Sunday, March 27, 2011

Netflix Streaming

I recently traveled to New Orleans to attend the annual conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) for the first time. It was a great thrill to meet and have conversations with numerous scholars and critics I've only known through books and essays. In addition, I attended about 30 paper presentations, most of them fascinating. The conference was massive (up to 25 panels taking place simultaneously); I gravitated to the panels which focused on cinephilia, film style, sound and music, genres, and philosophy. The complete conference program is available at this page. The venue for next year's conference is Boston; I'm looking forward to returning.


* * *

Dave Kehr has a very interesting piece in the New York Times on the rise of streaming and the decline of the DVD. He refers to a post by Eric A. Taub at the Times' Gadgetwise blog, which reports on the less-than-desirable quality of Netflix streaming. My own experience often corroborates this: I've found Netflix streaming to be of variable, and frequently sub-DVD quality. Occasionally I'll encounter a title of superb quality (a recent example: Mad Max), but just as frequently the films seem to suffer from compression-related quality loss. For the record, I almost never have "buffering" issues, and no other devices are using bandwidth in my home when I'm streaming a film on the TV.

I'd love to know what others think of Netflix streaming: Do you find it to be of good quality? Would you say that your Netflix streaming experience is comparable to DVD? I'm curious to know if streaming quality issues are widespread or if they only affect a certain section of the Netflix population. I've also been keeping an eye on the Hacking Netflix blog to see if these issues get taken up there.


* * *

A few links to recent reading:

-- Great news: the first issue of Lumen, a new journal founded by Edwin Mak and Matthew Flanagan.

-- A terrific interview by Michael Guillen: "The Politics and Poetics of Obsolescence: Brunch With Thomas Elsaesser."

-- (via Cinetrix) Each post on the blog Movies in Frames contains 4 frames from a film.

-- Jonathan Rosenbaum: On Jean Renoir; and Mark Rappaport.

-- At The Guardian: "Asha Bhosle: The Voice of Bollywood".

-- At Sight & Sound, three women film critics share their inspirations; and Hannah Gill wonders about why film criticism is a male-dominated profession.

-- David Hudson rounds up the new issues of Cinema Scope, Cineaste, Film Comment, and Offscreen.

-- Michael Sicinski's essay on Kiarostami's Certified Copy.

-- Scott Foundas on Serge Bozon and other contemporary filmmakers who started out as critics on La Lettre du cinéma.

-- Amy Taubin interviews Todd Haynes on Mildred Pierce.

-- At Cinema Scope Online: Max Goldberg interviews Nathaniel Dorsky.

-- At 99%: An interview with the Brothers Dardenne.

-- The 2011 World Picture conference will be held in Toronto.

pic: Film critic Dilys Powell

34 Comments:

Blogger Just Another Film Buff said...

Ah, Girish.

I'm always circumspect about streaming, given the abysmal connectivity here in India (It's not the case with all ISPs and areas).

Having said that, I find MUBI irresistible, both in terms of cost and streaming ease. Hope they include more a-g and unavailable-on-DVD stuff there (absurd request?).

I see that you were a respondent (what does that mean?) to the session which Adrian Martin chaired. That sounds pretty cool, like the topics there.

Cheers!

March 27, 2011 2:10 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I've found Netflix streaming to be very inconsistent in terms of print quality (and source: Blake Edwards' "Gunn" had titles in French). George Cukor's "Justine" must of fair quality, but it wasn't letter-boxed, while an old recording of "National Lampoon's 'Lemmings" appeared to be taken from a (very worn) VHS tape. My son also pointed out that several episodes of "Mystery Science Theatre" are mislabeled.

March 27, 2011 2:12 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I should also add that I'd make more use of Netflix streaming on my computer, but it doesn't work with Linux or Ubuntu systems and they don't seem to be trying to change that.

March 27, 2011 2:14 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

As you might have noticed from some of my Facebook postings, I have been making more frequent use of Netflix Streaming. That said, I take advantage of seeing some films I might not see otherwise, and for films that simply function for my own amusement. The quality of the image is usually adequate. For something like Savage Innocents, you would be better off getting the Masters of Cinema DVD. On the other hand, it was a kick to finally see Jean Negulesco's Jessica and Roger Corman's Gunslinger. Also, I was pleased that the Thai martial arts movie, Power Kids was wide screen and subtitled.

March 27, 2011 3:21 PM  
Anonymous Tucker said...

Girish, I find Netflix streaming to be almost okay. I love the possibilities of the technology, but quality varies greatly. I've had a number of films play only a few minutes and then just stop. I will try several times to replay them and they will stop each time at the same place. When I raise the issue with Netflix their response has generally been to merely remove the film from streaming. Also, many films seem to be cmpressed too much and quaity suffers. On the other hand, I just recently watched Bergman's Persona and the picture was wonderfully clear and brilliant.

If I am just browsing for a film I will begin with the HD selections first. Qualtiy also seems to be affected by time of day and week - more users of the service degrades the quality because of the load on the system (I am just guessing here). I have also had the issue with Netflix streaming not being available for Linux, though now I am back to Windows.

I must say that Netflix has a good number of kids films & cartoons which allow us to regulate our kid's vegetative states with more control.

March 27, 2011 4:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Srikanth, being a "respondent" involved making a 10-minute (or so) presentation that was a response to the three papers on the panel--drawing links between the papers, pointing out contrasts, suggesting some ideas. The films discussed by the papers in the panel included the Austrian film LA PIVELLINA, Kaurismaki's THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST and Kiarostami's TEN. I had never been a "respondent" at a conference before but it turned out to be a fun experience.

Robert, Peter, Tucker, I'm glad to hear that I wasn't completely alone on this issue of spotty quality and compressed video! Robert, I too watched GUNN--and its unusual French credits. To add to Peter's list of films we're not able to see otherwise, let me add Oliveira's OPORTO OF MY CHILDHOOD and Abel Ferrara's CHELSEA ON THE OCKS documentary. There are also a lot of classic Hollywood films on streaming-only (rare Nick Ray, Sam Fuller, etc) that I've queued up to watch. Tucker, with MAD MAX I had a similar experience to the one you had with PERSONA.

March 27, 2011 6:34 PM  
Blogger Jürgen said...

i thought that kehr piece was almost criminally misleading about streaming quality. here in nyc, with time warner cable internet and a wiredethernet connection to my ps3, the quality is almost always terrific - on a 40" TV. Generally superior to dvd, and in case of HD movies, often rivalling blu ray. Love it.

March 27, 2011 9:16 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Jürgen, that is most interesting. I have a 46-inch HDTV but only a wireless connection. It would appear that the Ethernet connection makes an enormous difference. I'm only puzzled by the fact that some films appear in excellent quality (and consistently so) while many others don't, which then leads me to doubt if the connection (wired/wireless) is at the core of my complaints (and those of others).

March 27, 2011 9:43 PM  
Blogger Joseph B. said...

While the image quality of Netflix's streaming service isn't always pristine, I'm overjoyed at the sheer fact that some long lost not on DVD titles have appeared there. The ability to actually see one of these films (quality print or not) is a revelatory experience if you ask me.

March 28, 2011 3:30 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I'm still catching up with the reading I missed when I was away in New York for spring break. Just discovered this interesting interview with Jonathan Rosenbaum by (once again) Michael Guillen.

March 28, 2011 9:22 AM  
Blogger Gareth said...

My experiences have generally been pretty good with the actual streaming: I watch them either directly on my computer, which is hooked up to the cable input, or on my TV using a wireless Roku device, and the quality is almost always excellent (sometimes amazingly so, as for, say, Assayas's Carlos mini-series, or Breaker Morant, which I watched again over the weekend).

The original prints for some films aren't great - I stopped watching a couple of Michael Curtiz films that were streamed from truly dreadful prints - but the streaming itself is fine.

We did upgrade our cable modem recently, and that created a major knock-on improvement for the wireless Roku viewing (as well as saving us the $5 monthly rental fee to the cable company, which we foolishly paid for far too long).

March 28, 2011 9:28 AM  
Anonymous Chuck Tryon said...

I stream occasionally, and for the most part, the visual quality is inferior to DVD. I generally stream straight to my TV via our Wii, so it's probably better than watching on a computer screen.

My research (presented at previous SCMSes and addressed in a number of recent blog posts) has looked at Netflix in terms of political economy, and my impression is that they may soon be supplanted by Hulu as a go-to site for film buffs, especially given the Hulu-Criterion deal. It will be interesting to see how some of these rights issues shake out, especially now that some TV channels (that almost seems like an archaic word), such as Showtime, are becoming more reluctant to sell content to Netflix for streaming purposes.

March 28, 2011 10:18 AM  
Anonymous Max Dawson said...

I've never had any problems with the quality of my Netflix streams on any of the wired or wireless devices I've used to watch instantly. I wonder, though, if and how Netflix's streaming quality will be impacted as its relationships with studios and ISPs grow more strained. The net neutrality crowd has fretted about Comcast throttling streaming video traffic that competes with XFinity and Hulu. It's still a real possibility. But I wouldn't be that surprised if in the future studios' deals with online video distributors (OVDs) contained stipulations about streaming quality. A studio could sign a deal awarding Netflix or another OVD the exclusive rights to "high quality" (however we're defining that term) streams of its releases. Or, it could reserve those rights for its (or the MPAA's) own distribution platform. Who knows - maybe release windows in the future will be tied to or even replaced by "video quality windows." I wouldn't be that surprised if studios began simultaneously releasing films in 1080p on premium on-demand, 720i on Netflix, 480p on YouTube, etc.

March 28, 2011 1:43 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

I've found the Netflix streaming to typically be below DVD quality, sometimes far below. The TV shows seems a bit sharper, but not always. I have had major buffering issues in the past, but it does seem to have improved recently.

March 28, 2011 3:21 PM  
Blogger Gareth said...

I love that picture of Dilys Powell from the S&S article: she's not well-known enough, with most of her work out of print.

When I was fourteen or fifteen I naively wrote to her - I read her columns each week - asking for information about a film she reviewed and instead of ignoring me she wrote me a letter and sent me a press pack about the film!

March 28, 2011 9:10 PM  
Blogger Gregory said...

I simply cannot quibble with the value of seeing previously non-existent titles like Red Line 7000, Burn, Witch, Burn!, Savage Innocents, China Gate, Moonrise, Hands of the Ripper, and My Son John.

This should never make one complacent when it comes to working toward the proper releases of these titles. (One commenter on Dave Kehr’s blog, for example, suggested that the availability of Phenix City Story on Netflix Streaming obviated the efforts to restore this title, which, of course, is absurd, as Eddie Muller duly indicated in the same thread.)

Granted, the aspect ratios are frequently wrong, the pan-and-scan is atrocious, the endings are often clipped, the run times are sometimes shorter than they should be, and compression makes an already-worn print even more indistinct. (Scenes in dark places often become various shades of black squares.) But home theaters with region-free, PAL-friendly devices for foreign releases, as well as purchases of costly imports and boutique DVDs as those produced by Criterion, involve a pricey outlay that many cannot afford; the relatively inexpensive monthly fee of Netflix and premium Hulu (since that is where Criterion has wound up), combined with a Roku device or an already-owned Playstation, tempt people who have less to spend, particularly since Netflix and Hulu have begun to offer more and more content. Waiting interminably for a theatrical revival of long-forgotten titles (if you are fortunate enough to live near a thriving film culture in an urban center or college town) is a sad purgatory for the cinephile and film student. Netflix may raise fees ultimately and become more and more indifferent to the presentation of content, but the treasures that emerge through sheer abundance, at least for the time being, justify the existence of the corporate movie monster with the blood-red envelopes.

Finally, if this sort of presentation does not threaten source prints or negatives or whatever provenance remains of the title, I do not abide by the principle of “Don’t Do It at All If You Can’t Do It Right.” It is my belief that the more time goes by without hide nor hair of a remarkable film like My Son John, the fewer people care to see it at all. Mystique does not drive restoration. Cults are made through some form of access, and they drive the demand to purify the experience. If we didn’t grow up watching truncated versions of Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, or Fleischer’s Popeye on television, we wouldn’t buzz for and demand more pristine versions on DVD.

Oddly enough, we should be glad that studios are, in many cases, merely regurgitating prints that were made years ago for VHS presentation; they are not messing with sources for a middling online medium with variable quality, while this, at the same time, might stimulate awareness of and excitement for a long-neglected title, thus facilitating future restoration.

March 29, 2011 5:07 PM  
Blogger girish said...

A fascinating Tumblr page of dozens of cinema stills, Itinéraire d'une ciné-fille. [via David Hudson]

March 29, 2011 5:15 PM  
Anonymous Omar said...

Hi Girish.

The emergence of VOD services like Netflix raises a number of interesting questions for film makers who are traditionally sidelined and pulverised by the behemoth that is Hollywood. Netflix is due to arrive in the UK very soon and I know from a recent Guardian article that it has taken a large share of the home video market traditionally dominated by DVD rental stores. America and many other countries seem to have faster broadband speeds whilst here in the UK we are lagging somewhat behind and this is probably why VOD has taken its time make an impact here. Whilst you ask the question about the quality of streaming, I think this is an important issue for audiences, but for those film makers who don’t have the means by which to secure a viable distribution deal, VOD and Netflix may become an effective way of finding an audience. I know in the UK British film maker Ken Loach released his latest film Route Irish as a multi platform release with the film appearing simultaneously on VOD services, the internet and in cinemas – all of this was done in an attempt to open as wide as possible and quickly turn a profit. I have streamed from MUBI and the quality is somewhat suspect but I do get the distinct impression that services like Netflix may be the death kneel for DVD’s which would be somewhat insane. However, I do believe VOD and streaming is the future in terms of opening up film and making it more of a participatory culture – it might just change the human condition in the way YouTube has done recently. It would definitely make a lot more hard to find films accessible to audiences and maybe even address the issue of elitism.

March 30, 2011 1:35 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Craig Keller (of the blog Cinemasparagus) tried posting this comment last night, but for some Blogger-related reason it didn't appear, so I'm posting it again:

"Commenter Gregory said: "Granted, the aspect ratios are frequently wrong, the pan-and-scan is atrocious, the endings are often clipped, the run times are sometimes shorter than they should be, and compression makes an already-worn print even more indistinct."

Well, sign me up!

A few words on Netflix Streaming, from my perspective:

--The UI ("user-interface") exemplifies "disaster" from a usability perspective. Which one must understand is a bit like: "this car sucks, from a transportation perspective."

--On the level of graphic design Netflix Streaming evokes sauntering into a fluorescent-lit McDonald's dining room at 9:58pm. It is utterly dehumanizing.

--The information provided for individual films is sparse at best.

--There's no indication provided of the source of the license or the prints. Moreover, they do not care.

--The "thumbnail artwork" Netflix often provides is slapdash, grotesque. The implications here vault beyond mere 'sensbility': If you were to watch a '30s Hitchcock film on the site, you wouldn't know whether you were cueing up a public-domain transfer or a remastered/restored version, released by Label-or-Studio X. It always been a mystery where these thumbnail pieces originate; Are they in-house Netflix artists? If so, one must ask whether the Netflix design team might be held responsible-in-influence for Four Loko, or Spanx.

--I would cite the instance of 'Red Line 7000' on the site. I haven't watched it yet (though I will when I find the time — this has always represented the giant Hawks-availability gap), but sight-unseen, the mind reels at what I'm going to be watching based on that thumbnail. Where did it come from? Was this really Warners? (Not a stretch, because as far as home video presentations go, how the might have fallen.) We could speak for 10,000 words about the thumbnail alone. What is that? What is the image? What is the font? It might have been plucked from some militia spin-off still poking around with a Geocities account. As such: How can one trust the actual presentation?

--And more broadly, why would you want to frequent 'an establishment' that has such little respect for its patrons? If you wouldn't in life, why would you when it comes to the places of ostensibly elevated sustenance ("movies")?

--Criterion have pulled all of their properties from Netflix. They are now available exclusively on Hulu Plus.

--That being said, I recently watched a work by a major auteur that I hadn't seen on Hulu, which is the only place on video it's presently available. No matter the quality of the print or the transfer, the compression was shockingly abysmal; film-bob in the gate translated to rectilinear shudders within a shot of a sharp, quasi-tectonic quality; any diagonal line in the frame was reduced to "jaggies," that phenomenon whereupon the image takes on the cubistic quality of a serrated survival-knife; compression-artifacts were so prevalent as to create a shifting jigsaw storm across any given shot. — Yes, I've finally 'seen' the film, if it can be called that — but to what end? What's saddest is it through the muck is seemed to be a major film by Artist X, possibly a masterpiece. But the presentation, the only available, is shameful. Sub-DVD? It's sub-VHS.

--Today Netflix announced that for Canadian customers they'd be cutting the data-quality of their streaming back by 33%. They promise "no significant loss in quality." Well, that really speaks to what the state of affairs presently is like.

There are all these editorials about "on-demand," but the infrastructure is simply not in place, and the licenses, the masters, represent a complete hodgepodge.

ck."

March 30, 2011 1:44 PM  
Blogger Gregory said...

To Craig: No doubt, Netflix is in streaming infancy (which sounds appropriately like a newborn soiling its diaper). But I still maintain that if only those privileged enough (with specialized technology or high-cost-of-living location) can access these films, then no one will care to preserve them in the future. (Not to mention my own pet peeve with regard to elite groups who secretly enjoy exclusivity; for the record, I don’t get that impression from anyone posting here.) I am looking at it strictly in terms of economic access; I would like to see people who are not part of our tiny cinephilic minority be able to see these treasures, even if the films themselves are temporarily compromised.

Furthermore, I don’t think Netflix’s corporate bottom line is going to ruin the future of online presentation. It can and will only improve, and this initial shot of interest, if it proves lucrative, will stir boutiques to follow suit with improved players and finer prints. Not to worry: we will have a Criterion of streaming in the near future, with all the precision and price that entails. My view is a long-run perspective, but I think it is the only viable way to look at it. And “long run” in the world of software technology often means a year or so.

But be careful what we pray for; another bittersweet scenario: studios who own the rights and negatives will begin to discover (as they already seem to be) that Netflix is a competitor, and they will withdraw rights and begin to offer their own streaming services. Cultivating their own archive (similar to on-demand DVD-Rs), studios will offer remarkable fidelity to each film’s original presentation. But guess what? The price will undoubtedly be much higher, and once again, we will close access to those with less disposable income.

As for thumbnails—with all due respect—Jimmy crack corn! : )

Thanks for your thoughtful post, Craig. Your points are well-taken, and in fact, I mostly agree with you.
Cheers…

(P.S. Maybe if Craig cut-and-past half his comment, preview it, and then edit it with the addition of the remainder of his comment, Blogger won’t deny it. That’s what I do, because I have had the same problem with longer comments.)

March 30, 2011 4:03 PM  
Blogger Darren said...

I think I mentioned this elsewhere (Facebook, maybe?), but my only complaint with Dave Kehr's article is that it overlooks some of the variables that go into making a good stream. There's no such thing as a "typical" experience with Netflix, for example, because sometimes the source is an HD transfer, sometimes it's whatever old video a studio had in its vault. Sometimes my wireless router is firing on all cylinders, sometimes it's painfully slow (maybe because my wife is watching videos on another computer in the house) so Netflix wisely downgrades the size of the stream in order to avoid buffering lags.

Craig's right that the Netflix user interface is crap, but I don't have too many complaints, otherwise. From my sitting position fifteen or so feet away from my 54" LED, I can't tell the difference between an HD stream and a Blu-ray. But we can't expect a film that has never been given a hi-def transfer to look that good. It's not the streaming technology's fault; it's the source.

Which leads to the bigger question: If streaming overtakes the physical media market entirely, and if we no longer have the equivalent of blu-ray players in our homes and stores, I'm not sure what financial incentive the studios would have to dig into their archives and create those all-important transfers. To me, the scariest part of Kehr's article was learning that only about a dozen Ford films are available on streaming services.

April 01, 2011 11:17 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren, I have the same fears you do! Every time we 'evolve' to a new format, lesser and lesser of the older work survives the transition. This was true from 35 mm to VHS, from VHS to DVD, and now (my fear is) from DVD to streaming. (It was also true for LP to CD.) I'm eyeing the FORD AT FOX box set (despite its $200 price tag) for this very reason. Paradoxically, I've been buying MORE DVDs in the last few months rather than less because their future being unclear to me, I want to have and hold on to the films I feel closest to and re-watch most often.

April 02, 2011 11:22 AM  
Blogger Steven Elworth said...

Girish, The Ford Box has been on sale for a lower price through secondary sellers at Amazon. That is how I got it and the Murnau Borzage box New when they first came out. I am suspicious of streaming for quality but happy with it to see the unseen.

April 02, 2011 2:15 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

My wife has a Netflix account, and sometimes I'll take advantage of Instant late at night, but I agree -- the quality is often abysmal, and pan-and-scans / dubs are surprisingly common.

For the most part, though, I use to it to watch a lot of direct-to-DVD nonsense (did you know America is enjoying a renaissance of low-budget prison movies?) where, oddly enough, the quality tends to be fairly high. So though I'd hate to, say, watch Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, I'm thankful for the opportunity to have seen Zombie Strippers (Jenna Jameson and Robert Englund in an adaptation of Ionesco's Rhinoceros!).

April 03, 2011 10:40 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I'm fairly new to Netflix streaming. I just got my first wifi Blu-ray player in January. One thing that has annoyed me on numerous occasions is finding a film only to discover the aspect ratio is wrong. I'm not just talking about full screen. There have been many times where a film that is 2:35:1 starts that way with the opening credits, then suddenly fills the screen when the film begins. Bugs me so much, I end up deleting it without even continuing.

April 03, 2011 10:53 AM  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

"But be careful what we pray for; another bittersweet scenario: studios who own the rights and negatives will begin to discover (as they already seem to be) that Netflix is a competitor, and they will withdraw rights and begin to offer their own streaming services."

This seems highly doubtful. I've talked at length with Eddie Muller about the studio situation, and he says that champions of film must be found in each studio to take on the work of even looking to see what they have. This part of their business model, if it is a part at all, is chump change and requires more effort than most studios think it's work. Let me hasten to add that the champions do exist and they are true heroes in the effort to restore and/or make available titles that are out of circulation. But they are part of larger conglomerates and can't always make happen what their hearts desire.

April 03, 2011 11:15 AM  
Anonymous Jake said...

How come there isn't a non-proift (or just pro-profit) organization devoted to making sure movies that would disappear with the transition of newer technology don't? Doesn't Scorsese have a foundation such as this?

April 03, 2011 3:54 PM  
Blogger Gregory said...

Marilyn: I don't think it's so doubtful, even if there are only one or two of those champions embedded in each studio. I agree that it must represent chump change to the CFOs, but on the other hand, why go to all the trouble of having burn-on-demand services (which seem to be catching on)? Certainly, presenting the same content with an online player would be far less expensive for the studios and more popular among the mildly curious fans who resist spending more than $15 on a film they haven't yet seen.

April 04, 2011 8:12 AM  
Blogger Gregory said...

Just a quick correction: I wrote above that Phenix City Story was the film being restored, when in fact it was The Sound of Fury.

April 06, 2011 1:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hello, all. Working up a new post; it should be up in the next day or so.

April 07, 2011 6:29 AM  
Blogger David Davidson said...

Girish, thanks for the kind words on my website.
Just so you know, in my monthly editorials, where I write about the film-related articles, is partly influenced by your blog, and, so are my post on Star film-critics. I think it offers a nice contrast. The programmers at my work, tiff, always talk about your blog, it is quite omnipresent.

April 07, 2011 10:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, David! I'm looking forward to following your blog.

April 10, 2011 1:36 PM  
Anonymous Thomas Zorthian said...

This is a link to a letter I sent Roger Ebert regarding Netflix Streaming. I see the issue I raised has been addressed in a couple of posts, but I thought some would find it interesting. As of this date you can hit the Letters link at Ebert's site to see this, but that will change. The direct link is http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110426/LETTERS/110429987

May 02, 2011 11:33 PM  
Blogger gcgiles said...

Thomas: You are absolutely right with regard to aspect ratios. Unqualified praise for streaming services on Netflix, Mubi, or Hulu ignores the relatively poor quality at this point in time (compared to DVD); it would seem that we are taking a step backward. However, with each epoch of home entertainment, dictated by public demand, rights issues and media technology, availability and quality are always in flux, and this includes the efforts by studios and licensors to honor original aspect ratios. I have read some comments in this thread that lament the passing of VHS, a time when it seemed that more obscure films were made available to consumers; and yet think of the pan-and-scan atrocities that--as a rule rather than an exception--were prevalent at that time (not to mention the poor quality of video)! What we have to rely on, I believe, is the connoisseurship among the general populace that always seems to follow improvements in media technologies. When people are offered better media, they demand more fidelity. As streaming improves--which it has in leaps and bounds since its inception--fewer and fewer consumers will tolerate the cropped screens offered by intermediary content providers like Starz. As cinephiles, we are fortunate that one of the markers of conspicuous consumption in the USA, along with luxury cars and Rolex watches, is the perfected home entertainment system; this will keep the fair-weather fans of film from being complacent about the quality of their media. Even those who restrict their viewing to ESPN become our unlikely allies! Call me a Pollyanna, but I remain optimistic--and dismissive of the Luddites' claims that we will never retrieve the cinephilic "Golden Age" of the 1970s, when only the privileged few were allowed to enjoy obscure cinema (often in the form of scuzzed-up, worn prints projected incorrectly by indifferent theater employees) on the big screen at venues in flashy metropoles (or the 1980s era of $100 VHS cassettes and laser discs).

May 13, 2011 4:45 PM  

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