is like having a good steak at a good steakhouse. The ambiance, tone, the mood makes it easy to escape into Cinema. If you watch a movie like “Mediterraneo” on a streaming service, it is the equivalent of getting a steak from a vending machine. The experience to say the least is different and the experience is not cinematic. Movies are meant for theaters, period.
Streaming, to continue on with the food metaphors, is the equivalent of eating a bowl of potato chips, they are tasty, salty, not particularly good for you and they are gone quickly. Movies cease to be movies once they are on streaming, they become content, salty, crusty without any meaning or lasting impact. Content that you buy and sell by the pound just like you buy lawn mulch. It has to be cheap and lots of it.
The impact of streamed content does not linger, the digital shell just tries to get you to watch the next diluted visual story. Netflix can notice that I just watched “Lawrence of Arabia” and strongly suggest that what I really want to see now is “Bridesmaids 2”. It’s not Cinema and it’s not movies, it’s content. Content is a commodity sold by the pound. Content where “Jules et Jim” that Cinematic Miracle by Truffaut is marketed in the same manner as “Girls Gone Wild 3”. It is a dump bin in the middle of a digital Walmart. It’s so very bad.
I want to share moments in the form of trailers from Cinema that I experienced that had a deep impact on me. I am hoping it will remind you about the most powerful of art forms, Cinema. Thanks, Martin, I agree totally. Content is not King, Cinema is King, and content is merely a dull presentation of filler.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARlSVnAiX00 La Dolce Vita
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1q_UjzM3cI The Seven Samurai
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRz_3pok1Og O Lucky Man
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJDuicFyJPg Aquirre The Wrath Of God
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5IAYIUKTaI Jules Et Jim
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3eZU4GOfM8 Man And A Women
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TutHOuROOR4 Gregory’s Girl